When Gemma Duggins signed up for the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit in 2017, she wasn’t sure what to expect. A seventh-grade homeschooler at the time, she was passionate about protecting the ocean – but had never been in a group of young people who felt the same way.
So when she arrived at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium that February morning, it was an epiphany.
“I’d never been surrounded by people just as passionate about the environment as I was,” Duggins remembers. “But I also learned what I could do just as one single person to help the ocean.”
The Youth Ocean Conservation Summit is a one-day learning event for youth in grades 7-12. An annual collaboration by Point Defiance Zoo and Seattle Aquarium, it switches each year between venues. This year, it’s happening on Saturday Feb. 8 at the Tacoma zoo, and promises to be an inspiring day of nitty-gritty learning, network-building and individual project planning.
The summit features 12 speakers including Grace Hope of climate group 350 Tacoma, Karen Povey of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Dune Ives of Lonely Whale and more, plus talks from youth who have led their own conservation projects. Workshops will be led by experts on a variety of topics including volunteer coordination, community outreach, grant writing and funding, government advocacy and policy, public speaking, environmental equity, social media campaigns, storytelling and community sustainability.
Finally, each teen will leave with the tools and inspiration to plan and execute their own ocean conservation projects, plus applying for up to $200 in grants to fund them.
“I learned a lot of facts, and a lot about planning,” said Duggins, whose 2017 project was handing out reusable water bottles with her own artwork on them. She didn’t end up doing the project – but she did learn about being persistent and sticking to a timeframe. While she has school music commitments on Feb. 8 this year, she’s already hoping to go to the summit next year.
“The ocean is facing so many threats right now, from climate change to plastic pollution, that it can seem overwhelming for a young person to help,” explains Karen Povey, the zoo’s conservation engagement manager, who’ll speak at the summit about ocean advocacy. “This day offers teenagers the skills and the planning to make real changes, and the community to support them.”
Duggins would echo that.
“I learned at the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit that, while fixing the environment is much bigger than the individual person, we can’t just rely on other people to solve the problems,” she says. “We all have to get out there and do it.”