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Ashley Battle-Chan: Satellite Youth Ocean Conservation Summit

Ashley Battle-Chan’s introduction to conservation came in 6th grade, when her middle school principal nominated her for a summer camp program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. While she had always excelled in her science classes, Ashley fell in love with marine animals and conservation that summer. Ashley recalls becoming involved in the wide variety of programming that the National Aquarium offered and building the skills to interact with all different types of people and work on many different projects.

Staying involved throughout high school, Ashley participated in the National Aquarium’s “Aquarium on Wheels” (AOW) program for the past two years. The program allowed her to deepen her involvement with the Aquarium’s conservation and education efforts. Aquarium on Wheels is a three-phase work-study program for students from Baltimore City or County Schools that introduces them to science and STEM careers. Students learn about the Aquarium’s animals, work with the public, and develop an educational program, which they perform at local libraries. Throughout the program, Ashley has participated in real science research and conservation projects such as horseshoe crab tagging, oyster restoration, and osprey banding (pictured above). 

This year, Ashley and her peers in the AOW program initiated the planning and implementation of a satellite Youth Ocean Conservation Summit (YOCS), modeled after the Stow-It-Don’t-Throw-It YOCS at MOTE Marine Lab in Sarasota, FL, which was founded by fellow youth conservationist Sean Russell. While attending last November’s YOCS with other students and staff from the Aquarium, Ashley and her team began planning a satellite summit for the following year. With the National Marine Educators Association conference being held in nearby Annapolis, MD, that summer, the AOW team felt that partnering with a national conference would be an excellent opportunity.

Over the next nine months, Ashley and three other students from AOW dedicated their free time to making the first ever satellite Youth Ocean Conservation Summit a reality. Ashley said that putting on a summit of their own was more work than she had ever imagined—a significant amount of time was spent planning and debating even the smallest details, but in the end it was worth it!

The summit (as with all other AOW programs) would not have become a reality without the skills and talents of everyone on the AOW team. Ashley laughed at herself, saying she wasn’t skilled at drawing or design, so if she had to do it on her own, there would be no logos or backdrops for their educational programming. “We needed everyone’s skills,” she said, “from organization to art and sewing.” The main planning team of four youth (two girls and two guys) worked to split up the process. “We became like a family,” Ashley noted, “we didn’t always agree but we learned how to work together, stay late, and put in the extra time to make the summit happen.”

In the end, the purpose of the summit is not just about educating youth on today’s issues, but encouraging those youth to collaborate. During lunch at the one-day summit, Ashley saw success as youth from the National Aquarium and beyond began truly networking and sharing ideas. One student, in particular, was really interested in starting a garden on her school property, but had been unable to garner support from her principal. During the summit she was able to network with local students and adults who could help her to bring her vision to life. Ashley sees the power in each of these summits to support and inspire students to make a difference. “We’re the next generation,” she says, “our majors and careers are going to help people.”