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The Ocean Institute educates, inspires and transforms the lives of students, visitors, volunteers and staff

Ocean Institute Vice President of Operations, Bentley Cavazzi and President/CEO Daniel Stetson oversee the institute’s world-class facility and educational programs. Photo: Andrea Swayne
Ocean Institute Vice President of Operations, Bentley Cavazzi and President/CEO Daniel Stetson oversee the institute’s world-class facility and educational programs. Photo: Andrea Swayne

By Andrea Swayne

To transform the life of another is not only one of the highest callings a human can aspire to, it is also an honor to those who manage to accomplish it. Dana Point is lucky to have an organization that does just that—The Ocean Institute.

Ocean Institute (OI) President and CEO Daniel Stetson is honored to be at the helm (pun intended) of one of the world’s premier marine science and maritime history facilities and to be entrusted with carrying out the Institute’s mission—To inspire all generations through education to become responsible stewards of our oceans.

Vice President of Operations Bentley Cavazzi pointed out the fact that every aspect of the OI’s programs include a common denominator—the ocean. Whatever the specific topic of an offered class or presentation may be, learning about the ocean is always central to the lesson. From maritime history to ecosystem studies illustrating how watersheds all lead to the coast, all of the programs offered lead back, in some way, to the ocean. And for the students who will be entrusted with the care of the ocean environment when they reach adulthood, the institute’s ability to pass on these lessons is an amazing gift for the generations to come.

Fisler School students (L to R) Jacob, Christine and Joshua are learning lessons about watersheds on a recent fieldtrip to the Ocean Institute. Photo: Andrea Swayne
Fisler School students (L to R) Jacob, Christine and Joshua are learning lessons about watersheds on a recent fieldtrip to the Ocean Institute. Photo: Andrea Swayne

“The educational experiences we offer here are invaluable to our students’ futures,” said Rick Baker, vice president of Education. “Not only so that they can grow up to be good citizens but also so that they have the ability to make good decisions about the future in terms of voting for environmental policy.”

The institute is not stingy with the programs it has developed over the years but instead seeks to share information and collaborate wherever possible. When Stetson came to institute 19 years ago, he was in charge of the maritime programs surrounding the institute’s tall ship, The Brig Pilgrim and had a hand in turning the program into a model which was then taken to other organizations such as the Star of India in San Diego, the San Francisco Maritime schooner the C.A. Thayer and the Falls of Clyde in Hawaii.

“One of our greatest goals is to serve as a learning laboratory to develop new and innovative programs and then to disseminate them to other organizations,” said Stetson.

Closer to home, the OI hosts thousands of school children annually to educate and inspire the next generation in the care and keeping of the earth’s ocean environment.

As a nonprofit organization, the OI relies on many fundraising events to ensure that every child has the opportunity to experience the programs regardless of their school’s or family’s ability to pay.

Events such as the Dana Point Yacht Club’s R.H. Dana Charity Regatta and the Laguna Beach Million Dollar Home Raffle play a huge part in funding these programs that truly transform the lives of young people throughout California.

Home Raffle ticket sales are happening now and will be wrapping up this month. The October 20 deadline to purchase the $150 tickets is fast approaching.

Chief Aquarist Julianne Steers introduces students from the Fisler School in Fullerton to some of the Ocean Institute’s 200 or so local coastal living specimens. Photo: Andrea Swayne
Chief Aquarist Julianne Steers introduces students from the Fisler School in Fullerton to some of the Ocean Institute’s 200 or so local coastal living specimens. Photo: Andrea Swayne

“Winning the $1 million dollar home or cash award, along with the other prizes, is yet another way we can transform a life,” quipped Stetson.

This is the sixth year of the Home Raffle and it remains one of the most important fundraising events of the year. “It’s what helps us keep the doors open and the lights on,” said Cavazzi.

Other lives transformed through contact with the institute are those of the many volunteers and employees that passionately serve the public through their work here.

