The Certificate of Watershed Stewardship

A Partnership Program with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS)


What is the Certificate of Watershed Stewardship? It’s a prestigious award earned by students who have engaged in over 160 hours of meaningful, community-driven, authentic, research activities. Certificate students have “published” their research by sharing their findings with community stakeholders through open meetings, conferences, science fairs, and symposiums, Earning the Certificate of Watershed Stewardship means that students have engaged in sustained inquiry throughout their high school years and have clearly demonstrated through published research how “the ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected” (NOAA, principles of ocean literacy). The Certificate recognizes the academic, intellectual, and civic contributions to the greater Stellwagen Bank sanctuary regional stakeholder group by students who have clearly demonstrated science and engineering practices inherent in the art of applying knowledge in context (Next Generation Science Standards).


The Certificate requirements are structured around 4 “watershed-to-ocean ecosystems.” Students are expected to have significant research experience in all 4 systems:

The Built Environment, the "impervious surface" environments of our cities and towns, and our evolving green infrastructures and best practices-

The River Systems, the waterways that are the arteries in our watersheds-

The Estuaries that nourish life where ocean waters meet our rivers, streams and brooks-

The Bays, Gulfs, and Ocean, the saltwater system that covers 70% of the planet and directly affects life on earth in myriad ways.

Why is it needed? What does it accomplish? The Certificate is needed because there are no mechanisms currently in place in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that conceptually unite student and citizen science research under one, interconnected “watershed-to ocean” structure. Furthermore, there are no recognition programs currently in place that use this structure to energize and incentivize students to sustain thoughtful watershed inquiry throughout high school. Given that 52 percent of the nation’s population live in coastal counties with 39 percent of the nation's population living directly on shoreline counties, it is imperative that more students demonstrate a capacity to articulate the importance of preserving the ecosystems that inextricably link humans with the ocean. Climate change and sea level rise are now part of our cultural language, but “watershed to ocean” connectivity, understanding, and engagement are not. We need to develop these habits of mind in our students today. “As our nation's coastal watershed population continues to grow, it is imperative to understand, manage, and protect the bounty and beauty that have drawn so many Americans to our coasts” (NOAA’s State of the Coast).


Why Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary? Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary encompasses an ecosystem that supports giant bluefin tuna, endangered humpback, right, and fin whales, and a multitude of seabirds. Half the population of North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered animals in the ocean, visit the sanctuary every year to feed and nurse their young. Yet, nutrient runoff from the land is known to exacerbate eutrophication in estuaries. Associated harmful algal blooms and disruption of plankton populations impact sanctuary wildlife. Furthermore, effluents of treated human waste may contain chemical compounds that affect sensitive physiological pathways in marine animals. The sanctuary, therefore, is keenly invested in student-centered research that nurtures citizens who understand, among other complex relationships, that we can’t very well save the whales if we don’t know how to save our watershed systems that “feed” the whales.


How do students become eligible to earn the Certificate of Watershed Stewardship (CWS)? Teachers and community leaders who work directly with students are fully responsible for all aspects of student work and student presentation of research findings in their communities, or at workshops, conferences, and science fairs. Local groups that engage students in authentic, community-driven research projects are responsible for forwarding to SBNMS the names of students who have earned the prestigious recognition of the Certificate.

Any school interested in partnering in the Certificate of Watershed Stewardship program should assign a lead representative to the CWS steering committee. The steering committee will also include the sanctuary’s education and research coordinators and deputy superintendent. The committee will develop a matrix of standards and goals to which the students will work towards during their high school careers, including 160 hours of research over four years. If a student enters the program after his/her freshman year, the research hours and other educational benchmarks must be met in these upper level years. Each school will decide which students meet the requirements for a certificate, through a consensus vote of a team consisting of the principal, science chair and the teacher/school advisor. Students will work directly under a teacher/school advisor (or with an outside expert/volunteer in consultation with a school advisor). Any outside expert must undergo all required personal background reviews for a school volunteer. The teacher/advisor will be fully responsible for all aspects of student work and student presentation of research findings in their communities, or at workshops, conferences and science fairs. Local groups that engage students in authentic, community-driven research projects are responsible for forwarding to the student’s school advisor updates on progress. Once the student has completed 160 hours of work, at a level deemed to be of “B” quality or better, and met all other requirements for the certificate, the teacher/school advisor can submit the student’s name to the sanctuary for confirmation of the Certificate of Watershed Stewardship.


What is the role of SBNMS? SBNMS will be responsible for conferring the Certificate upon the students in an annual ceremony at the sanctuary headquarters in Scituate, MA. The sanctuary’s education and research coordinators and deputy superintendent will sit on the steering committee and assist in the development of goals and standards for the program. The sanctuary will also provide assistance in the creation of a resource database of individuals and organizations willing to provide ideas and technical assistance in the creation of research topics. The resource database will be offered online in the sanctuary’s website. The sanctuary will also offer one seminar each semester for participating students and teachers on on-going research in the sanctuary and/or regional watershed. The role of monitoring and grading student research lies completely with the local teachers and program leaders, who will meet regularly (quarterly as a minimum) to maintain program standards. A representative from the school will sit on the steering committee (which will meet a minimum of two times a year) and communicate regularly with the sanctuary to assure satisfactory implementation of the program at the local level. Clear, consistent, and personal communication with local program leaders will build the trust needed to carry this program forward in a manner with which we can all be proud.