2021 Top 25 Winners – Ocean Conservation

Next up on the highlight reel of work for this year’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 is Ocean Conservation. Ocean conservation is a topic that umbrellas many scopes of interest, such as sustainable fishing practices, reducing pollution in the oceans, and suppressing the impacts of climate change. These scopes have one thing in common: protecting wildlife and ecosystems. All four of these winners are doing incredible work, from working on groundbreaking projects to non-profit work. These resilient young recipients are pillars of strength in their communities, from the coast of British Columbia to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Here’s a quick list of our Ocean Conservation winners:

  • Will Crolla, 24, Location: British Columbia 
  • Melanie Downer, 21, Location: Newfoundland and Labrador 
  • Maddie Carr, 21, Location: New Brunswick
  • Natalie McIntosh,16, Location: Ontario 

Will Crolla 

Location: British Columbia 

Traditional Territory: The unceded, traditional, and ancestral territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and the səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations

Will Crolla graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2019 with a BA in Geography, specializing in Environment and Sustainability. He co-founded the Shoreline and Urban Resiliency Group for Engagement (SURGE), with the help of the rest of the SURGE team they are working towards building a living breakwater using oysters reefs in Boundary Bay to protect the shoreline. This idea was inspired by his work as an individual sustainability consultant for a new company that used Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture (IMTA) to grow kelp and oysters in BC, which are regenerative sets of organisms. They plan to use Olympia oysters reefs that are native to the area, contributing to the health and conservation of the ecosystems.

Will believes that, in order to make a difference, we need to influence consumers’ purchasing habits and move them away from unsustainable seafood. The negative impacts on the planet are seen through the over-exploitation of aquatic ecosystems and non-direct impacts, such as pollution. In 2021, he became the Western Canada Accounts Coordinator for Ocean Wise’s Seafood Team. He works closely with individuals and organizations such as suppliers, retailers, restaurants to find solutions surrounding sustainable seafood. Will wants to find solutions to combat plastic pollution from fishing equipment and microplastics as well as the conservation of the multitude of aquatic organisms that are being impacted through bycatch and the introduction of exotic species. 

Currently, Will is working on a project to map past kelp forests in BC waters and identify key areas for growth based on the requirements kelp needs for survival. Will intends to produce a document to inform conservation initiatives, kelp farmers, and highlight the process for obtaining a BC Aquatic Plant Culture Licence. He recently joined CityHive’s facilitation team to aid in the fifth cohort of their Envirolab program, which focuses on climate communication. His contribution to the environment encourages young minds to develop collaborative and meaningful projects surrounding climate action that they can lead in their respective communities. Will is a part of a new wave of young activists fighting to make a real difference against climate change.

Melanie Downer 

Location: Newfoundland and Labrador 

Traditional Territory: Ancestral homelands of the Beothuk

Melanie Downer is a student at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). She is a leader and communicator that inspires women, athletes, newcomers to Canada, and other youth through her leadership and communication skills. Melanie is an active member of her community through climate change advocacy, aquatic sports, extracurricular activities such as being a tutor, coach and science educator. At MUN she is the President of MUN’s Ocean Sciences Undergraduate Society (OceanUS). Additionally, she is the local lead for NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge and Official/Judge of Newfoundland Artistic Swimming. 

Melanie participated in the Ocean Bridge Program which empowers young Canadians to implement change in ocean conservation. She is also an Ocean Bridge Ambassador with Ocean Wise, where she devised a project that enables new Canadians in Newfoundland to gain hands-on ocean literacy experience. To implement this project she formed key partnerships with local organizations including the Association for New Canadians and the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium. Melanie has also put in hundreds of volunteer hours doing various activities including organizing and delivering a shoreline cleanup marking International Shoreline Cleanup Day in Newfoundland, as well as gaining firsthand experience from local stakeholders in Nova Scotia about the challenges on community viability in Atlantic Canada and challenges on marine conservation. When asked about what inspired her to make a difference in her community, “I realized that despite our pride and proximity to the ocean, knowledge of our oceans in the context of our valued fisheries, marine life, and conservation is not accessible to folks who are new to the province. As a result, I planned an event to bring new Canadians to a small fishing community and mini aquarium. As this aquarium places a high value on conservation and hands-on outreach, the project hopes that participants create meaningful connections and gain a sense of community through a shared interest and passion for the ocean.” 

Melanie believes that by providing individuals with hands-on ocean outreach, people can make personal connections to the environment, leading to environmental conservation, as it will inspire people to make a difference. She wants to open up the conversation about ocean education to make people feel included in a community that holds a common interest and love for ocean protection. Her advice for young environmentalists is, “Know your worth in the conservation movement. It can feel overwhelming to start advocating for sustainability when you feel like a single voice in a large crowd. You are not alone, and your actions are valued!”. Melanie is an advocate for taking action, any action in the right direction of making communities more sustainable and focused on making positive environmental changes. 

