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The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries congratulates Christine Forbes on her winning essay: Dr. "Deepsea Dawn" Wright. Ms. Forbes attends Braulio Alonso Senior High School in Tampa, Florida. We also congratulate all the contestants for their submissions and hope they are encouraged to continue learning about the many contributions of African-Americans to U.S. maritime history and to continue developing their own personal journeys of discovery.

Voyage to Discovery Essay Contest

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Michelle Howard
Adm. Michelle Howard. (Photo: NOAA)
America’s greatest museum of our past as a seafaring nation lies on the bottom of the ocean and Great Lakes in our national marine sanctuaries. The National Marine Sanctuary System managed by NOAA consists of 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than 170,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington State to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The system includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Prehistoric sites, shipwrecks, and naval battlefields are protected by sanctuaries. National marine sanctuaries are places to explore, discover and appreciate our country’s maritime cultural heritage. That heritage is a legacy of thousands of years of settlement, exploration, immigration, harvesting the bounty of the seas, and creating coastal communities and maritime traditions. Through the study, protection and promotion of this diverse legacy, sanctuaries help Americans learn more about our past.

Robert Smalls
Robert Smalls 1870 (Library of Congress)
Voyage to Discovery is a national marine sanctuary multimedia educational initiative highlighting African-American contributions to the country’s maritime heritage while fostering increased participation in marine careers and ocean conservation.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in collaboration with NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is conducting a national essay contest open to all middle and high school students in the United States. The essay contest will run from January 6 through April 4, 2014. The purpose of this contest is to encourage students to research and learn about African-American contributions to the maritime history of the United States. The contest is open to students in Middle and High School. Immediate family members of employees, interns and volunteers of either the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation or the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries are ineligible for this contest. Applicants must submit an essay on an African-American individual or group who made a significant contribution to U.S. maritime history. The essay has to be about a person or group of people who are NOT already profiled on the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS) website, or the Voyage to Discovery website. A list of possible essay topics can be found here.


  • High School student winner will receive a $1,500 prize to help with post-secondary education (cash prize may be subject to income taxes)
  • Middle School student winner will receive a $500 prize to help pursue continuing education

Contest Rules

  • Must be a middle or high school student to be eligible
  • Essay must be original work of student only
  • The essay must be about an African-American individual or group who made a significant contribution to U.S. maritime history
  • Parent must sign consent form
  • Teacher must sign consent form
  • Submissions must be received electronically or post-marked by April 4, 2014
  • Middle School student submissions must be no more than three double-spaced pages typed
  • High School student submissions must be no more than four double-spaced pages typed
  • Essays must have a minimum of three sources, including one non-internet source
  • Citations must be in parenthetical form within the essay
  • Selections of winners will be announced by the end of May 2014

Criteria for Judging

Content (60%)

  • Demonstrates an understanding of the life and contributions of the African-American person or group to U.S. maritime history
  • Explains the historical significance of the actions at the time and today, where relevant
  • Is a well-researched essay, including possible input from relevant contemporary historians, archeologist or commentators
  • Explains any risks faced in achieving the noted contribution
  • Complied with directions regarding correct way to submit essay (e.g., including one non-internet source)

Presentation (40%)

  • Ideas communicated clearly
  • Use of correct grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation
  • Well organized for ease of understanding
  • Bibliography of three or more varied sources
  • Citations are in parenthetical formal within essay
  • Original writing in a compelling manner

African-American sailor. Courtesy of Mystic Seaport
African-American sailor. (Courtesy of Mystic Seaport
Submit your essay electronically (preferred method) Please complete the electronic PDF contest form by providing all requested information, including all required signatures. Compose an email to voyagetodiscovery@nmsfocean.org and attach to the e-mail the completed contest form, your essay and bibliography as a Word document. Make sure your full name is at the top right of the Word document.


Submit your essay via mail

Please complete the PDF contest form electronically or printed filled out in black or blue ink, including all required signatures.

Submit a printed copy of your essay and bibliography via regular mail by printing out the completed online registration form along with two hard copies of your essay. Your essay must be typed, double-spaced, and printed only on one side of the paper. Attach your registration form to only one copy of your essay. Make sure your full name is at the top right of both printed copies of your essay.

Mail to:
Voyage to Discovery Essay Contest
National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
8601 Georgia Avenue, Suite 501
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
Mailed essays must be postmarked by April 4, 2014.
If you have any questions, please contact margo.e.jackson@noaa.gov.

Click here for a press release announcing last year's winners.


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