In September 2019, I became a part of the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant team. Marine science has been exciting and interesting to me since middle school and as a current Marine Education Fellow I have many platforms to share that passion. Most directly, I teach classes for grades PreK-12th grade in outdoor spaces and indoor teaching labs, covering various topics related to marine sciences like fish identification and phytoplankton labs. Apart from my main teaching responsibilities, I work alongside the three other Marine Education Fellows in animal husbandry, coordination of public programs and many different projects around our facility. Of all our work from the past seven months, our magnum opus is definitely the planning and coordination of Savannah’s sixth annual Youth Ocean Conservation Summit (YOCS).
YOCS started at Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory in 2011 and has since expanded to many satellite summits across the country. The mission of YOCS is to connect students to ocean conservation issues while equipping them with skills to implement their own local conservation project. Our Savannah summit reached middle and high school students from across Georgia and northern Florida. The planning stages for this event, which took place February 15, 2020, began as a daunting task in early October. Thanks to the collaboration and communication skills within our Marine Education Fellows team, planning YOCS soon became manageable. My responsibilities included drafting promotional material, creating the event t-shirt design and contacting a few of our guest speakers. Through each of these I learned how to best communicate information and utilize art in the context of science.
After months of planning and preparing logistics, the day finally came! Forty-two middle and high school students filed into the aquarium bright and early as the excitement of YOCS began. The day kicked off with our keynote speaker, Paulita Bennett-Martin, discussing her work in ocean conservation, specifically concerning the North Atlantic right whale. During the subsequent skill-building workshops, guests from Coastal Wildscapes, Georgia Association of Marine Educators, Chatham County Recycles and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center discussed ways to use species identification, effective communication, art and research tools, respectively, in conservation projects. I had the opportunity to watch each student in my workshop group break out of their shell while engaging in new activities and discussions.
In the latter half of the day, the summit participants heard from three high school students involved in conservation projects unique to the needs in their communities. Following this panel, which consisted of advice and inspiration from their peers, students were able to put everything they had learned to action. It gave me so much joy to see these groups of young people, around the age that I started loving science, come up with new ideas to bring conservation to their communities.
During the action planning session, there was one student having a hard time fitting into a group. I spent time talking him through each planning step and saw a spark in his eye when I asked about the conservation issue he wanted to tackle. By the end of action planning, another staff member and I plugged him into a group with a similar project idea. During the poster session at the end of the day, I asked this same participant to share his group’s finished project with me. As he explained the idea, I witnessed a young person, who was initially disinterested in the process, transform into an excited young scientist who took ownership of the project. This experience (and many others throughout the day) showed me that the months of planning and preparing were worth it because students became excited about learning, created something new and were able to connect scientific knowledge to life outside a classroom.