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Ocean Education for the Masses

By Richard Hoops
March 21, 2011

USC College marine biologist David Caron attends a COSEE-West workshop in January. Photo by Peter Tuddenham.

USC College marine biologist David Caron attends a COSEE-West workshop in January. Photo by Peter Tuddenham.

USC College scientists are working with staff and volunteers at informal education centers across Southern California to bring the results of their ocean research to education programs aimed at the general public.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE)-West connects more than a dozen centers across the Los Angeles metropolitan area and beyond to enhance ocean sciences awareness.

"Informal centers reach the broadest audience in terms of the general public and school kids, but they don't always have access to scientists the way we do," said Linda Chilton, education programs coordinator with the USC Sea Grant program and a member of the COSEE-West project. "Staff at these centers tell us what they're working on, and we work with them to help them provide current science to their audiences."

The National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences has funded a number of COSEE centers across the United States. Nine years ago, USC, together with UCLA and the College of Exploration in Virginia, formed the Los Angeles-based COSEE-West.

Over the years, the center has presented in-person and online lectures, workshops and retreats for K-12 educators and informal science center partners to connect environmental scientists in the Los Angeles area with educators. During the past two years, COSEE-West projects have focused more on working with informal education centers to educate the public about current scientific information on environmental conditions around Southern California.

USC College scientists have been active in this effort, providing presentations on everything from ocean acidification to harmful algal blooms.

"We're fortunate to have a tremendous pool of scientists in the Los Angeles metropolitan area," said Linda Duguay, principal investigator for COSEE-West at USC and director of the USC Sea Grant program.

"Faculty and graduate students with USC College have been very generous in donating their time to this project," continued Duguay, who also is deputy director at USC College’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Last year, COSEE-West organized a workshop that featured David Hutchins, USC College professor of marine environmental biology, who spoke about the impact of climate change on marine mammals.

More recently, USC College marine biologist Dave Caron, who serves as interim director of the Wrigley Institute, and three of his graduate students discussed harmful algal blooms along the Southern California coastline and introduced methods that centers could use to incorporate current science in their programming.

Participants in these workshops come from a wide range of organizations in California. They include the federal government's Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in Oxnard; the California Science Center; the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County; Heal the Bay and its Santa Monica Pier Aquarium; the SEA Lab in Redondo Beach; the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro; the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach; and the Ocean Institute in Dana Point.

"Last year and this year, we worked with about 15 centers that sent people to these workshops," Chilton said. "This is a model that works."

Staff with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary thought so much of this model that they adapted it to use in training volunteer docents on how to present information about ocean acidification to visitors.

COSEE-West is offering one of its free online workshops from March 21 to April 8 with the participation of Dave Caron, students from his lab and staff from several science facilities around Southern California. The subject of the online workshop is harmful algal blooms along the Southern California coast. To register for this free online workshop, visit coexploration.org/cosee_west/spring2011

For more information on COSEE-West, visit usc.edu/org/cosee-west

To learn more about other COSEE Centers around the United States, visit cosee.net