The University of Georgia’s third annual Youth Ocean Conservation Summit took place earlier this year at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island. Thirty students between the ages of 12 and 17 heard from engaging keynote speakers, participated in skill-building workshops and created their own initiatives to tackle current conservation issues.
This event had been many months in the making, organized by me and and three other Georgia Sea Grant interns at the Marine Education Center and Aquarium. I can’t say I was surprised by the vast number of logistics that had to be tackled in order to pull off this event. However, several things did catch me off-guard. First and foremost was the task of creating a project that would challenge the students to think critically and enthusiastically about conservation issues that were important to them. In turn, making a worksheet with guided questions challenged us to think about the important components of creating a conservation initiative. There was a good deal of mentally stimulating work to be done, which was a facet of the project that I greatly appreciated. Challenging ourselves to create a thorough program led to a successful event in which students not only learned how to make change, but also took the first steps towards doing so. Their projects addressed issues such as marine debris, deforestation and coral bleaching caused by sunscreen. It was extremely rewarding to see the students tackle what we had prepared for them with such enthusiasm.
A welcome surprise was the overwhelming amount of support we received as we were planning the event. Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant employees, both from Skidaway Island and from Brunswick, Ga., were invested in our project and happy to help. They did everything from advertising to presenting on the day of the workshop. Their help was essential to the successful implementation of the summit, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have such dedicated people supporting us. We also received outside support in the form of donations from Stream2Sea, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The donations were given to participants not only as goodies, but as a way to familiarize and connect them with these other outstanding organizations. The scientific community in Georgia is a close-knit network of people who support one another to advance change and make positive impacts. I’m pleased that we were able to introduce the summit participants to this community.
All of our planning and preparation culminated in a successful summit ripe with creativity, dedication and inspiration. Keynote speakers included Clayton Ferrara, the executive director of IDEAS For Us, and the founders of One More Generation (OMG), Olivia and Carter Ries. Our colleagues, along with speakers from One Hundred Miles, Leadership Savannah and Savannah State University led science workshops and skill-building activities. The day ended on a spectacular note, with groups of students presenting well-developed and creative plans to undertake conservation initiatives of their own design. I speak for all of the Georgia Sea Grant marine education interns when I say that we couldn’t have hoped for a better event. Everyone that participated in this summit was inspiring, and the involvement of so many young people was a testament to the fact that anyone, at any age, can make a difference.