NMMF Youth Action Council 2023 Recap

By Eadoh Reshef

NMMF Volunteer Eadoh Reshef shares what students learned during the 2023 Youth Action Council and unveils the insights he gained about the world of Southern Resident killer whales, their habitat, and the power of youth-led conservation efforts

On a quiet evening in May 2023, a group of high school students gathered in one final Zoom meeting to share the fruits of their labors. For the past five months, these students from across the country had been meeting to explore a common interest – a passion and concern for the marine environment – as part of a multi-organizational Youth Action Council (YAC). Now, after diving into the world of Southern Resident killer whales, an endangered population of orca in the Pacific Northwest, the students were ready to share how they planned to spread critical conservation messages about these whales.

Over the course of two hours, thirteen students presented projects they created that would draw wider attention to and educate about the Southern Resident killer whale population. These projects spanned the gamut of outreach, from public service announcement posters to Instagram posts and videos, all designed to make conservation go viral. Two students even went as far as to hand-draw activity books for elementary school students. Their hope was to eventually make those learning materials publicly available for educators across the country to use as a way to bring conservation messages to younger environmentally-minded audiences.

SRKW Activity Booklet by Lily O.

“This goes to show, as an organization trying to reach out, how many different audiences and types of things you can have available to help spread the same message. This a big part of the reason that we engaged all of you in our Youth Action Council – to get those ideas flowing and make so many different ways of reaching to new people” said Celeste Parry, Director of Community Outreach for the NMMF and one of the lead organizers of the Youth Action Council, during the meeting.

The YAC, now in its second year, is a program that aims to inform, inspire, and empower youth to tackle environmental issues surrounding the Southern Resident killer whales. In a time of increasing urgency to address the challenges facing the natural world, the YAC is designed to encourage students to follow their interests and passions in order to help face these daunting tasks head-on. And though the main regional groups were split between San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles, the YAC even attracted students from far afield in New York and Kansas.

Over the course of five sessions, the students learned about the Southern Residents – their habitat, their diet, their behavior – as well as exploring effective outreach strategies. Combining the scientific facts surrounding the species with the art of presenting to and connecting with others provided a path for the students to come up with more creative options for educating those outside their everyday interactions. 

Youth Action Council

Infograph by Sophia M.

Killer Whales Coloring Book by Ivy C.

Project after project was presented, each met with glowing praise from the leaders of the council that put together the program. Representatives from the National Marine Mammal Foundation’s outreach team, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and the Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles were all impressed with the thorough discussion of not only the ecological understanding the students displayed but at their thoughtful discussion and presentation of issues including over-fishing, noise pollution and habitat loss. Equally as exciting was the desire expressed by multiple members of the Council to continue with their project beyond the end of the program. At one point during the meeting, several students asked how they could ensure that their projects, and thus their voices, could reach a wider audience. A lengthy discussion commenced with a number of options being provided. 

As the meetings drew to a close, there was a sense of accomplishment and excitement in the room as the students discussed how each other’s ideas had inspired them to pursue these new directions. “The things that [our students] do here are really impactful, not just to the killer whales but to the whole community,” Parry remarked.

Southern Resident Killer Whale Infograph - by Miguel M.

Infograph by Miguel M.

Southern Resident Killer Whale Youth Action Council

Video by Jayden R.

Southern Resident Killer Whale Youth Action Council

Informational Poster

The Youth Action Council is one component of the Marine Mammal Conservation: Spotlight on the Southern Resident Killer Whale educational program, a collaborative effort of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and the Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles. The Youth Action Council will hold two more sessions in the spring of 2024 and 2025. In addition to the Youth Action Council, the program also engages K-12 students from classrooms throughout Southern California in hands-on educational workshops. More information can be found on the NMMF website. Funding for the program is provided by NOAA Fisheries as part of their NMFS West Coast Region Education and Outreach Program.