A few months ago, President Obama spoke eloquently in his Inaugural and State of the Union addresses about how the United States can lead the world in transitioning to a clean energy and more sustainable economy, as well as in developing our youth into leaders in science and related fields. Yet, now, NOAA's Office of Education is under siege. This is a true shame as it is an office that, with a relatively tiny budget, has done quite a lot to advance environmental education and citizen involvement in creating a more sustainable society.
As one example, a grant from NOAA Education to North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and others, for a project “Using Marine Mammals to Communicate Solutions to Ocean Issues” has been helping make teens, ages 12–17, aware of how marine mammals are affected by climate change and inspire the teens to be part of the solutions. Another grant, to Florida Aquarium, Texas State Aquarium, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, Vera Cruz Aquarium, and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, for a “Climate Change Community Outreach Initiative”, has resulted in enhanced education and outreach in the Gulf of Mexico to inform communities on both risks and ways to contribute locally to sustainability through community outreach programs, stewardship promotion, social networking and workshops for non-formal educators to reach broad audiences.
Budgets are tight virtually everywhere these days, with "sequester" becoming for many of us a recent and unwelcome addition to our vocabulary. To add to the troubles, the congressional squeeze on agencies such as NOAA and EPA comes at a critical time in our planet’s history, with unprecedented threats to the health of our ocean, and the worsening of climate disruption. Even now, the world is watching as the C02 levels in our atmosphere are about to surpass 400ppm for the first time. Yet the slice of the federal pie for environmental and conservation-related activities, let alone environmental education, is shockingly small and could very well get smaller. The President’s proposed budget for 2014 completely erases NOAA Education funding, with potentially serious ramifications for watershed, coastal, marine, and climate conservation.
At this time, it's important that each of us lets our elected officials know how important NOAA Education and related environmental education and stewardship programs are, and ask our congressional delegations to help put them back in the budget. Reaching out individually is great but if you can rally your ZAM to do so, all the better since zoos, aquariums, and science museums are anchors of your communities, well trusted and looked to for ways to help with solutions to the pressing challenges of our time.
Also, this month, if you're affiliated with an AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium, you can help in a big way by getting involved in AZA's annual Advocacy Day and Capitol Hill Reception on May 22nd. Come to Washington and meet with your congressional leaders in person. There is no better way to help convince them of the importance of keeping programs like NOAA Education, EPA and related agencies funded for the future.
Even if you can't make it to Washington, DC in person, you can help by contacting your representative and two US senators by phone or email and let them know how you feel, or make an appointment to meet with them while they're in your home area during congressional breaks.
o find out how to contact your local elected officials, please visit: http://www.congressweb.com/aza/legislators
As the theme for World Oceans Day 2013-2014 states, "Together we have the power to protect the ocean" and so let's join together in letting our elected officials know how we feel and bring about some real change!
(In full disclosure, NOAA Education funding also has enabled The Ocean Project to do much in partnership with zoos, aquariums, and museums over the last six years.)