Boy Scouts from around the region who flock to Cape Henlopen State Park beaches for camping can now visit the University of Delaware’s nearby Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes to earn a merit badge in oceanography.
Through the help of Delaware Sea Grant Marine Education Specialist Chris Petrone, scouts learn about a variety of topics including the importance of the ocean, the four branches of oceanography, properties of seawater, seafloor topography, ocean circulation and marine biology.
“The Boy Scouts have a fair amount of information on land-based activities like camping, hiking and archery,” Petrone said. “But not many scouts, particularly those who live inland, get a good grasp on ocean content. This badge takes them off-land and gets them thinking about the ocean and the impact it has on our lives.”
Petrone decided to bring the course to Delaware after seeing how successful other organizations have been with their programs. Old Dominion University has a two-to-three year waiting list for their version of the oceanography badge program.
“I’ve seen a lot of Boy Scout troops from all over the Delmarva region camp at Cape Henlopen State Park,” Petrone said. “I saw it as an opportunity to create something new and have it be beneficial for the Boy Scouts while also teaching them the importance of maintaining our oceans and coast.”
Most of Petrone’s marine education outreach is geared towards students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and the oceanography badge offers an experience that cannot be learned in a classroom.
Specific activities include having Scouts deploy a real plankton net in the water and then create their own net with household items. They also use a “habitat cage” to collect various critters and later identify the species in the lab with microscopes, and finally, they tour the Lewes campus and meeting oceanography specialists and research scientists.
Boy Scouts obtain the badge by completing a required workbook and onsite training.
“The curriculum of the course is a combination of content and hands-on activities,” Petrone said. “In a classroom, the students focus on one subject, where as the content for this course is very in depth - it is essentially Oceanography 101.”
Jennifer Laning, a board member of the Iron Hill Merit Badge Center and mother of a Boy Scout herself, said that the various badges provide Scouts with access to expert scientists in their fields.
“The Scouts get a glimpse into how oceanography and technology are used in the real world,” she said, adding that the program is not only intriguing but also fun for the scouts.
In the future, both Petrone and Laning hope to expand the program and be able to offer an oceanography merit badge to the younger Cub Scouts as well as create a similar opportunity for Girl Scouts of America.
While the oceanography badge is not one of the required badges to work up the ranks of the Boy Scouts, it is open to any Scout who is interested in learning more about the ocean.
For more information on Delaware Sea Grant’s oceanography merit badge program, contact Petrone at email@example.com or 302-645-4308. The Oceanography Merit Badge Workbook can be found at usscouts.org/mb/worksheets/Oceanography.pdf.