David Boughton Brings Science to Life!
Receives Outstanding Conservation Educator of the Year Award 

David Boughton and Lake Guardian


Storyteller. Educator. Mentor. David Boughton is all of these and much more.

In 2006, David Boughton joined Pennsylvania Sea Grant to build a shipboard education program in Erie, PA. Today, as maritime education specialist, he leads several K-adult educational programs, works side-by-side with community groups to improve Lake Erie underwater habitat, and conducts shipwreck and educational programming. David’s ‘can-do’ attitude and hands-on approach to teaching and learning have benefitted thousands of students and adults.

David and group receiving award David was recently honored by the Crawford County Conservation District, who awarded him the 2018 Outstanding Conservation Educator of the Year award, during their annual award banquet held February 28.

Boughton enjoys telling a story, especially one that starts with a dramatic open like “It was a dark and stormy night,” but his love of stories and presenting them in a theatrical way are just one of his likeable qualities. David also has the unique ability to reach out to students, sense what teaching style might work best, and help them make a connection to science and nature.

“I am truly humbled by this award,” he said. “I’m a teacher. That’s what I do. And one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that I can have things all planned out – my objectives and the skillsets that I want students to learn that day – ready to go. But sometimes students carry around heavy life burdens, and so you can never assume that everyone is having a good day and is ready to learn. Some days you just have to save your plan and objectives, and go with the opportunity that is presented to you by meeting kids where they are at that day. The objectives can wait for another day.”  

On any given day, David may be teaching students how to build underwater robots, deploying those same robots into Lake Erie to test water quality, managing science stations aboard a research vessel, running a shipboard education program, or teaching youth techniques for fly-fishing. Collaborations and partnerships are important to making this work happen, and include the PA Fish & Boat Commission, PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, PA Department of Environmental Protection, the S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie, Regional Science Consortium, various state and local agencies, scientists, marine archaeologists, divers, and volunteers.

We celebrate David Boughton and congratulate him for receiving the 2019 Outstanding Conservation Educator award! 


Since 2006, David has engaged over 14,000 students through Pennsylvania Sea Grant’s award-winning shipboard education program. Participants learn about water quality, water resources and the overall health and Lake Erie through science-based, hands-on activities such as conducting water quality and chemistry testing and using plankton nets to collect samples. Another component of the shipboard education is using submersible robots, built by students in grades 4-12 in workshops facilitated by Boughton, to explore the depths of Lake Erie to conduct visual assessments (with on board cameras), run bouyancy tests of the unit, gather samples, and monitor water quality at various depths. Boughton and students have built hundreds of units since the workshops began in 2009. 

David Boughton conducting teacher training robotics lab Students participate in underwater robotics lab 21st Century Cyber Charter School students and teacher


Fish habitat enhancement efforts are an opportunity to engage local students, already engaged in PA Sea Grant’s Fisheries Science Program, to lend a hand and learn about aquatic habitats. The structures offer cover and specific habitats that fish need for spawning and feeding so they can survive and thrive. They also provide newly hatched juvenile fish, called ‘fry,’ with protection and cover so they can survive and mature.

Students and volunteers building fish habitat structures deploying fish habitat structuresDavid Boughton participating in survey of underwater fish habitat structures David Boughton and Jerry Skrypzak, S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie


Shipwreck research, survey, and education. Working with state and local agencies, scientists, and other marine archaeologists & divers and volunteers, Boughton educates others about the shipwrecks that lie at the bottom of Lake Erie. 

“We need to fully survey, record and understand what we have below our waters to properly tell the story, protect and conserve these maritime treasures, and honor the sailors who lost their lives to the unpredictably treacherous waters of the Great Lakes," says Boughton. "Our team of volunteer divers are certified in survey techniques to measure and photograph the debris fields and characterize the location, so that each site can be cataloged into the state historic office inventory and be shared with future generations.”

Great Lakes Shipwreck exhibit, Erie PA David Boughton examines shipwreck materials

Main Office: Tom Ridge Environmental Center 301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 3 Erie, PA 16505 814-217-9011