This past June, nearly 300 kids from six Austrian schools gathered for the world’s first Children’s Clean Ocean Summit, titled “The Last Whale” and held at the United Nations in Vienna. The summit was run entirely by kids and involved them exploring the complex issue of plastic ocean pollution, teaching each other about solutions, then each voting for the three they found most critical. The summit culminated in the signing of their Children’s Clean Ocean Declaration, which shares their feelings and priorities and will be delivered to all world governments.
The echoes of that event continue to resonate, finding their way so far into articles in six languages across the globe, and now to the world of scuba. It was an unprecedented event and may hopefully mark the beginning of new possibilities for children to powerfully participate in our world’s environmental narrative.
Here, Founder of the Kids Save Ocean Project, Peder Hill, shares their story:
How the Project Started – The Last Whale Sculpture
Children are deeply horrified by the growing tragedy of ocean plastic pollution. And two years ago the 12-year olds at my school and I (Peder (Mr. Hill), their art and biology teacher), decided to bring attention to the issue by building a 15-foot long humpback whale sculpture made from the same rubbish that desecrates our ocean’s beauty. We titled it “The Last Whale” in recognition of what will happen if we don’t change. After building it, however, we felt it wouldn’t change anything hanging in our school, as beautiful as it was. If it would have any impact, that whale, in spirit and in reality, would have to swim far beyond.
So we approached the United Nations with the concept of the summit, which they embraced, beginning a collaboration that would also include installation of the whale sculpture at the UN for the week that included World Environment Day and World Oceans Day, fulfilling its purpose. The whale is also scheduled for exhibition at Austria’s biggest aquarium, the Haus des Meeres, in 2020, after a new wind is finished. We’re seeking additional placements if you happen to know anybody.
The Project’s Massive Growth
I deeply believe that giving children a voice is vital to humanity’s future. And it turns out I definitely wasn’t the only one. To run a massive summit with just a teacher and a handful of scrappy passionate kids wouldn’t have been possible, so I turned to the global platform VolunteerMatch, and very quickly wonderful people from around the world joined me with the goal of empowering kids to not just learn about plastic ocean pollution, but DO something.
Hundreds of volunteers have come forward, including six app developers who are coding my Fatechanger app, an education and lobbying app designed to give kids a voice. Though unfinished, the app has already been taken up by the German Federal Ministry in its Ocean Plastics Lab international traveling exhibition, which showcases the contribution of science to understand and tackle the problem of plastics in the ocean. I’m currently in the process of forming the Kids Save Ocean non-profit to bring the project to scale.
20 Years Before in Cali
Long before fate swept me to Vienna, Austria, where I’d form the Kids Save Ocean project, and before the 200-plus volunteers flooded in to help me give kids a voice about the ocean and before the whale and the Summit at the UN and before being contacted by CNN about our efforts. Before all that, 20 years back, I remember a bolt blue sky above a clear Santa Cruz morning as my sister and I explored the hills of kelp heaped along the beach, washed up by the monster waves of a huge storm the night before. In amongst it were packages and containers from Japan, fishing gear, tourist beach trash, cigarette buts, even an ocean-cold Budweiser, which we promptly cracked and downed on the spot. Among piles of kelp, the global scatterlings of plastic junk.
In the two decades since that sunny harbinger of a morning, additional billions of pounds have accumulated in our seas, each piece of which will break down into tinier and tinier pieces, releasing toxins and being mistaken for food for hundreds of years. In another 20 years, what will our oceans look like? A frightening question.
Why form the Kids Save Ocean non-profit? Children deserve a voice in this world for one. And maybe, maybe, empowering them with a voice may be the help we so desperately need.
A Future: the Kids Save Ocean Mission Statement
Our core mission is to give children everywhere a voice about our planet’s environment, a mission we currently approach through our mobile app development, our work with the United Nations, and our exhibitions. Integral to that mission is providing teachers with a platform to deeply engage their students about plastic ocean pollution and the critically related issue of sustainability. We’re currently moving toward becoming a dynamic youth-centered non-profit to give children a powerful voice both now and forever.
For more information please visit the Kids Save Ocean website by clicking here.