The Institute has a staff of 120 (less than 50 are full-time salaried employees) along with a pool of about 450 dedicated volunteers who put their heart and soul into the facility and its programs. Many volunteers have dedicated more than 20 years of their lives to inspiring students and visitors and say that they, in turn, have reaped the benefits through their own inspiration and have also felt that their own lives have been transformed through their service.

Susan Goggin is one such volunteer. “My husband Greg and I came on board in 2006 to help the Ocean Institute raise money while raising awareness with the introduction of the Laguna Beach Million Dollar Home Raffle. We are proud to lead a team that has raised over $12 million to date,” she said. “This annual event helps the Ocean Institute reach more kids and adults with their Adopt-a-Class program, the Wyland Mobile Learning Center and the Artist by the Sea series which brings leading environmentalist, artist, scientists and athletes to our community. We take pleasure in identifying and developing partnerships with like-minded organizations that help increase our influence and capacity while supporting Ocean Institute’s mission.”

When asked why she personally has been so devoted to serving the OI, Goggin had this to say. “I grew up by the ocean and saw thriving tide pools disappearing in the ’70s due to DDT dumped off our coastline and saw beaches closed in the ’80s due to pollution. The ocean represents life, joy and beauty for me and the Ocean Institute’s mission to introduce kids to the importance and wonders of the ocean resonates. If we all become stewards to the big blue, then future generations can enjoy it too,” she said.

Goggin’s sentiments were repeated over and over among the visitors, employees, volunteers and students we spoke to on a recent visit to the Ocean Institute and all one needs to do, in order to become part of that is experience, is pay a visit to the facility. It truly has the power to both inspire and transform.

If you would like to play a part in helping the Ocean Institute to continue to carry out its important mission, please consider purchasing a Laguna Beach Million Dollar Home Raffle Ticket before the October 20 deadline. Log on to the website at www.ocean-institute.org to buy it online. Or, better yet, stop by and see for yourself just how wonderful a facility we have right here in Dana Point.

Check out the photo slide show of behind-the-scenes images from the Ocean Institute. See a jelly fish hatchery, a tidepool habitat, get a sneak peek at some of the research activities school children experience daily on a field trips to the facility and meet some of the dedicated staff and volunteers who make it all happen.

Interesting Facts You May Not Know About the Ocean Institute

DID YOU KNOW?

The tall ship replica, the Brig Pilgrim, was originally destined to be featured in front of a waterfront restaurant in Monterey, California’s first capitol. The restaurant never got off the ground and filed for bankruptcy and the ship found a home at the Ocean Institute.

Steve Hillenburg, the creator of Spongebob Square Pants was inspired to create the Spongebob and Patrick Star characters while working as a marine biology lab instructor at the Ocean Institute.

Equipment for gathering weather information is located on campus allowing the Ocean Institute to serve as a National Weather Service Coastal Observation Station, the official weather station for Dana Point. Weather information broadcast by news media via radio and television is provided by data gathered there.

The Ocean Institute operates overnight science and history camps for fourth- through sixth-grade students at the Lazy-W Ranch in the Cleveland National Forest.

The Institute offers VIP one-hour tours on the first and third Thursday of every month. Patrons taking the tour not only get to meet the President and a board member, they also get a behind-the-scenes look at the facility including the many ocean animals housed there.

The inaugural Walter Cronkite, National Maritime Historical Society award and two National Science Foundation Awards are only a few of the many honors bestowed upon the Ocean Institute since its founding in 1977.

Eight acres of ocean just off the coast of the 2.4-acre campus is designated as a Marine Life Refuge area.

The Brig Pilgrim tall ship is a movie star. Amistad directed by Steven Spielberg was one of the many movies the ship appeared in. In that movie the ship was “dressed” to play two ships; La Amistad and The Washington.

The Institute educates over than 115,000 students, 8,000 teachers and 50,000 public visitors annually via their more than 63 marine science and maritime history programs.

The Ocean Institute is located at 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive. They can be reached by phone at 949.496.2274. To find out more about the Institute, visit their website at www.ocean-institute.org.

The author, Andrea Swayne, would like to give special thanks to Ocean Institute Program Reservation Coordinator Rachel Gomez for being an excellent tour guide.

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