Vernon Smith and Tane Casserley from the U.S. NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries came to DEMA 2016 to raise awareness of just what it is their office does, and to change the impression that government organizations are all opaque and inaccessible to regular citizens.

There’s no better place to do that than at DEMA where all the key people in the industry are gathered under a single roof. DeeperBlue.com joined them at their booth to talk about marine sanctuaries and what they mean for the community.

The word “sanctuary” can often give a mistaken impression that a protected site is off-limits. That is absolutely not so, they assure us, as the thirteen National Marine Sanctuaries and two Marine National Monuments managed by their office are intended to be multi-use sites that not only protect marine and cultural resources, but actually have a mandate to provide responsible access to swimmers, snorkelers, divers, and even anglers and spearfishers in many locations.

Another huge focus for their office is community outreach. According to Vernon,

“The connective thread for all of us (at NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries office) is our passion for the ocean and protecting special places.”

In order to provide this valuable service to the country and their fellow Americans, and to leave the world a better place for future generations, this tax-funded public office tries to engage the public and provide education about the sanctuaries. After all, as Vernon reminded us, people protect what they love.

Reaching out to local schools, they’ve mounted programs where divers with full face masks livestream their exploration of shipwrecks and students in the classroom can ask them questions in real time. On one project, a three-dimensional digital map of the USS Monitor was uploaded into a 3-D printer, so students were able to handle a scale-model of the very wreck they were studying! Teachers can find free lesson plans on their website to help connect these resources with their classroom curricula. The activities can be used to get students interested in their own local ecology, lake acidification, invasive species, and a whole plethora of environmentally-related topics that come to life when connected with sites close to home.

But NOAA doesn’t stop there. They buttress community involvement through exhibits at local museums and aquariums in an effort to bring the sanctuary sites out to the public who may not be dive-minded. On their sanctuaries.noaa.gov website you can find a photo of the day, and new videos are posted weekly. In an effort to reach the infamous millennial generation they update via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — cultivating tomorrow’s environmental stewards in their native language.

If you’re passionate about the ocean and want to see just how rich a resource they can be, check out the NMS website and find the sanctuary closest to you. You might learn something new about a place you’ve always known, or you might discover a whole new world of underwater splendor.

Our time with them at DEMA was short, but DeeperBlue.com can’t wait to learn more about their organization, so stay tuned for more in-depth coverage in the coming weeks!

Erin Durbin-Sherer

Erin began diving in 2012 as preparation for a trip to Hawaii and before the year was out she’d left her old life behind to work in the dive industry full-time. When she’s not out exploring the deep and collecting c-cards, you might find her making art or working on her master’s thesis in cultural anthropology at San Diego State University. Erin is an Associate Editor with DeeperBlue.com.

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