Hi, I’m Don Crowley, an 18-year old-student in Newpark Comprehensive school in Blackrock. From the age of 13 I have been very involved in the Green-Schools programme and I have a strong interest in taking action against all issues our planet is facing.

In the middle of Summer 2018 I got an email from my Water Ambassadorship mentor, Ruth, about applying to a youth summit about helping our oceans so I applied and was immensely lucky to get in! And even luckier to secure funding through An Taisce Green-Schools from Minister Creed from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to be able to go!

From the 29-30 of October I had the once in a lifetime opportunity of being able to attend the Sustainable Ocean Alliance international youth leader summit; this is the event to be at if you are interested in helping our oceans heal from the centuries of torment we have put them through. The summit is comprised of 200 youth leaders from around the world (this year it was held in Bali so 100 of the youth leaders were from Indonesia) from the ages 18-35 and it is focused on networking and educating us on the current issues plaguing our ocean.

The theme for this years’ summit was “Our Ocean, Our Legacy” which I think is fitting as even though our generation didn’t cause these issues it is our responsibility to take action and stop accepting anything but action and results.

Throughout the event I met the most amazing inspirational people (which makes sense as they were cherry-picked from around the world!) and I took part in really stimulating conversations.

During the summit we had fascinating talks from world leaders like the UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thompson, where he brought to light the problems our ocean is facing like the 400 dead spots in the ocean where there is absolutely no life, and how every second breath we take is from the ocean. He states that now is the “era for ocean action” and how we have a choice as a consumer and a voter to lead to more conservation and sustainable use of the ocean.

The CEO of Sustainable Ocean Alliance who made this all possible, Daniela Fernandez, informed us on how the Blue Economy is a 30 trillion-dollar industry and how the application of silicon valley technology for the ocean is the future. This is very true as we have dug ourselves into a hole from all of this careless ocean pollution and the only way to claw our way out of it is to Regenerate, Integrate and Innovate.

To begin the day we had a panel of Michael Conathan, the executive director of the High Seas initiative at Aspen who focused on Marine protected areas, Tony Long the CEO of Global Fish Watch who focused on Sustainable fisheries, and Dr. Kathryn Mengerink the executive director at the Waitt Foundation. Key points from this panel are that: “The ocean is the fundamental engine for life on this planet,” that 3.2 billion people rely on fish for food,  that 1 in 5 fish are estimated to be caught illegally and lastly that 640,000 tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year.

In the middle of the day there was the Ideas Marketplace where each of the 200 youth leaders got 60 seconds to pitch their idea to the room which was super interesting and gave me an opportunity to listen to all of their innovative and impressive pitches like scientifically locating plastic hotspots, how blue carbon interacts with water molecules or even lobbying their governments to change harmful policies.

After the Ideas Marketplace I attended breakout sessions on Climate Change and Marine Pollution held by leaders in their field such as Dr Jene Harris and the head of packaging at Nestle which were interactive and very informative.

On the evening of the first day I had the pleasure of meeting our Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD who was kind enough to fund this trip. We had a fascinating discussion on what Ireland is doing to tackle these issues facing our ocean (it’s more than most of us realise) and the cutting edge research we are doing on making biodegradable plastic from lactic acid, the main waste product from milk.

On the second day of the summit we started off with a talk from the founder of OceanX, Mark Dalio, who helped David Attenborough film Blue Planet, and worked at National Geographic. He was part of the secret project to get the first footage of the giant squid and he stated that technology is the way forward to save our oceans.

The next panel was my personal favorite, it was the ocean tech panel compromised of  five start up companies (Loliware, Calwave, Etac, SafetyNet and Sustainability Cloud) using innovative technology to provide alternatives to plastics or unclean energy for example. The panelists were successful in creating profitable and prosperous careers for themselves by investing in the blue economy and provided insight on how we could all too.

The youth summit ended just after lunch to facilitate us spending the rest of the day in the parallel conference running alongside our youth summit, Our Ocean which was full of government officials and leading experts on the ocean, this conference was the really big deal and very impactful decisions were being made at it. This was a great honor and I was able to attend high level talks such as how to practically approach eliminating single use plastic and how to successfully invest in the Blue Economy.

This trip really was an inspiring  journey stuffed with opportunity, extraordinary people and learning. After going I have a renewed hope to do better and to really take action to help solve this crisis we have found ourselves in as a world.

Many thanks to Don for sharing his experience and photos and for his continued work as a Water Ambassador.