Our youth leaders were empowered through inspiring campers to keep our shorelines clean and oceans safe.
We want our youth to feel empowered and have hope for the future of our oceans.
The Vancouver Aquarium’s Youth Environmental Leaders Program combines conservation leadership training with experiential education. It is a camp for youth who want to become informed, empowered, and connected to how their everyday behaviour effects the environment and those they share it with. Environmental stewardship comes with the ongoing challenge of making personal change and inspiring others to adopt methods for responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. In order to achieve this we wanted to connect them with and find ways to be active in their communities.
We asked our youth campers in our youth environmental leaders program to plan and coordinate a Great Canadian shoreline cleanup for our younger aquacampers.
34 youth from Taiwan, Seattle and throughout Canada set to work planning a shoreline clean-up. Their goal: to organize materials, give safety instructions and partner with campers 4-12 years old to clean-up Devonian Harbour in Stanley Park. Markers were flying as they designed colourful posters that would drum up excitement and provide important instructions but it was their enthusiasm for the project that was truly contagious. The clean-up got underway as 2-3 youth each paired with 10 younger campers to comb the beach for items to clean-up and record. The teamwork and sharing of knowledge was inspiring. Youth leaders from Taiwan shared their knowledge of marine debris effecting coastlines across the Pacific Ocean while others connected with campers over their love for clamoring over British Columbia’s beaches. It was like watching a bizarre treasure hunt as campers ran up to their youth leaders with clumps of Styrofoam or yards of rope asking how it got there and where it should be recorded on the clean-up inventory. If an object was too heavy to lift, youth leader James would come to the rescue hauling boards with nails and giant sheets of plastic safely off the shore. The youngest campers, a group of 4 year olds working with youth leaders Caitlin and Jenna, called out “This saves a bird! And this saves a turtle!” as they placed plastic in their bucket, walking hand in hand along the harbour and the entire way back to the aquarium.
The clean-up gave 154 youth, ranging from 4 to 16 years old, the opportunity to take action and see the amazing things we can accomplish for the future of our oceans when we work together. Materials were simple, consisting of clipboards, buckets, tongs, garbage bags and a combination of reusable and disposable gloves. The clean-up took 2 hours including travel time to the site and back. In that time we cleared two full bags of garbage collectively weighing 9 kilograms and including 171 cigarette butts. Youth saw firsthand the volume of materials cleared from the beach, the impact they could have on younger campers and now have the tools to take the same initiative home to their communities.
Start in your own “backyard” first. There are 9 kilograms less of garbage in our oceans and 138 youth and children that have a better understanding of how they can make a difference.
Experiential education allows learners of all ages to connect with conservation concepts and make long lasting changes that help protect the health of our planet.
Working with an established organization such as Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up provides guidance as well as connects local initiatives to national impacts. Youth can take charge while feeling a part of something much bigger at the same time.