The oceans are rising and so are youth! Around the country and around the world, young people are coming together and speaking out to protect and restore our ocean and our climate, the two major interconnected issues facing our planet and society.
Thanks to continued strong support from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and also The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, in early June 2019, the Sea Youth Rise Up campaign returned to Washington, D.C. and brought together an inspiring delegation of seven young conservation leaders from around the United States.
Launched several years ago for World Oceans Day, Sea Youth Rise Up is a collaborative effort to empower and mobilize young people to stand up for our ocean. Facilitated by The Ocean Project and the World Oceans Day network in partnership with Big Blue & You and the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, Sea Youth Rise Up creates catalysts for change and provides a platform for youth to express their ideas and magnify their conservation advocacy efforts.
Each year we select a diverse group of young people. The 2019 delegates included youth from coastal and inland areas: Apurva Iyengar (16, New Jersey), Victoria Martens (16, Illinois), Bryant Jew (22, California), Rachel Fink (18, Maryland), Akhila Bandlora (17, Arizona), Jackie Noval (18, Florida) and Grace Doleshel (17, Washington). All 7 have different backgrounds but arrived in D.C. with one mission: to inspire a global audience to take action to protect and restore our ocean.
The 2019 campaign kicked off on June 5 with an exciting and informative day at Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) 2019. The morning began with remarks from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA). They both argued that the ocean has been abused for too long but expressed optimism about moving ocean conservation legislation through Congress this year. Throughout the day, the delegates attended multiple exciting CHOW panels and learned about various conservation issues and policy initiatives, both from the panels and discussions with scientists, policymakers, and advocates during the breaks. The group especially loved the Margaret Davidson Emerging Leaders Plenary, which featured leaders from diverse backgrounds and regions who conveyed the importance of engaging on climate change and ocean issues in innovative ways and with young advocates.
On June 6, the delegation started the day at the Center for American Progress for a discussion on the future of ocean conservation. John Podesta moderated a panel of experts, including Jane Lubchenco, Distinguished Professor, Oregon State University; former Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Vikki Spruill, President and CEO, New England Aquarium; and Kalani Quiocho, Native Hawaiian Program Specialist, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Panelists discussed the current state of MPAs and the critical importance of increasing ocean protection in a warming world, and the delegates got to talk directly with Jane Lubchenco and Kalani Quiocho following the event.
Later that day, the Sea Youth Rise Up 2019 delegation also participated in CHOW Hill Day and attended several meetings with politicians and staffers, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva’s Senior Policy Advisor and other committee staff. During the meeting, the delegation discussed their topics of interest including climate, fisheries, and plastics, and also how youth can play a larger role in providing input in the decision-making process. The delegation then had a meeting scheduled with the staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The group advocated for increased funding for NOAA initiatives and plastic pollution legislation. To finish the day off, the delegates were inspired by a meeting with a staffer from U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz from the Miami area. The group asked about how the Congresswoman is addressing sea level rise. Since the Congresswoman is a member of the House Appropriation Committee, the delegates also reinforced the importance of more funding for NOAA and other related coastal and ocean initiatives.
The morning of June 7, the delegates arrived at The Ocean Foundation headquarters to prepare for the Sea Youth Rise Up LIVE Global Broadcast. This broadcast was streamed via Facebook and YouTube Live and allowed the delegates to share their conservation message to a global audience. The delegates inspired viewers to take action in their communities and pushed everyone to think of ways to get involved no matter how old they are.
Friday evening, the delegates celebrated the successes of the week with the Social for the Sea, hosted by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership and the National Ocean Sciences Bowl on their spectacular rooftop deck. This unique networking opportunity featured additional youth from the region and a variety of mentors and top leaders from different sectors. RADM Jon White, President and CEO inspired the audience with opening remarks and thanks to all the wide variety of mentors the delegates had the opportunity to learn a lot more about careers in conservation. “I didn’t know you could make a living while making a difference,” noted delegate, Jacquelyn Noval.
On World Oceans Day, June 8 – as part of the 2019 conservation action theme that focused on plastic pollution and how together we can protect and restore our ocean – the delegates traveled to the Anacostia Park for an impactful morning river and park cleanup with United By Blue, which for World Oceans Day 2019 had just recently announced that they were committing to eliminating single-use plastics in their company over the next 12 months! In three hours, the nearly 200 volunteers in attendance collected 976.5 pounds of debris, mainly single-use plastic and microplastic items. To finish out the week, the delegates visited the National Mall and took a nighttime tour of the national monuments.
As a long-time environmental educator and activist, I am often asked if I am “optimistic” about the future of our planet. The question usually comes from people who know a lot about the problem (via the news) and little about the work currently being done. Most people in my position would probably shy away from this question and given our current news climate, I find myself filled with pessimism on occasion. But I actually love this question because it allows me to reflect on my time with Sea Youth Rise Up and remind people that our future is in really good hands.
I was a Sea Youth Rise Up delegate in 2016 and have returned voluntarily to mentor the next delegation each year for the last two years. This year I coordinated the campaign. Even though each delegation has their own dynamic and personality, the passion and energy they exude never wavers. Whenever I am faced with a question about our future, I find myself retelling their stories. The amount of work they have already done (at such a young age might I add) and the amount of plans they have for the future is unmatched, bar none. Without fail, each Sea Youth Rise Up delegation arrives with visions of a healthier planet and leaves with plans to make a difference together. There is an indescribable magic that happens when you allow young change makers to collaborate freely in a space that promotes radical ideas.
Every time I tell someone about Sea Youth Rise Up, I hope I give them a tiny piece of the optimism and energy that I felt when I was in D.C. with this year’s delegation. I am optimistic about the future of our planet because I have seen the future leaders and change makers. After all (with credit to Wendell Berry as the originator of this quote), “we do not inherit the world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
– Baylee Ritter, Youth Coordinator, The Ocean Project