With great pleasure Action For Nature announces its 2007 International Young Eco-Hero Awards, which recognize young people 8 to 16 years old for their environmental achievements. We hope the accomplishments of these outstanding young people will inspire many others to preserve and protect the Earth upon which all life depends.
Ages 8 to 12
Brian Meersma, 10, New Jersey, USA
Since he was six years old, Brian has been helping the environment. “When I saw lots of land in my town being developed … and lots of trees being cut down, I was sad,” he says. “I decided that I needed to do something about it.” Brian has raised $2,000 for Friends of West Windsor Open Space by persuading neighbors to join the organization. He told them what the organization was doing and how important it was to preserve open space. He also helped build paths in the local woods. As a result of his environmental involvement, he was invited to Washington, DC to meet with congressional representatives. He continues to write letters to organizations, leaders and politicians, including the president of the United States, and remains involved in several environmental activities.
Mollie M. Passacantando, 8, Virginia, USA
After reading a magazine at school about the Arctic ice melting and the impact on polar bears, Mollie wanted to do something. With some friends she spent recess marching around the playground with signs reading, “Stop global warming. Save the polar bears.” When some of her classmates taunted her, she was motivated to do even more. With some help from her parents, she started a blog requesting people to write to the Fish and Wildlife Service to ask them to put polar bears on the endangered species list. She collected over 200 letters which she and her mom delivered in person to Fish and Wildlife Service. As a result of her blog she was invited to speak at a rally in Washington, DC, for Climate Crisis Day of Action. Standing on a stool because she was a lot shorter than the other speakers, Mollie gave a speech to about one thousand people which she wrote herself and which was reported in the media. Mollie plans to continue working to stop global warming and to get protection for other animals.
Jessica Haberl, 11, Canada
Upon learning of the plight of the spotted owl, Jessica wanted to share this information with others and to try to help save the owl from extinction. She set up stands in front of stores and collected over 350 signatures from people who agreed it was important to help save the spotted owl. She and her mom personally delivered the signatures to a local government official. Jessica discussed the need to save the spotted owl with her classmates and other friends and family so that they might spread the word as well. In the future, she wants to try to save more animals as well as help protect the environment in other ways.
Ages 13 to 16
Naz Belkaya, 16, Turkey
Naz took actions to protect the swallows on her school campus and encouraged her classmates to participate in environmental protection. She continues to build bird boxes and to monitor and record nest activity. She also participates in annual European bird counts.
When a young woman in a local community died of bird flu, Naz initiated the Fatma Özcan Swallow Project (named after the young woman who died) to educate local people about bird migrations and the need for humans to protect against this disease and to recognize its symptoms. She has organized seminars, invited speakers, spoken with the local mayor, other high level officials, veterinarians and physicians in her effort to persuade others to help the environment and to protect against bird flu.
Jasmine Jeffers, 16, Florida, USA
As one of the three founders of a school organization called Operation Reef Ball (ORB), Jasmine took charge of the educational program and set out to teach the local community about the value of coral reefs. Members of ORB constructed over two dozen reef balls made of ecologically friendly concrete, and deployed them at two sites, which continue to be monitored. Reef balls are hollow round structures studded with giant holes that are used to build artificial reefs. Their unique structure allows for ample water circulation while making them resistant to movement by currents. They can last for hundreds of years, giving corals the time needed to gain a foothold. In addition to providing homes for coral, reef balls can also serve as hosts for other invertebrates, such as sponges and sea anemones.
The educational workshops Jasmine coordinated and presented have been in high demand. These K-12 “edu-tainment” workshops have been presented to over 500 students so far and consist of hands-on activities. Participants make edible coral polyps, interact with marine creatures in “petting zoo” format, test water samples, and learn about the importance of the ocean and clean water. “This project,” says Jasmine, “has made me realize that even high-schoolers can make a difference in the world.”
