Students from Pacific Beach Middle School gather plankton samples for analysis in San Diego Bay as part of the Seaport Climate Science Program, a partnership between Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, San Diego Unified School District and Seaport San Diego. (Photo courtesy of Seaport Climate Science Program.)
5/2/2023 - SD Union Tribune
Commentary by Richard Barrera, Yehudi Gaffen, Harry Helling
Barrera is a San Diego Unified School District trustee, and lives in South Park. Gaffen is CEO of 1HWY1, the Seaport San Diego developer, and lives in Downtown San Diego. Helling is executive director at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, and lives in Dana Point.
San Diego Bay is our region’s most precious resource, and it connects us to a shared culture. From the homeland of Indigenous nations and rich marine wildlife to a center for fish processing and aerospace factories, it boasts a rich history. Today it’s studded with shipyards, cargo terminals and the Naval Base. It’s known for much more than industry alone, the waterfront is a gathering place — a treasured destination for picnics, sunsets, public art walks and community celebrations.
It may come as a surprise that many San Diego-area youth — our next generation — tell us they have never been to the waterfront that plays such an important part in our collective experience.
Coastal access is an equity issue. A 2016 UCLA study, one of the only comprehensive reports on equity in coastal access, stated that 62 percent of Californians cite access to the coast as a problem — with historically disadvantaged communities and lower-income households being less likely to visit the coast.
A new partnership between Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, San Diego Unified School District and Seaport San Diego demonstrates how institutions can come together to connect more students to the Bay and the opportunities it holds.
The Seaport Climate Science Program is a shining example of a public-private partnership that benefits youth in a unique and meaningful way while contributing to our understanding of best practices in climate science education. Now in its second year, the pilot program has served more than 1,000 students from San Diego Unified and Sweetwater Union High School districts.
The idea for the Seaport Climate Science Program arose from a transformative development proposal within the Port of San Diego’s waterfront. In 2016, 1HWY1 was selected by the Port to propose redevelopment of the Central Embarcadero, which includes Seaport Village and surrounding areas — with coastal access a priority. The concept, Seaport San Diego, is an ambitious project that would include an observation tower; a Blue Campus with ocean-related uses such as blue tech, educational and outreach programs; hotel properties; retail and restaurant space; an entertainment venue and a fish-processing facility as well as 16 acres of parks and recreational and open space. Seaport San Diego will physically connect people to the bay with new piers and marinas, a new living shoreline area and urban beach. The design is currently going through the Port’s environmental review process.
One of the most exciting components of Seaport San Diego is the proposed Blue Campus, featuring a combination of education and entertainment. The Blue Campus is envisioned as a leading center for ocean education and outreach, open to youth and adult learners from throughout California. As 1HWY1 created this vision, the development team sought guidance from the region’s leading experts in climate science and education, and the Seaport Climate Science Program was launched as a partnership to test these ideas.
Both Birch Aquarium at Scripps, which is proposed to operate a Learning Center within the Blue Campus, and San Diego Unified are key partners in this pilot program which engages middle school students in on-the-water field trips. Connecting students to the natural world through place-based field trips where students can authentically engage in science activities provides an opportunity for significant impact to student learning beyond the classroom.
Students are energized and inspired to learn how researchers evaluate the health of our ocean. They delight in using echo sounder technology to monitor fish populations and special tools to gather plankton samples, and bringing their data collected on the field trip back to the classroom for further analysis continues the learning beyond the field trip.
Dozens of students shared that the program was the first time they had ever set foot on a boat or visited a waterfront park.
This program contributes to our understanding of best practices in climate science education and will inform the proposed Learning Center design. We believe it’s a model for other public-private partnerships.
San Diego Unified students tell us they value the opportunity to visit the coast. Some students have expressed interest in careers as scientists, researchers and educators, and others mention plans to return to the waterfront in the future.
Will future generations feel connected to the history and significance of San Diego Bay? Will they thrive and be inspired by climate science to explore STEM careers? Most importantly, will they feel a sense of belonging and pride when they visit our waterfront? With an inclusive approach to coastal access, we believe the answer to all of these questions is yes.