We are overwhelmed with headlines declaring the devastating human impact on ocean ecosystems and reading the headlines paints a bleak view of the future. Yet here at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, we are finding hope for the future in our youth.
The Aquarium’s Youth Ocean Conservation Series offered a wide range of experiences for students to learn about and join in on marine conservation efforts. This year, on March 2, we proudly partnered with the national Youth Ocean Conservation Summit organization to host our first satellite Youth Ocean Conservation Summit event.
Alumni from past summits at other locations have already done so much. Nearly 2,000 participants nationwide have succeeded in raising close to $20,000 as a result of student-led ocean conservation efforts. Projects range from a simple presentation before classmates to the more ambitious efforts of grant-proposal writing. Students are doing everything from presenting concerns before government officials and policy makers to organizing grass-roots volunteer clean-ups along the shorelines. Annual summits take place at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, and have grown to include gatherings at other facilities and aquariums around the country, including ours!
This year our theme focused on single-use plastics and marine debris, in hopes of helping kids think about what they, as individuals and in teams, can accomplish to help make real change in our community and the larger world. Through several skill-building workshops during the event, kids learned how to start a small project and build on it. They were provided with the opportunity to come together and share concerns and ideas on ocean conservation. They learned how to find resources, like current data and research findings, and how to fund raise. They left with an understanding of how to market their project on social media, and how art helps connect audiences with conservation messages. The students now have tools, including project action sheets and checklists to help structure their projects. They also had time during the event to work with staff and other volunteer mentors to get them started. Hopefully, this is just the beginning…and we are excited to see where they will go!