Aquarium Youths Attend Student Summit in Washington D.C.

March 21, 2011

Four youth volunteers from the Oregon Coast Aquarium traveled to Washington D.C. recently, to attend the 2011 Student Summit on the Ocean & Coasts. The student delegation, accompanied by Tricia Ratliff, Aquarium youth volunteer coordinator and Jessica Haxel, teacher at Siletz Valley Early College Academy, spent five days in the nation’s capitol and presented programs on ocean acidification and hypoxia (dead zones).

The summit, sponsored by Coastal America, drew twenty delegations of 80 students and 40 educators from 19 Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers throughout the United States and one delegation from Mexico. The summit was held February 14 – 17 and included a talk and ocean film footage by Jean-Michel Cousteau and Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, conservationist, author and television personality. Hanna offered the students an opportunity to interact with wild animals from penguins to cheetahs.  

“The student presentations and poster sessions were beyond all expectations.  The use of a video format for the student presentations was very effective and enabled us to get the story out to a broader audience via the web,” said Virginia Tippie, Coastal America Director.  Tippie said the Summit reached a nationwide audience via live streaming video.  On opening day, the Summit website received over 85,000 hits from people viewing the streamed student presentations.   The Smithsonian is currently archiving the students’ presentations and the Jean-Michel Cousteau speech for viewing on the Ocean Portal (http://ocean.si.edu).

The Aquarium group, which named itself the “Dungeness Avengers,” made their presentation at the Smithsonian Institution followed by Cousteau’s talk.  They include seniors Chris Crawford and Crystal Hawk from Siletz Valley Early College Academy, junior Daniel Persson and senior Jessica Whaley of Newport High School. The students also attended workshops on climate change and worked with other students to create a unified goal. They also met with Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Ron Wyden’s staff to discuss their project and how they plan to implement it in Oregon.

“The trip to DC and this project in general has been life changing,” said Newport High School senior Jessica Whaley. “I never thought I would meet Jean Michel Cousteau and Jack Hanna. Cousteau is an intelligent man and from the talk he gave to us I learned that even though I am a teen, I can make a difference.  I was inspired to take action and to strengthen my commitment to better the world for future generations.”

Daniel Persson also said the Summit had a big impact on him. “It was inspirational to see so many of my peers that wanted to make a difference and fix the problems we are facing now and prevent more in the future,” said Persson. “This experience has definitely made me reconsider my life goals. Now I am looking at a career in environmental engineering.”

The Dungeness Avengers are raising funds for their project with hooded sweatshirts that say, “Invertebrates: Kind of a big deal” on the front and “Grow a backbone: Protect those that can’t” on the back. The sweatshirts sell for $35 each and can be purchased by calling Tricia Ratliff at 541-867-3474 ext. 5312.

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