The Years Preceding the Formation of NMEA in 1976

Before beginning a discussion of NMEA history, it is important to note that about the same time educators began meeting to discuss the creation of a national marine education organization, the United States Congress created Sea Grant. The Sea Grant Act (October 15, 1966) authorized the establishment and operation of sea grant colleges and programs, and was a partnership of academia, government, and industry that focused on coastal and marine resources.

Marine educators from around the country, including those involved with Sea Grant, participated in six meetings from 1966 through 1974. One of these meeting occurred in Massachusetts, three in California, one in North Carolina, and one in Rhode Island. These meetings are described below.


The Woods Hole, Massachusetts Conference:

On May 20 and 21,1966, marine educators met at Woods Hole. This conference could be claimed as national in scope because of its participants. Educators from Florida, New York, Colorado, and Ohio attended the New England Conference on Ocean Science Engineering. The majority of participants, however, were New Englanders.

According to the conference proceedings published by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (ERIC Document ED 028 943):

“The purpose of the Conference was to bring together prominent oceanographers and New England Educators at the primary and secondary school levels to discuss current research, and to relate this to the needs of schools for materials and methods which will motivate and inform students.”

Recommendations from the conference include:

  1. Steps should be taken to produce a curriculum guide and/or a resource guide for ocean science. A preference for an interdisciplinary approach was expressed.

  2. Teacher-training programs should predate any curriculum implementation in oceanography. A three-year sequential policy of training was recommended for teachers who are to teach ocean science.

  3. A state department of education specialist in ocean science education should assist teachers at the elementary as well as at the secondary school levels.

  4. Effort should be made to disseminate new information about ocean science education as it becomes available.

  5. A traveling lecturer program in oceanography with portable demonstration units should be available to schools.

  6. The discovery approach should be emphasized and the descriptive approach to oceanography should be avoided as much as possible.


The Catalina Island, California Conferences:

In the late 1960s, Ron Linsky (CA) organized three meetings in California. These meetings were sponsored by the Orange County Marine Science Floating Laboratory Program.

As documented and quoted from “Marine Education: Individuals and Organizations” by John J. McMahon (OR) (1983), “In 1966, Mr. Ron Linsky started the Orange County Floating Laboratory--a seagoing K-12 oceanographic laboratory--in Dana Point, CA. In 1968, he initiated the Southern California Conference on Marine Science in Education. More than 100 participants at this conference shared marine science curriculum materials and began an informal network of K-12 marine educators. In 1969, Mr. Linsky coordinated the first National Marine Science in Education Conference. More than 200 people attended that meeting, including Dr. Robert Abel, Head, Office of Sea Grant."


The Beaufort, North Carolina Conference:

Will Hon, Director of the Regional Marine Science Project of Carteret County, North Carolina organized the 1971 National Marine Science in Education Conference in Beaufort. Participants at this meeting passed “The Beaufort Resolution,” written by Dr. James Schweitzer (LA).

The Beaufort Resolution called for the establishment of The Marine Science Education Association. The purpose of the Association was to be the encouragement of “ ..educational activities that will promote sound conservation practices, scientific investigations, and enlightened management practices that will safeguard the marine and wetlands milieu.”

As documented and quoted from “Marine Education: Individuals and Organizations” by John J. McMahon (OR) (1983), “The list of attendees for this conference includes individuals from Atlantic and Gulf states and from Ohio and Illinois.”


The Kingston, Rhode Island Conference

Conference announcement and conference program cover. Photograph by Susan Leach Snyder

Conference announcement and conference program cover. Photograph by Susan Leach Snyder

Thayer Shafer organized the August 26-30, 1974 National Marine Education Conference on The University of Rhode Island campus in Kingston, Rhode Island. The meeting was aimed at all segments of the education community that had some interest in the “World of Water. ”This conference was successful in attracting 120 people representing most of the coastal states and all levels and disciplines of water-related education. This was the first meeting to drop the word “science” from its title. Shafer had argued successfully for a multidisciplinary approach.

This meeting also focused on the tremendous need to develop a public consciousness of the marine environment in order to facilitate coastal zone management and the orderly development of marine resources.

In a letter written in 2004 to the NMEA History Chair, Thayer Shafer related that since the “Yellow Submarine” was a very popular “Beatles” song at the time, the logo and theme for the 1974 conference were based on this song. The theme of the conference was “all together now in our yellow submarine.” The submarine appeared on the program, letterhead and T- shirts.

According to the conference program...

The conference began with registration on the evening of Monday, August 26th. This was followed by a clam bake at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography Beach and North Lab.

Tuesday, August 27th began with breakfast, a latecomer’s registration, and the opening session by Thayer Shafer (RI) and Ronald B. Linsky (CA). Next were two Concurrent Workshops: (A) A panel, chaired by Arthur West presented “Present and Future Roles of the National Science Foundation, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and Sea Grant in Funding Marine Education;” (B) A panel, chaired by Donald Giles (OR) presented “Resource Centers and the Modular Approach.”

