Since I became a member of World Oceans Day Youth Advisory Council, my inspiration and focus on protecting our blue planet has grown bigger and stronger. The opportunity to get to know all of the other incredible ten young people on the Council, all of them so unique and so essential, has filled my heart with hope for the ocean. I am truly grateful for the interconnectivity of the Council, showing that despite our country, culture or age we are all connected by the big blue ocean and by the wish of protecting it. When the opportunity to gather in New York City with other Council members emerged, I started trying to find funding in my home country to make the trip. After several weeks of sending my application, curriculum and the support letter from The Ocean Project to several environmental associations, foundations and NGO’s of Portugal, the Oceano Azul Foundation agreed to fund the cost of my flight. Grateful for the investment that the foundation made in me, I started the trip to the biggest opportunity that I had ever had.
When I arrived in New York City on June 3rd I had the chance to participate in Social for the Sea, a networking event, where I finally met my fellow Council members, La Tisha, Baylee and Melati, after one year of video meetings. It was incredible to meet and speak with so many authentic ocean conservation activists, from Abirami who was just ten-years-old and had so much conviction in her ideals, to Phoebe who was my age and so proactive with the Ocean Foundation. The speech by marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols was really encouraging for me. I listened to a scientist combine scientific knowledge with emotional balance for the first time, and the speech ended up being a source of inspiration to the lectures that I gave in my old high school later that week.
On June 4th we went to the World Ocean Festival with the entire Sea Youth Rise Up delegation and marched together in a Youth Rally for the Ocean. Everyone from Sea Youth Rise Up are incredible role models that I will remember for the rest of my life. Starting with Danny Washington and Sean Russel, co-founders (with Bill Mott) of Sea Youth Rise Up, to Liz Dutra, Hannah Testa, Max Roberts, Nora Abdiruhman, Keyla Corriea, Helen Zhao, Ben May and ending with the incredible young women, Melati Wijsen, Baylee Ritter and La Tisha Parkinson, who are also members of World Oceans Days Youth Advisory Council. One of the emblematic moments was having the honor to listen to the words of the legendary marine biologist, Sylvia Earle. The next day, I said goodbye to most of the people and used the rest of the day to explore the city with the best guides, Liz and Sean. Before I went to catch my flight back to Portugal, I spent my last moments in New York City talking to La Tisha Parkinson at the doors of the UN Ocean Conference and saying goodbye to her with the immense happiness of seeing youth having a chance to be a part of the change for our blue planet.
Back in my home country, I spent the official World Oceans Day on June 8th giving two lectures at my old high school, Escola Secundária Almeida Garrett in Vila Nova de Gaia. I spent 90 minutes with an 8th grade class (ages 12 to 14) and the same period with a 10th grade class (ages 14 to 16), where I presented the concept of World Oceans Day and major ocean issues, giving a special focus on plastic pollution and showing some images and data from my own bachelor’s final project about marine debris in Portuguese beaches. I shared the inspirational blue marble that Mr. Wallace J. Nichols gave me and spread his message to all forty teenagers. In the end, I presented them with the three main commitments of WOD 2017 campaign (to reduce use of single use plastic bags, bottles and straws) and they decided which they were ready to apply in their daily life. Both classes agreed with all three commitments and wrote them on a poster that everyone signed to hang up in their class room. I want thank all of those students and their teachers, with a special gratitude to my old Biology teacher Clara Guimarães.
On June 10th, with lots of help from my family and closest friends and the support of a local beach bar “Luna Bar Recycled," an aquatic amusement park “Vaga Splash” and from local government of my village Vagos, around 30 people of all ages cleaned the Areão beach. In the afternoon, some items of the trash collected were transformed into art pieces: yogurt, water and detergent bottles became fishes and rockets, octopus traps became cats and flowers jars and buoys with fishing cords became octopus. These are just some examples of the creativity present during our World Oceans Day celebration in Vagos village. All of the sculptures created were displayed in an exposition in the Municipal Library of Vagos.
We finished the day with a symbolic play on the beach stage and challenged everyone to sign the big poster to reduce the use of plastic items. Even though it is recognized as World Oceans DAY, for me, it was a whole year of sharing inspiring ideas to take action this past June. I was honored to represent the Portuguese Youth and am so grateful for Ciência Viva and Oceano Azul Foundation. After all of this wave of change, I understand that unity for the purpose of ocean conservation can come from all corners of the world. I am excited to continue to grow and evolve together as a Council and keep spreading the seeds of sustainable living from where we are, until one day all of the sustainable actions interconnect as the ocean connects us all.