Maddie Carr

Location: New Brunswick

Traditional Territory: Traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), part of the Wabanaki Confederation

Maddie Carr grew up in the rural community of Tay Creek, New Brunswick, her community was surrounded by nature, which blossomed in her as an appreciation for the environment. She has various volunteer and work experiences in the conservation field, adding to her passion for creating lasting change. Some of these opportunities include working as a Conservation Outreach Assistant with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to adapt conservation outreach programming offered in parks during Covid-19. In 2021, she was an Ocean Bridge Youth Ambassador, where she has completed service projects across Atlantic Canada. Maddie has organized many beach clean-ups, participated in eelgrass surveys, and helped construct a cabin at an indigenous protest site as part of her service projects. 

Maddie proves through and through her innate leadership skills through being a certified WWF Living Planet Leader and a Canadian Wilderness Steward. As well as her experience as an environmental educator by serving as a Waterlution Board Member where she hosts workshops to help students understand their connection to water and at the Stanley Library, she has organized an environmental-themed children’s reading club. Maddie co-developed an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) plan for the Environmental Non-Profits Resource Guide, which can be shared with local non-profits in New Brunswick, such as CPAWS and the New Brunswick Nature Trust. 

Currently, Maddie is managing a non-profit called Market Greens, which provides low-income members of the community with access to affordable and fresh produce. In her role, she forages relationships with local farmers and manages a Facebook page where she imparts the benefits of a plant-based, local diet and recipes. Her support in sustainable food consumption does not stop there, as she has co-founded a community garden and two recycling/composting programs in her community. Her most recent experience as an Ocean Bridge Youth Ambassador had a significant impact on her. She credits Ocean Wise as providing her with resources including mentorships, grants and education materials to help her pursue her dreams of ocean conservation and engagement in the marine sector. With her previous experiences, she is confident to start her own non-profit, Mixed Heritage Connections, which aims to protect natural, cultural, or mixed heritage areas in New Brunswick. Maddie is very passionate about protecting the marine and coastal ecosystems of the Bay of Fundy region and restoring the historical landmarks there, including the Bliss Island lighthouse in the Passamoquoddy Bay. 

When asked about advice for young environmentalists, she replied, “When seeking opportunities to volunteer in the sustainability field and focus on the ones that most resonate with you. There are so many opportunities available but you flourish if you apply yourself to programs and issues that you are passionate about.” Maddie’s enthusiasm and passion for conservation are seen through her actions in various sectors, including volunteering with non-profits to leadership in her community. 

Natalie McIntosh

Location: Ontario 

Traditional Territory: The Anishinaabeg, The Haudenosaunee and the Lunaapeewak

Natalie McIntosh is a young woman with a deep passion for marine life, her passion fuels her drive to make the oceans a safer and cleaner ecosystem for many animals. She is the founder of Nautical Waters, a non-profit organization specializing in recovering and repurposing ghost gear, including nets and fishing gear. Some of the unique and creative ways they repurpose the ghost gear include creating lanterns from bait bags (creating a beautiful crisscross pattern when light shines through it), with end-of-life lobster rope, coasters and jewellery, and they also make outdoor mats with long fishing rope. Natalie’s innovation to create beauty in something that pollutes the oceans is inspiring. This non-profit communicates the issues effectively with plastic pollution and how people can take action towards creating a sustainable future. By creating an ocean protector activity box, Nautical Waters wants to provide presentations for children that will be a combination of hands-on learning and education to provide children with resources to advocate for the oceans in the future. Nautical Waters also wants to find alternatives to polypropylene plastic, which is found in fishing nets and ropes. They want to try and make fishing nets with biodegradable materials, including bamboo, red algae, and fish gills. 

Her determination is seen through her constant desire to further her thinking and move towards the next step. Natalie created an underwater speaker that emits ocra sounds when attached to a boat to scare away large marine animals such as dolphins. She wants to work with marine engineers and biologists to test this concept with a larger prototype to see her idea work. She even created Nautical Waters through her determination to create change after doing a passion project on marine life where she found out about the impacts of ghost gear on the environment. Natalie is invited into classrooms to talk to classes about ghost gear and how Nautical waters started. Currently, she is collaborating with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to create a workshop to teach indigenous communities in Labrador how they can repurpose ghost gear found in their waters. 

Being labelled as young has never dulled her bright light and she continues to express that young environmentalists just need to reach out and put themselves out there. “When starting Nautical Waters, I was worried that people may misjudge me and that I would just be labelled as a teenager going through a phase but the response was the complete opposite. I was overwhelmed with support from people I hadn’t even met before; complete strangers. I made partnerships and friendships with people from all over Canada.” There is a sense of community when you do what you love surrounded by people who are aspiring to make positive change in the world you live in. Natalie is an inspiration to many young people who think they can’t make difference just because they are young. 

Ocean Conservation is a community that has brought these young individuals to work together to bring positive change, their drive for outreach is inspiring. I hope that you too are inspired to create change in your community, by doing anything from volunteering with local non-profit organizations to talking to people in your networks about sustainability in the oceans. There are so many ways to start a conversation about ocean conservation and just like these four young environmentalists you too can create positive change. 

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