For the past 40 years, U.S. national marine sanctuaries have worked to provide a secure habitat for species close to extinction and protect historically significant shipwrecks and artifacts —and now California State University (CSU) students are helping to guard these underwater treasures.

As part of CSU’s role in advancing sustainable environmental science, the CSU Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology (COAST) has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) to place students in unique internships. CSU students have the opportunity to explore their passion for science, expand their critical thinking skills by developing and carrying out action plans, enhance their project management and writing abilities, and connect with government officials and community leaders.

“This is truly an ideal partnership,” said Lisa Woonick, Ph.D., Policy Coordinator NOAA Sanctuaries West Coast Regional Office. “COAST provides us with young, skilled and ambitious students who really understand the topic and can easily communicate with the public about science, while we provide them with guidance and opportunities to become proficient resource managers.”

Last summer, Ashley Quackenbush was tasked with increasing sustainable tourism and recreation within sanctuaries. Quackenbush, who recently graduated from CSU Monterey Bay, participated in the internship while studying Applied Marine and Watershed Science as a graduate student at the university. With the support of the ONMS team, she planned an innovative campaign to raise awareness about the environmental-friendly activities available at marine sanctuaries on the West Coast. Her “Get Into Your Sanctuary Day” campaign encouraged the public to visit their local sanctuary, take photos of their favorite moments and post it on social media using the #visitsanctuaries. Hundreds of photos were submitted—including children going whale watching, surfers catching waves, and water enthusiasts diving to the deepest depths of the ocean.

“The initial goal of the campaign was to highlight what sanctuaries offered and how the public can use them sustainably, but it turned into something so much more,” said Quackenbush. “We had such a high turnout locally that it inspired our headquarters in D.C. to launch the ‘Get Into Your Sanctuary Day’ nationally.”

Building off the momentum from the “Get Into Your Sanctuary Day” campaign, Cal State L.A. undergraduate student Alissa Magaña will take the reins as ONMS’ Education and Outreach Intern this summer. Magaña is already beginning to carry out sanctuary-specific outreach projects to highlight the ecological, social and economic importance of the oceans. Throughout her internship, she will tap her knowledge as a geology major and utilize her strengths in linking terrestrial and marine process to promote a greater awareness with inland communities of the existence and importance of national marine sanctuaries.

“I’m looking forward to travelling along the West Coast and connecting with government organizations to get the community excited about what we have to offer in our sanctuaries,” said Magaña. “Cal State L.A.’s geoscience program really helped me understand the inland area and population which will be incredibly important during my education and outreach efforts.”

To learn more about COAST or the internship program, visit CSU COAST.