Focus: Clean Ocean Action & Inspiring Young Ocean Advocates

It’s all about offering youth a close-up view of their ocean world as inspiration to protect it.

On Wednesday, more than 400 middle school students and teachers from 16 schools in northern and central New Jersey were scientists for a day at Clean Ocean Action’s Annual Spring Student Summit. After two virtual summits, this was the first in-person event since the pandemic.

And it was back to the hands-on close-up observations that defined the summit’s original intent. Students experienced hands-on marine environmental education by participating in a roundtable of six activities and eleven interactive field activities. The beaches, trails, and marshes of the Gateway National Recreation Area’s Sandy Hook Unit served as outdoor classrooms for the seaside symposium.

“From looking a horseshoe crab in the eyes to gently touching a hermit crab, students get an up-close look at their coastal world. There is something extraordinary about the experience of holding a living creature from the ocean; it gives students a sense of awe about their natural world. The goal is to inspire them to protect it.”

Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf

The day began with welcoming remarks from Zipf , Gateway National Recreation Area Unit Manager Pete McCarthy, and an informative and fun presentation by Jennifer Lengares of Jenkinson’s Aquarium.

Students participated in six hands-on roundtable activities, which included: learning about horseshoe crabs, studying invertebrates, observing a model of nonpoint source pollution, learning the lethal effects of litter on the marine environment, studying dune systems, and learning about climate change and its impacts. 

Students from the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, a public marine science high school on Sandy Hook, served as peer teachers at the roundtable activities.

In addition, naturalists and other education professional — from American Littoral Society, Gateway National Recreation Area/Sandy Hook Unit, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and Shark Research Institute — led students in 11 field activities throughout the park. 

Some students used seine nets to collect and identify common marine species of Sandy Hook Bay. Other participants learned about key bird species and the important role of Sandy Hook in bird migration.  Also, students participated in a beach cleanup, learned beach profiling techniques, traversed trails with park naturalists, participated in seaside and salt march scavenger hunts, and learned about barrier island geology.

“We are so thrilled to have middle school students back at the beach learning about local marine life with their feet in the sand and waves in the background. There’s nothing quite like it!” said Kristen Grazioso, COA Education Coordinator, and organizer of the program.

Clean Ocean Action thanks The John Ben Snow Memorial Trust and to Eloise and John Pound for their support in memory of Anne Inman Webster.

Schools that attended were: Amerigo A. Anastasia School (Long Branch), Trinity Christian School (Montville), Rising Star Academy (Union City), Lafayette Township School (Lafayette), Long Branch Middle School (Long Branch), Unity Charter School (Morristown), Walter T. Bergen (Bloomingdale), Nicolaus Copernicus School (Hudson), Colin Powell Elementary School (Union City), Saint Rose Grammar School (Belmar), Leonia Middle School (Leonia), Mastro Montessori (Shrewsbury), Cresthaven Academy Charter School (Plainfield), West Essex Middle School (North Caldwell), Speedway Avenue School (Newark), Belvidere School (Belvidere)

About COA’s Student Summits

For 34 years, Clean Ocean Action’s Summits have reached thousands of students in New Jersey, expanding learning beyond the classroom.  The Summit program presents students with an interdisciplinary marine and environmental education experience that complements the New Jersey Science Standards.

For information on additional COA educational programs or events, visit or call (732) 872-0111.

— Edited press release from Clean Ocean Action

— Photos/Clean Ocean Action

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management