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Winged Ambassadors
by Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge
By Molly Hagemann

As Vertebrate Zoology Collections Manager at Bishop Museum, I often come into contact with local organizations that share our mission of promoting a better understanding of Hawaiʻi’s threatened wildlife. One of these is Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, a nonprofit that studies and protects imperiled ecosystems by engaging diverse communities through innovative scientific and artistic collaborations. Oikonos has researchers and collaborators based in Hawaiʻi, California, and Chile. Some of their projects in Hawaiʻi involve: collaborating with artists to create durable ceramic nesting burrows for wedge-tailed shearwaters on Oʻahu, studying plastic ingestion in a wide range of seabird species, and using novel wildlife tracking technologies to investigate the movements of far-ranging oceanic birds. Some of the birds that were part of the plastic ingestion studies are now archived within the Vertebrate Zoology Collection.

Oikonos also recognizes that successful conservation programs are supported by a well-informed public. To that end, they’ve created a free curriculum package focused on teaching STEM and ocean literacy skills through the eyes of albatrosses.  These charismatic and threatened seabirds forage for food over vast regions of the North Pacific, making them ideal ambassadors for encouraging better stewardship of our oceans.

Introduction to Winged Ambassadors Lessons:

The five-part Winged Ambassadors curriculum uses inquiry-based activities to explore ocean science and marine debris. Over 5,000 teachers from 38 countries use the Winged Ambassadors resources, reaching over 327,000 students. All lessons are ready to go, but can be edited to fit educator needs. Lessons also have tips for adapting to distance learning. The curriculum was written for fifth to eighth grade but can be scaled for ninth to twelfth with suggested extra activities. The lessons are aligned with Common Core Standards for Math and English Language Arts/Literacy, National Science Education Standards and California and Hawaiʻi State Science Standards. Funding for these lessons came from the NOAA Office of Marine Sanctuaries. Find it for free at

Laysan Albatross
Black-footed Albatross chick

Lesson 1 of the curriculum introduces students to the wonderful world of seabirds. Hands-on activities explore the life cycles of albatrosses, their adaptations for life at sea, and the marine food web.

Lesson 2 focuses on tracking albatross migrations. Students follow and analyze the epic movements of albatrosses with hands-on activities that use real tracking data from albatrosses tagged in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and California Current.

Lesson 3 is about protecting ocean hotspots. Students analyze albatross movements in relation to seafloor features to better understand foraging hotspots. The lesson also highlights important protected areas in the North Pacific.

Tracking albatross migrations

Lesson 4 examines the albatross diet via boluses, or the regurgitation chicks make before fledging. Students learn how marine debris is fed to albatross chicks by their parents, and examine sources of marine plastic pollution. Hands-on activities include a virtual bolus dissection, and making a creative model of a bolus using everyday debris in students’ homes.

In Lesson 5, students conduct a survey to analyze debris in their school or community. Students make connections between community debris and marine debris, like what was found in the albatrosses. This lesson inspires action by creating a public service announcement about how human behaviors impact the ocean.

To learn more about Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, please visit:

Images courtesy of Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge.

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