by Lilly Tougas
Many children want to help protect our environment but do not necessarily know what to or how to use their ideas. Thanks to the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit kids are able to learn more about how to get started or just meet with others who share their passion for conservation. The 2016 Summit had over 230 participants, workshops around the clock, guest speakers, and even a film fest to kick it off. The Youth Ocean Conservation Summit provides information, empowerment, and support for youth of all ages to get started on ocean conservation projects. The Youth Ocean Conservation Summit (YOCS) just finished its sixth year.
The Summit was started in 2011 by Sean Russell, a Peter Benchley Ocean Award recipient and Founder of the Stow It-Don't Throw It Project, in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory. Sean Russell has always been a lover of the ocean and was part of Mote’s High School Intern program. When he was 16 he started Stow It-Don't Throw It because he had a passion to help the environment and take action. The project was created to keep monofilament fishing line contained and disposed of properly so that it doesn't pose a problem for the environment and its creatures. Sean started making personal sized monofilament recycling bins by re-purposing used tennis ball containers to hand out to anglers or people who go out to enjoy the coastal areas and could contribute to the cleanup of improperly discarded fishing line. Sean realized that he would like to spread his desire to take action on to other youth by bringing them together for a whole day to get them inspired and provide them with support for projects they come up with to protect the ocean.
The first Youth Ocean Conservation Summit in 2011 had approximately 100 participants at the Mote Marine campus and has grown to 230 participants in the sixth year. I have been a part of the Summit since the beginning so I speak first hand when I say it has been an incredible experience. Sean Russell has been a huge supporter of my work and the work of all youth that seek his guidance. The Summit is designed to empower young people interested in ocean conservation to take their ideas, passion, and desire to make a difference to the next level. The night before the Summit is the Youth Ocean Conservation Film Festival where many participants have submitted films and some are shown, as well as booths set up to educate the participants about conservation work and projects carried out by past Summit participants.
The day of the Summit starts with a welcome message and a Keynote Speaker. Past speakers and presenters include environmentalist and photographer Jim Abernethy, movie maker George Schellenger, and Chris Fischer from OCEARCH. Partnerships have been formed with many groups including the Wyland Foundation, the Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico program, Disney, SeaWorld, the Captain Planet Foundation, Klean Kanteen, the International Ocean Institute-USA, Dr. Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue, and many more. After the morning presentations, participants attend the different workshops or presentations they signed up for during online registration. These include careers in conservation, art with conservation, and other topics that vary from year to year such as fundraising, public speaking, social media marketing, habitat restoration, water quality monitoring, and filmmaking to name a few.
This year, I was a mentor in the Ocean Conservation Project Action Planning session, where I helped a group of participants think of ways to kick off a project idea they are passionate about. This is one of the most important parts of attending the Summit and brings it full circle. Here’s how:when a participant creates a plan of action for an ocean conservation project, they are invited to apply for a mini grant which is funded by Summit sponsors and partners, as well as funds raised through a silent auction fundraiser held during the film festival. When young people apply and get accepted, they will perform the duties of said project for the year and are invited to future Summits to speak, present, or share their project. Since the launch of the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, there have been satellite summits in ten other cities throughout the nation, with new sites each year.
It is so amazing to watch kids go from an idea that was inspired by attending the Summit to years of work and change making. Sean Russell is proof that one person can make a difference. His efforts over the years have multiplied to make a huge and growing impact on our ocean’s future by educating and empowering youth to care about our blue planet.
To find out more about YOCS, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoirNhQqjvw&feature=youtu.be