June 2, 2017

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By: Aislinn Clark, Dakota Peebler, Charley Peebler, Seth Weinfield, Nee-Yu Marcus, Cambria Bartlett and Kiran Garewal


Every two years a very important ocean conference happens in Washington, D.C. – the Blue Vision Summit (BVS).  This year it was particularly special. 

For the first time middle-school age kids, us! – Heirs To Our Oceans! — participated alongside our adult ocean-protecting counterparts.   That’s right – 9 Heirs descended upon our nation’s capital. 

What did we do there?  We helped make a plastic pollution fact sheet for our Congresspersons to review!  We sat on panels with experts!  We visited 10 of our Representatives’ offices on Capitol Hill (all in one day) asking that our congresspersons sponsor ocean-protecting bills, for our generation!  We hosted the first-ever Youth Mixer at the Summit!  We spoke out at the stop-offshore-drilling press conference!  And more! 

How this all went down?  Like this:

Monday May 8th:  We attended a screening of Chasing Coral directed by Jeff Orlowski and featuring Zackery Rago and Richard Vevers.  This crew took on the challenge of filming a time lapse of coral bleaching. They struggled physically and emotionally as they saw firsthand the extent of dying coral on our water planet.  Jeff was there and spoke afterward!  The film was inspiring and so well done.  It filled the eyes of the audience with tears.

 Tuesday May 9th:  Panel Day!  Opening words were keynotes by Dr. Sylvia Earle, who we are always honored to hear speak her words of wisdom, and Daniela Fernandez, founder of Sustainable Ocean Alliance, who inspired us with her personal story as a young ocean advocate.  Following was a panel that featured Ralph Nader.  He talked about finding left-right political alliances around commerce to benefit the oceans—things that work economically for everyone create a sustainable system.  Good idea! 

The day’s panels and presentations were so informative and interesting.  Heirs Dakota and Seth were lucky enough to be featured as youth on panels at the Summit!  Dakota was on a Marine Protected Area (MPA) panel moderated by Mike Gravitz of Marine Conservation Institute with Karen Sack from Ocean Unite, Matt Rand from Pew Charitable Trust, and Amy Schick Kenney from the National Ocean Protection Coalition.  Dakota talked about how MPAs are not effectively protecting our oceans to the extent that they should be due to land-sea pollution. MPAs largely consider whether an area is take or no-take, but land-sea pollution is a major problem for our oceans including our sentinel, keystone and endangered species such as the sea otter. We need better, more protective, MPA’s, for our generation and future generations.

Heir Seth was on a Future of the Blue Movement: Youth’s Perspective panel moderated by Sean Russell of EarthEcho International.  Even though Seth was one of only two participants under the age of 18, the moderator and fellow panelists treated Seth as an equal.  In response to the question about how to get youth engaged with ocean conservation efforts, Seth expressed his opinion that the younger generation in ocean conservation wants to be respected and not underestimated nor treated like a pawn for an adult’s agenda that doesn’t serve the best interest of future generations.  It was an honor to sit amongst so many with such inspiring and enlightening perspectives.  Heirs learned a great deal being on and watching this panel.  

We Heirs hosted the first-ever Youth Mixer at BVS that evening.  Mocktails, Seth’s Fight For Our Oceans Rights rap, and lots of connecting happened there.  We loved loved loved having Danni Washington and Big, Blue & You youth there.  Anna Cummins and 5 Gyres joined for a later relaxed and perfectly comfortable plastics dinner where we learned that Rep. Lowenthal was preparing to sponsor a bill to ban plastic bags!   A highlight of the evening:  We gave a #bluemarble to Deb Castellana, Chief Operating Officer at Mission Blue and (lucky us) a member of our Board.  

Wednesday May 10th:  So this is pretty cool – we Heirs were the first middle school aged kids to visit Representatives’ offices at BVS!  Woo hoo!  We were honored and excited beyond words.  After Senator Whitehouse (D,RI) gave a welcoming speech, participants of Hill Day divided into groups by state.  Eight Heirs were in the Northern California group and one was in the Oregon group (though some of us went with the Southern Californians to speak with Sen. Kamala Harris’s staff).

