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Recognizing Young Protectors and Entrepreneurs of Environmental Conservation

December 20, 2018
Deforestation and plastic pollution only scratch the surface on environmental threats. This group of empowered students are already creating solutions.
Deforestation, water scarcity, plastic pollution and toxic algal blooms only scratch the surface on the threats facing our environment, but thanks to one group of empowered young adults, solutions to the world’s most pressing issues are already well on their way. SeaWorld is pleased to announce the 2018 winners of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Environmental Excellence and the Entrepreneurial Awards—trailblazers and scientists who each individually are helping protect and maintain the earth’s natural wonders. Coordinated by members of our Youth Advisory Council, the awards shine a light on up-and-coming conservation leaders and inspire them to keep working towards a more sustainable future.

When it comes to the environment, everyone’s future is at stake, which is why since 1993 SeaWorld has recognized the outstanding efforts of students across the country who are working at the grassroots level to protect and preserve the environment. This year’s winners truly exemplify SeaWorld’s mission to save our oceans and our planet, and we are thrilled to highlight their incredible initiatives.

Youth Environmental Excellence Award Winners
Each year, the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Environmental Excellence Award recognizes young leaders for their ongoing environmental conservation work. Meet this year’s awardees:

Trevor BurkeTrevor Burke
Age 17 | Dallas, Texas
For the last five years, Trevor has brought awareness to the Blackland Prairie ecosystem—a threatened and endangered strip of prairie stretching from Texas to Oklahoma. Trevor has engaged hundreds of volunteers in conservation projects aimed at preserving and protecting this fragile ecosystem from the effects of urbanization, including the removal of invasive grasses, the planting of native botanical species, the re-introduction of native wildlife and the conservation of water in the area.

Andrea CastilloAndrea Castillo
Age 17 | Boca Raton, Florida
In recent years, the lagoons and natural parks near Andrea’s residence in South Florida have become overrun by garbage and waste. Observing this man-made phenomenon prompted her to create several conservation initiatives, including Go Mangrove—a youth-led effort focused on engaging the community in conservation activities. To date, Andrea has helped oversee the maintenance of approximately 85 mangrove trees, instructing her peers on the critical role of these trees on their natural habitats and how to properly care for them.

Joey GoldsteinJoey Goldstein
Age 14 | Hollywood, Florida
Joey created Saving Ocean Life (SOL) when she was in fourth grade out of her love for the ocean. SOL’s mission is to educate local children, schools and organizations on the devastating effect pollution has on marine life, and to encourage kids and their families to help with coastline and waterway cleanups. This year, SOL is partnering with the "Stow It Don't Throw It" project, distributing personal-sized recycling bins from Mote Marine Laboratory and the Sarasota Dolphin Research program to help combat wildlife entanglements caused by improper fishing line disposal.

Neja MidellaNeha Middela
Age 16 | Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Neha’s involvement in environmental advocacy led her to realize that climate change has extensive effects on human wellbeing and animal health. As a field representative for OurClimate—a youth environmental policy organization—along with involvement in several other environmental advocacy groups, Neha is helping mobilize youth to enact carbon pricing legislation. With this award, Neha also hopes to create environmental education and environmental journalism workshops within her local community, using equipment to chronicle the causes of environmental issues in metro Detroit, including how water and air quality affect local residents.

Sanjana ShahSanjana Shah
Age 17 | Cupertino, California
Sanjana’s desire is to be a catalyst for change, taking actions on environmental issues that affect her community and the world. In 2016, she created a research project to predict water accumulation in city drainage systems, earning her recognition from The White House as a recipient of the Presidential Environment Youth Award. Today, Sanjana continues her work as Director of Technology of her school’s environmental science club, encouraging students to create innovative projects that help sustain our environment. Her hope is to inspire her peers and future generations to be conservationists.

SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Entrepreneurial Award Winners
This year, we are excited to announce the first ever SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Youth Entrepreneurial Award winners. This award provides start-up funding to young leaders who propose environmentally proactive solutions that will solve a problem relevant to the applicant’s community:

Chere EricksonChere’ Erickson
Age 16 | Dover, Florida
Can a nickname predict your fate? It did for Chere’ Erickson. Embracing her classmate-given nickname “Straw Girl”—bestowed on her for her preference of using metal straws over plastic—Chere’, with the help of her classmate, Melvin Joy, launched “The Last Straw”, an initiative encouraging coastal restaurants to consider sustainable alternatives to plastic and foam. With their startup money, Chere’ and Melvin plan to launch their coastal restaurant campaign in spring 2019, with hopes to receive straw-banning pledges from more than 10 local restaurants.

Emma GouldEmma Gould
Age 18 | Woolwich, Maine
After attending the 2018 Youth Ocean Conservation Summit in Sarasota, Florida, Emma was inspired to create Blue Future—a beach clean-up program to reduce harmful marine debris and save marine life. Through this program, Emma hopes to inspire, educate and motivate communities in Maine to spread awareness on the need to improve ocean health. With her startup money, Emma plans to purchase the supplies needed for volunteers to collect, weigh and store the collected trash.

Ben MayBen May
Age 19 | Mount Sinai, New York
When it comes to the environment, everyone’s future is at stake. This belief inspired Ben, a Sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, to launch an initiative that empowers youth to address the world’s pressing environmental issues. Launched in 2017, ThinkOcean has grown from a small group of East Coast college freshman to an organization with 30+ chapters across the U.S., Italy, China, India, Canada, Egypt and the UK—each focused on helping their local communities protect our blue planet. With his startup money, Ben hopes to file and achieve 501c3 status for ThinkOcean.

Catherine ZdunekCatherine Zdunek
Age 17 | Chicago, Illinois
Catherine has a particular passion for the conservation of alligator snapping turtles. Why? “My classroom was looking for an animal to raise, and someone commented on how ugly they looked. We picked them because unattractive animals are often overlooked, but these turtles are still a keystone species in Southern Illinois ecosystems.” Since most turtles die within the first year of their lives, Catherine created "Put the Snap Back on the Map" – a classroom project focused on reintroducing this species in their natural habitat after spending a year being care for by her fellow classmates. With her startup money, Catherine plans to purchase the materials needed to successfully care for these animals.

Congratulations to all of this year's winners.