Following these sessions was a general session titled, “The Government’s Role in the Sea--The Next Decade” by Steven Anastasian (Executive Secretary, Interagency Committee on Marine Science and Engineering.) Following lunch, there was a repeat of Concurrent sessions (A) and (B), followed by a session titled, “International Programs in Marine Education, presented by Robert Abel and Rene Cuzon Du Rest, both of UNESCO. A cash bar and dinner followed this presentation and it was followed by informal sessions: “Marine Environment Curriculum Study--The formation of a Consortium,” led by Robert Stegner (DE) and “Improvised Field Equipment”, led by George Hahn.

Wednesday, August 28 began with breakfast and 3 concurrent workshops: (C) “Process and Problem Solving Approach to Public Education--A Coastal Zone Management Simulation Game” by H. Wells (Red) French (RI) and Judee Fish (RI); (D) “Interaction--The Education Committee of the Association of Sea Grant Program Institutions,” chaired by Tapan Banerjee (ME); and( E) “The Integrated Curriculum,” chaired by Warren Little. Lunch was followed by a general session, “Power From the Sea” by Howard Harrenstien (FL). Then, there was a repeat of concurrent sessions C,D, and E. A cash bar and dinner were followed by Informal Sessions chaired by Corwith Cramer (Sailing Education Association) and James Schweitzer (LA). Cramer headed “Alternative/Summer Programs for Teachers and Students.” Schweitzer headed “National Marine Education Association--a working session to explore the potential benefits of forming a national association.”

Thursday, August 29th’s breakfast was followed by concurrent workshops (F) “Vocational-Technical Education; Career Education and Counseling,” chaired by Tapan Banerjee (ME) and (G) “Undergraduate and Graduate Education. How much? How Long? For what purposes? led by Chairman Gerald Posner (NY). Next was a general session by Harold Goodwin (DE), “Our Future in the Sea.” Lunch followed and then a repeat of concurrent Workshops (F) and (G). Following the sessions was the closing session “Where Do We Go From Here?” “Report on a National Association” by James Schweitzer (LA), “Report on a National Consortium” by Robert Stegner, (DE), and “Report on the next National Marine Education Conference” by Thayer Shafer (RI).

Friday, August 30th’s breakfast was followed by tours to Mystic, Connecticut; Boston, Massachusetts; Woods Hole, Massachusetts; and Newport, Rhode Island.

Conference T-shirt

Conference T-shirt

Highlights from the conference are as follows: Dr. Robert Stegner (DE) presented his ideas for developing brief packets of marine-oriented teaching materials that could be inserted into a wide variety of courses, now known as Project COAST. Although the idea sounded wonderful to some, not enough enthusiasm was generated for it to be developed as a nationwide system.

Resolutions adopted at this conference, known as the “Kingston Resolutions,” called for the establishment of a national marine education association; for Dr. James P. Schweitzer (LA) to be chairperson of the steering committee; and for the NMEA to be independent, but consider affiliation with the Sea Grant Association and the National Science Teachers Association. Schweitzer sent to marine educators a copy of the Kingston Resolutions along with a second draft of a “Marine Education Association Charter” on February 24, 1975 with a letter announcing: “ ...formation of the Marine Education Association which offers membership to all persons interested in any aspect of marine education. The desirability of such an organization and the services it could perform were discussed in each of three marine education conferences held in the middle and late sixties at Catalina Island. Again the matter was proposed at the Beaufort, North Carolina, marine education conference held in 1971."

Schweitzer went on to say: “Our present plan calls for the Association to become incorporated as a non-profit society in the District of Columbia. It is the responsibility of the steering committee to pursue this matter.”

Besides Chairman Schweitzer, that first steering committee was composed of Tapan Banerjee (ME), Dr. Wesley Batten (VA), Don Giles (OR), Hal Goodwin (MD), Dr. Barbara Klemm (HI), Thayer Shafer (RI), and Ned Webster (FL). This steering committee would become the first Board of Directors of the NMEA, founded the very next year.


In an e-mail letter written in 2004 to the NMEA History Chair (Susan Snyder), Renny Little (NMEA President 1977-78) wrote about his memories of the conference:

“In the spring of 1973 Mary Cerullo and I got together with a group of dedicated Mass. teachers, including Jack Crowley and others and formally organized the Massachusetts Marine Educators. We saw a good deal of Thayer Shafer at the Aquarium and helped launch the conference in Kingston, RI, which eventually led to the first meeting to formalize the NMEA at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, CA. We had beautiful weather at that gathering, but I remember being up until quite late hammering out the organizational details. Still we had fun.”

Renny Little and a friend, 2003. (Photograph: Courtesy of R. Little)

Renny Little and a friend, 2003. (Photograph: Courtesy of R. Little)