The Ocean Connectors mission is to educate, inspire, and connect underserved youth in Pacific coastal communities through the study of migratory marine life.
Our vision is to cultivate a future generation of passionate, globally-aware, and empowered coastal residents who take active steps to enjoy and protect ocean health.
In the Beginning
Ocean Connectors was founded in San Diego under the grassroots nonprofit organization Pro Peninsula ten years ago. An essential component was our alliance with sea turtle scientists from the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center. This partnership provided the original Ocean Connectors students in San Diego with special access to a NOAA sea turtle research site, and to marine science experts working in the field (the photo above of “Bobby” was taken during one of the original Ocean Connectors field trips to the NOAA research site; permit no. 1591).
In 2009 Pro Peninsula merged with The Ocean Foundation, thus uniting two complementary nonprofit groups into a single, more sustainable entity. This melding brought Ocean Connectors and other Pro Peninsula projects to The Ocean Foundation, thus enabling the important conservation work taking place on the Baja California peninsula to continue under a single organization. Partnering with The Ocean Foundation enabled our team to connect with leading experts in marine science and ultimately allowed Ocean Connectors to grow.
Ocean Connectors works to spread binational awareness about the importance of protecting the habitat areas for migratory species. Knowledge exchanges, consisting of scientific communications between students in the U.S. and Mexico with art, letters, and videos, are used to illustrate the interconnectedness of the oceans and the importance of collaborative global stewardship. To date, over 10,000 students have communicated conservation to their “pen-pals” living hundreds of miles away as part of the Ocean Connectors knowledge exchange.
Ocean Connectors experienced significant growth, eventually reaching students living over 2,000 miles apart, from Alaska to Mexico, in addition to spanning five school districts in San Diego County. While this increase in demand reflected positively on program methods, it was unsustainable, and Ocean Connectors adopted a new model to build sustainable infrastructure and manage future growth.
As part of the Director’s Master’s thesis at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which was completed in 2013, the plan moving forward is to target our programs in defined areas in two coastal communities, and to reach students for three consecutive years during a critical developmental time in childhood. The work is focused in National City, California, and Southern Nayarit, Mexico. We are making the greatest long-term impact by concentrating our programs in communities that show a distinct need for environmental education.
Ocean Connectors integrates influential communication styles and conservation-behavior psychology into lessons to thoroughly engage the audience in marine conservation. The bilingual curriculum meets Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, as well as national learning standards for the U.S. and Mexico. Classroom activities, materials, and teacher resources were all developed to foster a future generation of dedicated environmental stewards.
Ocean Connectors addresses a wide array of community issues in the U.S. and Mexico. Key issues include:
Wildlife & Habitat Conservation
Ocean Connectors engages youth in conservation so they form an understanding of the importance of protecting marine environments. They gain awareness of the connection between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and the value of marine resources for humanity. Environmental education is a key way to prevent the future destruction of vital coastal habitats and marine life.
The audience for Ocean Connectors includes students from low-income communities where there are significant barriers to success. Ocean Connectors is designed to enrich the public school system and increase educational achievement, keeping students engaged, stimulated, and inspired by the learning process.
Connecting Youth with Nature
Ocean Connectors brings students on exciting field trips to the coast. Ocean Connectors field trip destinations include whale watching excursions, visits to sea turtle research sites, habitat restoration outings, and visits to local aquariums and wildlife preserves. These memorable experiences increase the probability of creating conservation behaviors in students.
Creating Real-World Scientific Skills
Ocean Connectors equips students to effectively use program knowledge and transfer their STEM learning experience to the real-world. Experiential methods help form linkages between scientific inquiry and their everyday life. Students think and act like scientists by employing important critical thinking skills such as observation, identification, and reflection.
Ocean Connectors crosses borders and cultural boundaries, linking students to create a shared sense of stewardship and to promote an early interest in environmental issues. Ocean Connectors uses migratory marine species such as sea turtles, whales, and sea birds as tools to educate and connect youth in underserved communities on the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Mexico. The program focuses on the migratory routes of species as a way to illustrate the interconnectedness of oceans and ecosystems, helping students form a global view of natural resources. Through a combination of class presentations by guest speakers, knowledge exchanges, hands-on marine science activities, journaling, and outdoor field trips, Ocean Connectors works to accomplish three main goals:
INSPIRE ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP BY GIVING YOUTH THE CAPACITY, KNOWLEDGE, AND AWARENESS TO PRACTICE COASTAL CONSERVATION.
In today’s increasingly industrialized and populated world, many species of marine life face significant challenges for the future. Factors such as climate change, coastal development, marine pollution, and bycatch threaten ocean health. Migratory species face particular pressure as they depend on habitats located in widespread geographical regions, which often fall under the jurisdiction of different nations. The greatest hope for the future lies in giving children the tools they need to make environmentally-conscious decisions.
EDUCATE STUDENTS TO INCREASE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, ENGAGEMENT, AND SUPPORT CLASSROOM LEARNING GOALS.
Public education systems throughout the region are struggling. California ranks 49th in per-pupil spending and 36th overall, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2012). Mexico’s educational system faces major obstacles as well; it ranks last in educational achievement among the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2013). Ocean Connectors works to improve educational conditions in the areas served through experiential learning, science inquiry, and critical thinking.
CONNECT UNDERSERVED YOUTH WITH DIVERSE, HANDS-ON LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES IN COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS.
The ocean is a public resource, and coastal residents from all economic standings deserve to have access to the unique marine life found in their own community. Ocean Connectors breaks down barriers, enabling underserved students to experience rare and inspiring coastal adventures in their own “backyard”, the Pacific Ocean.
Ocean Connectors has been awarded a number of honors over the years, celebrating our originality, quality, and impact.
2010: Ocean Connectors and Director Frances Kinney honored with Ocean Science Leadership Award for Informal Teaching Excellence from the University of Southern California QuikScience Program, emphasizing program success and leadership on a binational scale.
2011: Ocean Connectors and Director Frances Kinney received American Meteorological Society Distinguished Educator Award for Non-Formal Education, one of only three awards presented nationwide, for excellence in educating students about weather, oceans, climate, and hydrology.
2013: Director Frances Kinney recognized as a Runner-Up in the San Diego Business Journal’s “Top 25 in Their 20’s” Emerging Generation Awards for entrepreneurship in the nonprofit sector.
2016: Ocean Connectors and Director Frances Kinney honored with Award for Excellence in Community Leadership and Outreach by the IEA Research and Education Foundation for making an outstanding contribution to the quality of life in San Diego.
2016: Ocean Connectors received SDX Brand Diego Non-Profit Brand of the Year Award for building a strong brand through professionalism in advertising, marketing, communications, and contributions to the community at large.
2018: Ocean Connectors was selected by the Port of San Diego to receive the 2018 Michelle White Environmental Award for the Community category for providing innovative, hands-on environmental curriculum through field trips, in-class lectures, and land and water-based tours within the San Diego Bay watershed.
This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)