The Ocean Project’s Youth Advisory Council seeks to engage communities through the actions of young people.
What if our oceans were celebrated every day of the year? What would it look like if everyone on the planet knew how their everyday actions affected oceans, even if they live a thousand miles from the sea? The newly formed World Oceans Day Youth Advisory Council wants to do just that.
Every year on June 8, World Oceans Day is celebrated with beach cleanups, environmental education and activities to bring awareness and appreciation to the wonders of oceans. Led by folks at The Ocean Project, U.S. participation in the annual World Oceans Day celebration has increased every year.
ÛÏJune has really become synonymous with oceans,Û said Bill Mott, director of The Ocean Project.
The success of World Oceans Day has encouraged an even broader goal: Make every day an Oceans Day.
The Ocean Project, an organization that partners with aquariums and zoos around the world for education and environmentalism, has been wondering how to energize the public about ocean conservation throughout the year, not just on World Oceans Day. Organization staff looked at 10 years of data on educational programs, outreach, and contact with visitors at aquariums and zoos, and analyzed which approaches worked best in public engagement and conservation.
Three main points stuck out from the data: 1) scientific information presented at aquariums, zoos, and museums is overwhelmingly trusted and appreciated by the public, 2) people want to know how they can contribute to solving a problem and make a positive difference in their everyday lives, and 3) youth engagement is key to lasting change and progress to ocean conservation.
This final point has evolved into the Youth Advisory Council ÛÒ an international group formed to help youth engage their communities in ocean stewardship. Eleven youth ranging from 14 to 22 years old were chosen from 11 different countries around the world. Each council member will engage with their countries and cities, collaborating with partners around the world. Mott said the goal of the council is to make connections with people already doing the work and ÛÏbuild bigger waves of actionÛ throughout the year.
Council members were chosen because of their commitment and passion to inspire, network, and shape ocean conservation around the world. Only one young person was picked to represent a country, increasing diversity and geographic representation. Mott describes the Council as a way to connect existing networks with fresh eyes and optimistic ideas.
ÛÏThese young people are global citizens, not constrained by political boundaries,Û he said. åÊ
The council members include youth on the coast and inland, and each member brings unique perspectives and experiences to the group. Mott noted that it is important to engage communities that may not be located on a coast and increase their participation in issues that affect the health of oceans. Though many people are physically distant from oceans, their decisions often affect the oceans in one way or another.
One inland council member, Baylee Ritter of the United States, said she wanted to be a part of the Council ÛÏbecause I am a bit of an outlier Û_ how do people outside of an ocean get involved in World Oceans day in their communities?Û
Her approach to World Oceans Day includes talking about local water and pollution issues.
ÛÏIt’s easier to engage people in their communities where they can see it (impacts) versus talking about where they can’t see it (oceans),Û she said.
For example, understanding how a river in Illinois connects to the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico, is an important realization for inland communities.
ÛÏKids want to care about where they are from,Û said Ritter, and she noted that encouraging local conservation resonates with young people and communities.
Ritter explained that engaging youth in ocean conservation should include projects that can be done year-round, not just on a specific day. Youth want to know how they can help solve environmental problems, but the solutions need to be attainable given the time and resources available.
Ritter said she believes projects should be ÛÏfree, easy, and tangible.Û One of her goals is to post examples on the World Oceans Day website of easy, everyday activities that can help ocean conservation. She understands the importance of social media and effective web communication, especially when it comes to youth involvement.
Another Council member, Gabriella Schauber of Canada, has worked with kids at the Vancouver Aquarium. Schauber’s passion for protecting marine animals focuses on education and activism for young people around the world.
ÛÏI truly believe that even children from the age of 4 years old can make a difference; it is unfortunate that sometimes their voices are ignored simply due to their age,Û she said. “I have seen time and time again the beginning of a spark within children that I’ve worked with.Û
She went on to highlight the compassionate, innovative nature of youth when presented with a problem: ÛÏYouth have a voice in the world that united, is more powerful that we think. As young leaders in this world, governments, international bodies need a youth perspective and push to at times open their eyes or convince them to take action on an issue.Û
Mott said engaging youth is the best hope for the future of oceans. He enthusiastically spoke about the positive attitudes and big ideas coming from council members, and is excited to see their work develop. The members of the Youth Advisory Council are ready to encourage World Oceans Day to become a year-long celebration.
ÛÏIt’s easy as a millennial to look around and feel like it’s one step forward, four steps back, even though I am making a difference,Û Ritter said. ÛÏI genuinely believe in the good this group can do.Û
Sarah Derouin, Ph.D., is a geologist who is beginning a degree in science communication at the University of California Santa Cruz.