This past week, more than 70 youth from 45 countries came together in Panama City, Panama at this year's Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit. While many of them arrived as strangers, friendships were quickly forged as they united around a single goal: to restore the health of our ocean.
Sustainable Ocean Alliance was honored to co-host the summit once again, in cooperation with Our Ocean organizers and with support from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. This year is the first time the event has been fully integrated into the main Our Ocean conference, representing important progress around intergenerational collaboration.
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More than 1,000 people applied to be part of this year's summit, held February 27th-March 1st. The 77 youth selected (ages 18-35) worked closely with expert mentors and speakers to devise solutions around 6 impact areas of action:
1. Climate change
2. Marine pollution
3. Maritime security
4. Marine protected areas (MPAs)
5. Sustainable blue economy
6. Sustainable fisheries
Day 1 of the summit kicked off with an evening welcome reception. SOA Founder & CEO Daniela Fernandez delivered a keynote speech focusing on the global fight against deep-seabed mining, and the importance of youth playing an active role in climate change conversations and policy.
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After a panel highlighting real-world ocean solutions – the celebrating began! Our young ocean leaders, SOA staff, and expert speakers and mentors sang and danced the night away.
On day 2 of the summit, participants traveled from the southernmost point in Panama City to the northernmost point of Colón for hands-on ocean field visits. They saw coral reef restoration in action at the Reef2Reef Foundation coral nursery, and visited a local sea cucumber hatchery and algae research lab, PanaSea.
Our youth were surprised by a group of traditional Afro-Panamanian dancers with the "Congo" — the most unique and colorful manifestation of folklore in the province of Colón. Originating in Africa, the dance came to Panama by way of escaped former slaves and tells a story of a fight with the devil. In the end, they are saved by the “Reina Conga” (the Queen of Congos), helped by “Pajarito” (little bird) and “Juan de Dios” (John God).
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The day ended at one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the legendary Panama Canal, where participants were able to watch a cargo ship end its canal journey and squeeze through the canal locks toward its next destination. Our group was met with great enthusiasm from the maritime workers and sailors aboard as we watched the ship pass by.
The final day of the summit featured not one – but TWO – surprise guests! The morning started with a special appearance from Vice President José Gabriel Carrizo of Panama (surprise #1), who gave opening remarks. Following the vice president was a seaside chat with SOA Global Community Manager Sofía Barboza, Divers Clean Action Founder Swietenia Puspa Lestari, SOA Regional Representative for the Caribbean Khadija Stewart, and SOA Perú Co-President Stefanie Torres, which focused on the challenges of being a woman in the ocean sustainability space and how to move forward as a strong youth leader.
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The second panel of the day was moderated by SOA Regional representative for Latin America Daniel Cáceres Bartra, and featured Mission Blue Policy Advisor Max Bello; Ministerial Senior Office Advisor to the Ministry of Environment in Panama Shirley Binder; SOA Mentor and Founder of ACQUA MATER Patricia Furtado de Mendonça; UN Environment Programme Deputy Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Piedad Martín. They discussed the advancement of climate action, the importance of diversity and inclusion, and how Latin America is setting global examples for marine protection and carbon policies.
After the panels, participants received training in biomimicry from Biomímesis Costa Rica, to prepare them for the 4-hour “Solutions Sprint”, during which the group split into 11 teams to create a new, nature-based solution to address one of the 6 impact areas of action.
Before the winning solution was announced, there was one more surprise guest – renowned marine biologist and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle!
"We’re changing the temperature – we’re changing everything ... If we keep changing altering the nature of nature , many of the creatures we know and love will not prosper going forward," Dr. Earle said during her moving remarks, which received a standing ovation. "We have the chance to say No to deep-sea mining, we have the chance to say Yes to the High Seas Treaty. Never for a moment think that what you care about doesn’t matter — it does matter ... I hope that you will think about the future you want, and the power you have."
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Finally, it was time to announce the winning idea from the Solutions Sprint! The competition was fierce. The winning project focused on the Sustainable Blue Economy, with team members Alice Terpereau of France; Andrea Libertad Ruzo Garcia of Spain; Edwin Superius Rutakumwa of Tanzania; Josephine Joice Ndapewa Edward of Namibia; Marina Porto Amador of Brazil; Nasya Jones of Jamaica; and Warisara Rotsirisathit of Thailand.
They proposed developing a device to filter sediments and excess nutrients from coral reefs off the coast of Jamaica, modeled after the filtering abilities of the basking shark and giant larvacean. This device, called Eutrogill, would not only protect coral reefs, but also support the local economy as those nutrients and sediments could be sold as fertilizer and construction materials. This solution would launch in Jamaica, but has the potential to scale around the world.
"The blue economy is about bringing solutions balancing economic, environmental, and social aspects," the team said, as they were celebrating after their big win. They are excited to present their winning solution on stage during the main Our Ocean Conference on March 3rd.
Thank you to all our incredible youth participants, speakers, and mentors for making this event a success! We could not have done this without cooperation from the Our Ocean Organizers and support from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Finally – a special thank you to our tireless volunteers from SOA Panama. Without your hard work and expertise, this event would not have been possible!
Until next year...