Caroline Hodge, 16, California, USA
Thanks to her energetic and inspired leadership, Caroline’s high school is much “greener” than it ever used to be. She has shown films, distributed flyers, hosted speakers, and has given away 100 cloth bags to replace plastic bags. She has also held solar cooking and local organic food demonstrations, sold reusable water bottles to students and demonstrated the energy savings of fluorescent light bulbs (using a converted exercise bike). All this has required a huge amount of organization and networking. Carolyn is Environmental Chair on her Student Executive Council, serves on other committees and writes green articles for the school newspaper and for a large local newspaper. “My goal,” says Carolyn, “is to alert students to some of the very simple changes they can make to their lifestyles to reduce their ecological footprint on the earth.”
Sophia Colombari, 15, Costa Rica
“The Olive Ridley Turtles are an important ecological resource, and their protection is essential to the wellbeing of Costa Rica,” says Sophia. “Looking at hundreds of turtles around me moving all over the beach, digging nests and laying eggs, is absolutely exciting and inspirational.” After learning as much as she could about the turtles, Sophia made presentations to local schools, businessmen and fishermen about preserving the turtle nesting areas on beaches. She has raised funds for local conservation efforts and posted signs at the local beaches to protect other species of turtles, specifically the Leatherback. To accomplish this, she has had to overcome her fear of public speaking. Through her efforts, the local community has been motivated to protect beaches for the turtles.
C. Garrett Rappazzo, 14, New York, USA
One day, Garrett’s father took him to his old elementary school to show him the row of enormous pine trees he had planted more than forty years ago. Inspired, Garrett organized a large tree planting at his own school. This involved obtaining official approval, ordering the 50 white pine seedlings, persuading local businesses to donate topsoil, and organizing other students to help complete the plantings. Once planted, he assured the trees were properly watered, mulched and monitored. Garrett also gave a presentation to his entire school on the history of Arbor Day and the importance of trees to our environment, educating students about the many benefits trees provide. “I never thought I would have the courage to talk to so many adults to convince them that my project was worthwhile,” says Garrett. In the future, Garrett, too, will be able to return to see the magnificent row of mature trees he planted, protecting and beautifying the community.
Sujay Tyle, 13, New York, USA
A young research scientist, Sujay works with a passion to find an alternative fuel to gasoline. He is studying how to economically and efficiently produce ethanol from biomass. After school, when many students are out playing, Sujay can be found at a lab at the University of Rochester. He was selected out of 500 teens to be on the Teen Editorial Board of a local newspaper and writes a column every few months. He also speaks at conferences and enjoys talking about his work with other scientists – both young and old.
Samantha R. Ellis, 16, New York, USA
Samantha loved to walk in the woods near her home. One day she got lost and was frightened, so she decided to make it easier for other hikers to safely enjoy the woods. She marked over 250 trees along five miles of trail. She also cleared an entrance that was rarely used and planted native plants there. To do this she recruited family and friends, raised funds to buy the plants, obtained the necessary permits and led a walk for over one hundred people on the trail. Now the trail is safely used by hikers, bikers and dog walkers. Samantha continues to monitor the trail.
Hee Jeong Kim, 16, Korea
When looking at an atlas, Hee Jeong could see that her country was not very big and had many mountains, with people and buildings crowded into the remaining land. This means there is almost nowhere to put the waste created by humans, including the ash from the huge incinerators after the waste is burned. Hee Jeong has chosen to study the methods of recycling these ashes, which is becoming a critical issue in Korea. Through her studies she has learned that waste material can be valuable and can be used to improve the environment. She has learned the importance of “reaching out.” Through promoting and presenting her studies and research, she has helped others to understand the seriousness of the situation and the need to separate their trash. She plans to become a scientist in order to protect and conserve her country’s scarce resources.
Anjali Chandrashekar, 13, India
Anjali has always been inspired by Nature. She is a young artist who creates beautiful and inspiring art work which has received international recognition. “My artwork,” she says, “aims to create awareness in various people about the dangers that we face if we continue the destruction of nature.” She has also raised public awareness regarding water shortage issues, whaling, and the slaughter of sharks, through taking opinion polls and giving speeches. “I feel that everyone should experience the joy and beauty that is nature” she says. “When we see land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect.”