Out of the 9/11 tragedy emerged an innovative program aimed at uniting the next generation of global leaders through their shared connection: the ocean.

Among the victims of American Airlines #77 on 9/11 were students and teachers headed to the Channel Islands NMS. To honor and celebrate them, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries created Ocean for Life, a program where high school students from the US and Greater Middle Eastern countries are brought together at national marine sanctuaries. There, they learn ocean science and stewardship and, in so doing, build cultural bridges for the future.

Since 2009, nearly 100 young people have participated in Ocean for Life. During the two-week field study, they explore the rich marine life of the sanctuary’s ocean and coastal areas in the classroom, lab and sanctuary waters. Students also learn multimedia skills to document and narrate this life-changing experience, with their final projects made publicly available and even recognized in film festivals.

Ocean for Life, however, doesn’t end at the conclusion of the two weeks. Back in their home countries, its alumni expand their engagement: they complete additional projects, assume leadership roles in their schools and communities and join online communities to continue learning and further promote how the ocean connects everyone.

All Ocean for Life funding has come through NMSF efforts. NMSF also served as fiscal sponsor for the program, helping ONMS administer and manage it complex global logistics.