The world’s first Children’s Clean Ocean Summit was held last June at the UN in Vienna and run entirely by kids.
An initiative of the kids and their art teacher, it resulted in the creation and signing of the Children’s Clean Ocean Declaration, which expresses their ideas and feelings and will be delivered to world governments in early 2019.
Their art teacher, Peder Hill, and volunteer developers are currently creating Fatechanger, a mobile app to teach kids about ocean pollution and empower them with a voice in the global narrative about our oceans.
It all started with the plastic whale. The animal made of plastic bottles was the first step of our journey, the first impression. I would never have believed, had somebody told me, the extent to which we would succeed in reaching out to help the environment and the ocean.
When I was in the 4C class of the Draschestrasse Gymnasium in 2016 in Vienna, Austria, our arts teacher at the time, Peder Hill, came up with the idea to build a whale made of plastic bottles collected from our homes and school. The message the sculpture carries is clear, as it consists of the material that kills nearly all living things in the ocean – plastic.
Not only were these bottles useful for building a sculpture, but, by using them, we also prevented more of them polluting the ocean. It took a while, but finally we reached our first – but definitely not our last – milestone, finishing the whale. Next thing we knew, we were actively helping to fulfill targets of SDG 14, bringing more attention to the impacts of plastic pollution on the life below water. The kids in my class and I were thrilled when Mr. Hill suggested we write letters to prominent people including Michelle Obama, Meghan Markle and Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though we knew the odds of these people ever getting in touch with us or actually reading the letters were very low. In the meantime, we wrote cover letters for a proposal Mr. Hill sent to the UN in Vienna, and we were excited to learn that we would be given the chance to host a summit for children on plastic pollution.
Before the summit, in order to promote our event, we also had a photoshoot and face painting event, further spreading the news of ocean plastic pollution. And on 5 June 2018, World Environment Day, my classmates Nastassja Erlacher and Leon Jäger gave speeches at the UN, and once more our class had the opportunity to present our project, including our whale sculpture titled, ‘The Last Whale,’ which was the focal point of UN Austria’s events that day.
Then, on 22 June 2018, our big day came, the first ever summit at the UN to be held completely by children. I must add how incredibly proud we were to hold a conference for nearly 300 children in the biggest conference room at the UN. We presented solutions on how to solve plastic pollution, and six schools came to vote which solutions were most efficient, creating and signing the Children’s Clean Ocean Declaration, which we will deliver in person to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen early next year. Many of us were fortunate to give talks at the summit, including myself and my classmate Philipp Jahn, as well as many other children at our school. My sister, Ariana Kurzmann, and her classmate Emma Schwentner, who had both just graduated from our school, hosted the event.
Although the plastic whale looks remarkable hanging from the ceiling in our school, it will look even more impressive in Vienna’s Aqua Terra Zoo, the Haus des Meeres, which has generously offered to have it exhibited there in 2020. The purpose is to draw the attention of countless visitors to the severity of the problem at hand. Volunteers are currently working on a mobile app called Fatechanger that will help keep everyone up-to-date on plastic pollution and give us kids a voice to fight it.
We are immensely grateful for all the opportunities we received and to our teacher, Peder Hill. SDG 14 is a good representation of our goal: to preserve the natural habitats of marine life and diminish their extinction. As countless whales and more creatures die, we sit around idly, only caring about ourselves and our materialistic needs. There is no law that obliges us to help. But since we completely depend on the resources the earth provides us, it is in our interest to help preserve the earth’s balance. It can start simply, as it did with my class, for if everyone populating the earth exerted even a minimum effort, together we would make a big difference.
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Learn more or engage with our project at www.kidssaveocean.com