When Sean Russell was working as an intern at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium while he was in high school, he noticed that other students became passionate about solving the problem of fishing line discarded in local waters. Birds, crabs, turtles and more can become entangled in used fishing line. The students Russell was working with wanted to figure out a way to reduce the amount of fishing line that ended up in the water.
Their enthusiasm prompted Russell to launch the first Youth Ocean Conservation Summit in 2011. The annual event, now entering its ninth year, brings together young people with a common goal—environmental education and activism.
“The big goal is to not just leave students with paper and a plan, but to equip them with tools and knowledge,” says Russell. Roughly 200 young people are expected to participate in this year's Conservation Summit, which takes place this Saturday, Dec. 7, at Mote. Attendees will hear experts discuss conservation challenges, draw inspiration from fellow environmentalists and attend training sessions that teach skills for creating new conservation projects. The summit also serves as a learning opportunity for youth who are interested in pursuing ocean conservation careers and marine research.
The Conservation Summit's impact extends beyond the actual event. Organizers have awarded 140 mini-grants, worth up to $200 each, to summit attendees, who have used the money to fund conservation projects developed at the summit. One successful project is the turtle-safe toy box, created by Caleb Jameson. The box is a repository for used beach toys that reduces plastic pollution by encouraging people to reuse and share toys.
The summit isn't entirely for young people. The public is invited to a free film screening at Mote at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6. The film being shown is The Smog of the Sea, by documentarian Ian Cheney, which follows a research expedition through the Sargasso Sea.
The deadline to register for this year's Youth Ocean Conservation Summit has passed, but the event will return next year. Visit the summit website for more information.