11 million metric tons of plastic waste are estimated to enter the ocean each year, and this could triple by 2040. The plastic pollution crisis is severely harming our oceans, and a rising generation of ocean health leaders are fighting back.
Now more than ever, the voices of youth are influencing global culture and decision-making. Understanding the power of this rising generation of ocean health leaders, Captain Planet Foundation, Lonely Whale, and Point Break Foundation launched Ocean Heroes Bootcamp in 2018, an annual youth program designed to give agency to existing and emerging youth leaders, ages 11 to 18, to create their own campaigns against ocean plastic pollution.
The Bootcamp empowers the generation most impacted by the plastic pollution crisis – many of whom will graduate high school in 2025, when the ocean is expected to contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish – and who have the potential to drive positive ocean impact at scale through their immediate actions.
Ocean Heroes Bootcamp aims to build a broad, diverse network of youth activists and provide the tools and training necessary to allow their campaigns to create real, sustainable change. The campaigns created by Ocean Heroes support the achievement of UN SDG 14.1 by 2025.
The strategy and implementation of Ocean Heroes Bootcamp shifted drastically this year due to COVID-19, giving the program the unique opportunity to be reimagined as a virtual experience. By going online, the program was able to provide youth with greater accessibility to the knowledge, tools, resources, and skills needed to create a measurable, systemic change on the plastic pollution crisis.
This year’s virtual Bootcamp experience included daily livestream programming (panels, speakers, video premieres, and more) complete with interactive Q&A sessions with hosts and participants; self-service learning modules that included pre-recorded videos featuring experts, activities, and resources that enabled Ocean Heroes to develop their own impact campaigns; guided meditation sessions to equip Ocean Heroes with mindfulness tools and theory to address eco-anxiety; multiple contests and challenges for the chance to win funding to support their campaigns; daily video office hours with peer mentors, experts, and special guests; and more.
One of the key features of the Bootcamp was to motivate youth participants to act collectively through activist engagement. Creators and influencers engaged in this year’s Bootcamp included Adrian Grenier, actor/filmmaker/environmentalist/musician/philanthropist; Goldie Hawn, actor/founder of MindUP; Bonnie Wright, actor; Christine Figgener, marine biologist/environmentalist/creator of viral video featuring a turtle with a straw in its nose; Danni Washington, scientist/founder of Big Blue & You; Jane Patton, Senior Campaigner at Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL); Hugo Taghom, activism/CEO of Surfers Against Sewage; and Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, activist/author of BlueMind.
Another key differentiator and strategy of the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp program is peer and near-peer mentorship. During the Bootcamp, incoming youth are teamed up with leading environmental youth activists who have already achieved success launching and running transformative campaigns. These peer “Squad Leaders” help participants create and refine their unique campaign concepts. Examples of Ocean Hero campaigns and their impact include:
Estefania McDermot: 17-year-old Ocean Hero and environmental conservationist from the Cayman Islands, Estefania “Steff” McDermot has attended the Bootcamp since 2018. Steff has worked in partnership with Plastic Free Cayman to create the 345 Pledge, which provides businesses and individuals a stepwise plan to reduce their plastic consumption by committing to make immediate and long-term changes to achieve a plastic-free Cayman Island.
Dyson Chee: Age 17 from Honolulu, Hawaii, Dyson has attended two years of Ocean Heroes Bootcamp. In 2019, he played a pivotal role in advancing Bill 40 CD1 (Manahan) to eliminate a wide range of single-use plastics on the island of Oahu. Dyson was recognized as an EE 30 Under 30 and received an Honorable Mention for the 2019 International Young Eco-Hero Award by Action for Nature.
These youth stories are just two examples of how Ocean Heroes Bootcamp has fostered hundreds of young activists to become effective advocates and voices for our shared ocean. By moving online this year, Ocean Heroes Bootcamp has reached more youth activists than ever before, creating a truly international network of youth united in the shared vision of a future with clean seas.
During the 2020 Bootcamp, Ocean Heroes made an immediate impact – they blew through their July goal to collectively pick up 5,000 pieces of trash (tracked through mobile app Litterati) in just 24 hours, and subsequently set a new goal for themselves of collecting 100,000 pieces of trash by December 31, 2020.
This year, over 400 youth from 36 countries participated in the virtual Bootcamp, including youth from 19 countries that hadn’t been represented previously in the Bootcamp. Ocean Heroes Bootcamp engaged with 25 partners to produce and deliver 36 videos totaling over 33 hours, offered 25 live sessions and 151 office hours. Participants were very active— more than 12,000 Slack messages were shared throughout the Bootcamp. The Ocean Heroes Network is continuing to grow, with nearly 200 youth having already signed up for next year.
Once the annual Bootcamp comes to an end, the work is far from over. Ocean Heroes put their campaigns into action with the virtually accessible Campaign Planner and grants to support the full realization of their campaigns. When grants are awarded, the Heroes are then supported in a year-long Campaign Mentorship program, spearheaded by the Point Break Foundation, through which they receive ongoing guidance from experts in their field to further enhance and implement their campaigns to create measurable social and environmental impact. Since 2018, the program has supported 1,000+ youth-led campaigns with the goal of 10,000 campaigns by 2025.