Team NorCal ran back and forth between buildings to ensure that we visited all 10 Representatives’ offices on our list.  We were exhausted, but not stopping feeling the need to urge our Congresspersons to support the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act, the West Coast Ocean Protection Act as well as the newly-drafted plastic bag ban bill.  Heir Cambria, who prepared the plastic pollution fact sheet for the Congresspersons’ packets, felt empowered and also amazed that her work was being given to the legislative branch for its members to determine whether or not to sponsor a bill to end plastic pollution.  Cool!

NEWS ALERT!  After we returned home we received an email from Rep. Eric Swalwell’s aid, Zac Commins, thanking us for doing our part to protect our oceans for future generations and informing us that Congressman Swalwell agreed to cosponsor H.R. 1456, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2017, and H.R. 1784, the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2017.  THAT IS SUCH GREAT NEWS.  We, 11-14 yr olds, made a difference that day.

Nee-Yu, the Chapter Youth Leader of Heirs’ Lane County, OR, Chapter, brought a youth perspective to the Oregon Delegation.  She met with the Legislative Directors of the offices of Congressmen Earl Blumenauer, Congressmen Peter DeFazio, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Senator Ron Wyden.  It went really well… Oregon is quite progressive in the space of Ocean Conservation policy, as you might imagine.

While speaking to all of our Representatives was very tiring, it was surprisingly easy. Most of the Senators and Representatives from California had already signed on to some bills for which we were seeking support, but some hadn’t.  All staff members we met with took plenty of notes and seemed very interested.  Sometimes we forget how big an impact we kids can have, but when we were talking to the Representatives’ and Senators’ staff, we could see that our passion and hope was strong and impactful.  It was such an amazing next step for us Heirs.  Not only did it boost the confidence of those of us who went, but we set an example for all children to stand up to their government and speak about that which they are passionate.  Once you arrive at your Representative’s or Senator’s office, you suddenly realize that they it’s their job to listen to you, and they take that job very seriously.  It’s our job to give them something to listen to.  That’s what it means to be part of a democracy.  As Ralph Nader said, “Half of democracy is showing up.”

Thursday May 11th:  Thursday Heir Nee-Yu attended The Ocean of Tomorrow Symposium. This was a panel of four solution-oriented leaders discussing how they use policy, science, and communications to protect against threats facing our oceans. Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesian Minister of Marine Affairs defends the Republic of Indonesia from invasion by pirate fishing fleets, strengthening both the local fishing economy and the ocean’s ecosystem. Dr. Ussif Rashid Sumaila of the University of BC and Dr. Ben Halpern of UC Santa Barbara use economics and science to understand global fisheries and overall Ocean health, creating standards for action. Lastly, Greg MacGillivray uses media to educate folks on “the warnings and wonders of the seas” through the One World One Ocean project.  Nee-Yu was honored to meet and speak to people who feel so passionately about protecting our Blue Planet for the future generations of all species.

Heirs then went to the off-shore drilling press conference in front of the Department of Interior, and Heir Seth talked about the importance of banning off-shore drilling to protect our oceans for future generations.  Surprise!  — his rap was requested J

The Summit wrapped with a gala at the Peter Benchley Awards.  The Heirs who attended wore human impact accessories such as “derelict fishing gear” and “plastic pollution.”  This year One More Generation’s Olivia and Carter Ries, two incredible ocean-protectors who inspire us, won the Christopher Benchley Youth award!  We talked to Olivia for a while.  She’s really nice and a great presenter!

What a week of mind-blowing learning experiences! 

Why was this all possible for us?  Because David Helvarg, founder and president of the Blue Frontier Campaign, has faith in “K through Grey” saving our oceans together.  He and his incredible team invited Heirs to Our Oceans to participate in the Summit.  Also because we have mentors who care about our generation and who believe in us, such as Dr. Sylvia Earle, Deb Castellana, Caro Dratva, Mike Gravitz, and so many more.  We are beyond grateful for the opportunity to learn from experts who have been working in this field for decades and who have opened the door to our young voices in discussing our oceans’ challenge. 

Heirs To Our Oceans are paving the way for other middle-school aged kids to be acknowledged as leaders in ocean conservation.  We believe that kids should be heard, as we have something important to say about decisions being made that affect us, in our lifetimes and in our children’s lifetimes.  We are capable of learning about the problems, being a part of the conversation, and processing solutions.

Heirs to Our Oceans set an example for other young people who want to save their waters.  We hope that two years from now, we’ll see you at BVS7.   

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"With knowing comes caring." - Dr. Sylvia Earle