From National Aquarium education specialist, Maria Madero:
On a cold November morning, four Aquarium on Wheels (AOW) students, De’Quan, Asia, Paul, and Dana met Aquarium staff supervisors, Nancy, Maria, and Jeremyat BWI airport to begin their weekend adventure at the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit at the MOTE Marine Lab in Sarasota, FL. From the moment we stepped into the airport, there was an air of excitement. For some of our AOW students this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. In fact, it was Asia’s first time flying! Once up in the air, she was glued to the window, amazed at the sights below just as the rest of the students.
We flew into Tampa and had a gorgeous coast line drive to Sarasota, FL (filled with many sing-a-longs). The summit began that evening with a Community Ocean Conservation Film Festival featuring the short film, This is your Ocean: Sharks by Jim Abernethy and George Schellenger! The festival also featured student produced ocean conservation short films showcasing how youth of all ages are taking action to protect our marine environment.
The festival inspired our AOW students greatly. They want to continue the mission set forth by Jim Abernethy by creating their own video!
On Saturday, our group attended the full day summit at MOTE Marine Lab. We learned how the youth of Florida are making a difference in their community and beyond. Our AOW students were inspired by the personal stories of successful action plans and could not wait to make their own! Thankfully, our next session was all about action planning. We had time to brainstorm ideas and come up with an action plan that we could take back to our community and make a difference! Our group hopes to focus on a Chesapeake Bay-related issue, such as overfishing and harvesting, for the play they’ll be performing at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. They will also be creating a film that highlights this issue in hopes to spread the word even farther than Baltimore!
We spent the remainder of the summit in workshop sessions building the foundation and gathering the skills needed in order to implement our action plan. Workshop session topics included fundraising, plastic pollution, public service announcements, conservation through art, branding, and marine debris prevention. This diverse array of topics allowed for our students to develop a broad knowledge base to bring back to others in their program to make their project a success.
On Sunday morning, we had the wonderful opportunity to go kayaking in the mangroves with MOTE Marine Lab educator Brad Tanner. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for our students; they had never seen an environment like this! Not only was the location gorgeous, but we had the rare chance to see and interact with manatees! It was an unforgettable experience.
As a supervisor, getting a chance to see the students you work with on a regular basis have such a great experience is an invaluable thing. This summit inspired our students, who are now brainstorming and excited about implementing their action plans for this year. I could not be more proud of them! The attention, participation and drive of our AOW students as well as Sean has inspired all of us. A huge THANK YOU to Nancy, also known to our students as “Aunt Nancy,” who made this whole trip possible!
For more information on The Youth Ocean Conservation Summit and Sean Russell’s efforts, please visit www.stowitdontthrowitproject.org. Sean and our AOW students are proof that everyone, no matter your age, can make a difference!