Ben May, Intern
Wednesday, July 18, 2018

At a time where the world is faced with herculean challenges, it is imperative that we engage the passion, idealism, and energy found within the youth of today. Among the many World Oceans Day 2018 initiatives to mobilize this valuable source of new energy was the Sea Youth Rise Up campaign, first launched for World Oceans Day 2016 by The Ocean Project, Big Blue & You, and the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit. This campaign brings together a delegation of seven young, international leaders – all below the age of 21 – to share their conservation work to inspire a global audience and demonstrate the importance of engaging young people in decision-making processes.

In 2016, I served as a member of the inaugural Sea Youth Rise Up delegation. It was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life, contributing greatly to my decision to devote myself fully to environmental conservation. I am as grateful for the opportunity stay connected, first as an alumni mentor and next as a coordinator. This continued engagement reinvigorates my hope for the future and introduces me to new bright, young environmental leaders. This year’s campaign matched, and may even have exceeded, the high level of enthusiasm and energy of previous years – something that I did not know was possible.

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2016 SYRUP Delegation, Ben May/Sea Youth Rise Up

As one of this year’s coordinators, I spent many long hours in my college dorm arranging the logistics of the campaign. I learned what it takes to pull off successful initiatives by helping to run the application process, planning the campaign, and coordinating the website and social media.

This year, Sea Youth Rise Up returned to Washington, DC with an impressive delegation of seven young conservation leaders.

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Above, from left to right are the 2018 SYRUP Delegates: Kai Beattie (17, New York), citizen scientist and environmental community organizer; Madison Toonder (17, Florida), environmental researcher recognized by NOAA for “Taking the Pulse of the Planet”; Vyshnavi Kosigishroff (18, Delaware), ThinkOcean regional coordinator and March for Science Delaware coordinator; Annie Means (18, California), student speaker and founder of the environmental blog Recycling on Seattle Waterfront; Ruby Rorty (18, California), founder of Santa Cruz Environmental Alliance; Jacob Garland (15, Massachusetts), founder of the environmental blog Working to SaveDarrea Frazier (16, Maryland), award-winning environmental educator and advocate.

The 2018 campaign kicked off on June 8, World Oceans Day, with a morning on Capitol Hill – an inspiring meeting with the Senate Ocean Caucus to press for increased protection of marine ecosystems, legislative limitations on plastic pollution, and decrease of off-shore oil drilling in areas with fragile marine ecosystems. Then, the Sea Youth Rise Up delegates shared their ocean messages through a live broadcast streamed via Facebook and YouTube Live. This broadcast was viewed by a live, international audience of more than 1,000 people and has been viewed more than 3,000 times since. Following the broadcast, the delegates joined others in making posters for the March for the Ocean. Finally, we ended World Oceans Day at the Social for the Sea, cosponsored by The Ocean Project and the United Nations Environment Program, a spectacular opportunity to network with top ocean leaders, scientists, and celebrities including Philippe Cousteau, co-founder of EarthEcho International, and Jim Toomey, a cartoonist best known for his syndicated comic strip Sherman’s Lagoon.

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The 2018 Delegates on the Hill, Ben May/Sea Youth Rise Up

On June 9, the campaign continued with a tour of the Ocean Plastics Lab on the National Mall. Then, Sea Youth Rise Up took part in the inaugural March for the Ocean. Although the heat was sweltering throughout the day, thousands of ocean advocates came out and participated – a true display of the passion for our ocean! The march was immediately followed by a rally where we had the honor of going on stage for the delegates to introduce themselves and declare their call to action. In addition to the large crowd present, more than 50,000 people have viewed the rally through Facebook Live. Although a thunderstorm caused the rally to end early, it was a spectacular opportunity to hear from other youth and adult leaders, such as Heirs to Our Oceans, a delegation of youth middle school-aged and younger dedicated to inspiring awareness, responsibility, and action, or Céline Cousteau, founder of CauseCentric Productions.

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The 2018 SYRUP Team

Having participated in this initiative for the past three years, it has not ceased to amaze me how quickly bonds form within the delegation. What began as a group of seven inspiring young leaders ended as a tight-knit group of friends working together towards ocean conservation. Whether collaborating on future environmental projects or simply staying connected, the shared passion for the ocean acted as a catalyst for powerful friendships to form. I for one was thrilled to see my friends Laura Johnson (Florida) and Baylee Ritter (Illinois) from the 2016 delegation and found new friends among this year’s delegation. By bringing awareness to the pressing problems facing our ocean, bringing like-minded young leaders together to pursue solutions, and mobilizing an ever-growing audience, this campaign continues to demonstrate our ability and obligation as a society to address human impact on the environment. The optimism cultivated by the Sea Youth Rise Up delegates has inspired many to rise up for the ocean, and I am excited about what future years will bring.

If you’re interested in being a part of this amazing team, as a member of the 2019 Sea Youth Rise Up Delegation, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for updates. 

Ben May is a 2018 Sea Youth Rise Up Coordinator and the ThinkOcean Executive Director. A New York native, he is a member of the University of Pennsylvania Class of 2021.