As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back and celebrate our collective efforts to protect and preserve our blue planet! As we prepare for a big year in 2017, we are constantly inspired by and grateful for the work of our youth program participants, team members, volunteers, partners, sponsors, and supporters who came together in 2016 to help continue to build on our work to empower the next generation of ocean conservationists. Take a look at some highlights from this past year…
n Saturday, December 10 we hosted our largest Youth Ocean Conservation Summit event to date at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, FL! This event united over 230 youth and adults from across the country - equipping youth participants with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to successfully implement diverse ocean conservation projects in their communities. Participants were inspired by keynote speaker, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader, Chris Fischer, who worked alongside an incredible lineup of presenters to help youth attendees take on the challenges facing our planet’s marine ecosystems.
In 2016 we also teamed up with teams of youth leaders and partnering conservation minded institutions, to host satellite Youth Ocean Conservation Summits in Savannah, GA; Pine Knoll Shores, NC; Corpus Christi, TX; New York City; Baltimore, MD; and Long Island, NY – bringing this program to young people in ten U.S. cities to date since 2014.
Thus far in 2016, we have provided 18 mini-grants to fund student led ocean conservation projects emerging from our Youth Ocean Conservation Summit events! To date, fifty-six grants, totaling over $11,600, have been distributed to Summit alumni across the nation. Grant recipients led diverse conservation initiatives including reducing the use of plastic water bottles on school campuses, developing educational outreach activities on shark conservation, restoring critical mangrove habitats and teaching community members about water quality.
In an effort to elevate the voices of young ocean conservation leaders, we partnered with The Ocean Project and the Big Blue & You to launch Sea Youth Rise Up – a first of its kind campaign which brought seven young conservationists, including four Youth Ocean Conservation Summit alumni, from the U.S., Canada, and the Bahamas, to New York City and Washington D.C. for World Oceans Day. Participants shared their passion for ocean conservation through a live, World Oceans Day global broadcast from the New York Aquarium, met with world leaders and conservationists at the United Nations and Capitol Hill Oceans Week, and advocated for the protection of the Atlantic Coral Canyons - subsequently named the first Marine National Monument in the Atlantic by President Obama in September, during a meeting at the White House. The journey of these young people was shared through social media and a mini-documentary which debuted this fall.
In 2016 we finalized and announced plans to launch the first Youth Ocean Conservation Summit Field Expeditions – an exciting program to connect Summit alumni and allow them to collaborate with our partner organizations on real world marine conservation and research work. We are honored to be partnering with Biscayne National Park which will host the first of these expeditions - a camping expedition on Elliott Key March 17-19, 2016.
This year the newly re-designed yocs.org site was launched to highlight the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit program, to serve as a resource hub of opportunities for Summit alumni, to provide an outlet to share inspiring stories of youth-driven ocean conservation work, and to highlight the expansion of this program across the nation.
In 2016 we announced the first mid-western Youth Ocean Conservation Summit coming to St. Louis, MO and the St. Louis Zoo on February 10-12, 2017! This event will emphasize the important connections between inland regions and the ocean while focusing on the important role we all share in protecting our blue planet.
These are just a few of the successes of the past year that have set the stage for exciting things to come in 2017. A special thanks to all of you for building this community over the years – let’s redouble our efforts to protecting our planet’s marine ecosystems for the year ahead. Happy New Year!