2017 Go Blue Awards Finalists – Blue Hatchling Youth Award

Congratulations to all of this year’s finalists!
The winners will be announced at the Ninth Annual Go Blue Awards Luncheon,
being held at PGA National Resort & Spa on Friday, October 27, 2016.


Blue Hatchling Youth Award Finalists:

Recognizes a person under age 17 who has made significant contributions in marine conservation through volunteer related activities.

Sophie Allen

At 16 years of age, a past Blue Hatchling Finalist and a high achieving junior at Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Sophie is well on her way to embodying the quote, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Growing up in Palm Beach County and next to the ocean has shaped Sophie into a passionate ocean enthusiast. Not only does she seek enjoyment from the ocean as a certified scuba diver, kayaker and stand up paddle boarder, but she also works tirelessly to educate herself and others on marine issues.  Despite her youth, Sophie has worked for over a decade on assorted volunteer efforts centered on marine conservation, such as coastal cleanup and educational outreach. Simply put: she desires to protect the thing she loves.

Sophie is entering her fifth year of active conservation based citizen science and community service with the Junior Friends of MacArthur Beach State Park.  Because of her long-running commitment at MacArthur Beach State Park, this year she has been chosen as the Chairperson for the Junior Friends at MacArthur Beach State Park. Sophie attends monthly meetings and volunteers regularly in a variety of service activities from removing invasive plant species to restoring the natural beach dunes. As a Junior Friend, she volunteers in MacArthur Beach State Park’s annual Naturescape Festival where she helps with educational activities oriented towards teaching younger kids about the ocean and spreading the word about ocean conservation.  As well as being a long-time participant and now Chair of the Junior Friends, she volunteered her time this summer as a Counselor in Training. There she helped summer camp students appreciate and understand nature, take an active role in the conservation of the environment and provide activities to increase independence, sportsmanship and self-esteem, all centered on the park’s estuarine environment. Last year, Sophie attended the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting in New Orleans to present a science poster on behalf of the Junior Friends of MacArthur Beach for OSM’s K-12 Youth Poster Symposium, as well as the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Conference in San Francisco in their Bright STaRS K-12 Poster Session.  Her science poster presentation highlighted Junior Friends’ citizen science experiment on growing mediums for sea oats and their dune restoration efforts.  For this year’s AGU Conference, Sophie has partnered with her younger sister and submitted an abstract for a project focusing on harnessing the power of the Gulf Stream for alternative energy.  Their abstract has already been accepted and they are currently looking for ways to fundraise in order to cover their travel expenses to New Orleans in December.

Sophie’s passion for the ocean is not limited to citizen science and community service. In recent years, she has used her artistic talents to create marine conservation videos for educational outreach. In 2015, her short film “Shark Souvenirs” was accepted as a finalist in the 2015 Beneath the Waves-Youth Making Ripples Film Festival and she received special recognition by Shark4kids for her video’s shark conservation message.  In 2016, her video “Little Hope Spots” built upon Sylvia Earle’s idea of marine hope spots and featured the conservation efforts of Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management in restoring the Lake Worth Lagoon and providing artificial reefs to increase marine biodiversity. Not only did “Little Hope Spots” win the Best Scientific Message category for High School in the 2016 Youth Making Ripples Film Festival, but her video also went on to take second place in the 2016 National Ocean Science Bowl video contest. This past year, Sophie’s videography talents landed her short film “Next Generation” again as a finalist in the Film Festival.  Moreover, through her continued outreach efforts, Sophie has developed a working relationship with the founders of Youth Making Ripples, Lauren Toth and Phillip Gravinese.  In 2016 she volunteered her time to help them spread their educational outreach and ocean conservation message of Youth Making Ripples at the National Marine Educators Association conference in Orlando, and she presented a poster on behalf of Youth Making Ripples at the 2016 Ocean Sciences Meeting in New Orleans.

While in middle school and as part of a winning science project entitled “Tracking Tagged Tiger Sharks” that used real-time shark data from the Guy Harvey Research Institute, Sophie became aware of the role of shark tagging in Florida.  She attended a shark symposium at the University of Miami.  There she became aware of the efforts of UM’s Shark Research and Conservation Program.  Suffice it to say, that Sophie has been “hooked” ever since and as a winner in the 2016 Youth Making Ripples Film Festival, she won the opportunity to volunteer and engage in the University of Miami’s citizen science shark tagging. This shark tagging cruise marked Sophie’s third volunteer research shark tagging cruise.  Of all the ocean conservation activities Sophie participates in, she loves volunteering her time to tagging sharks the best.  Here she seems to be in her element, combining the enjoyment of being out on the water with the science of conservation, working alongside UM graduate students in UM’s to collect and compile data that will eventually help protect sharks.  In addition to tagging, Sophie has sought out leading shark conservationists, such as Jim Abernethy, asking how she might improve her videography skills to help sharks.  In a recent Youth Ocean Conservation Summit at the Mote Marine Laboratory Sophie got the opportunity to hear and meet OCEARCH founder Chris Fischer.  As her videography skills develop, Sophie plans to continue in her efforts to spread the word about the need to understand and protect sharks.

When Sophie is not doing community service, engaging in citizen science, making marine conservation videos, or presenting at conferences, she can sometimes be found dressed up like the Bag Monster in order to draw awareness to the dangers of plastics in our oceans.  She has attended the Lake Worth Lagoon Fest and local Coastal Cleanup events, as well as the Lake Worth Street Painting Festival draped in thousands of plastic bags as part of her outreach.  Moreover, as the co-host of the Bag Monster of SoFlo Facebook page, Sophie has taken to using social media to advocate for the oceans and against the use of plastics. https://www.facebook.com/BagMonstserofSoFlo/

Finally, Sophie’s interest in the oceans and science has led her to learn about ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) and participate in MATE’s Florida Regional ROV Competition after building an ROV with other students. Through MATE’s (Marine Advanced Technology Education) competition platform, Sophie has gained a greater awareness of how technology is being used to study and monitor the world’s oceans. She has helped promote ocean technology and ROV construction at Lantana’s World Ocean Day activities and by mentoring younger students.  In the future, she hopes to pursue an ocean engineering degree to help develop and improve technology that will enable scientists to continue to explore and monitor the world’s oceans.

More Information: 

Olivia and Carter Ries

Provide a description on the nominee’s activities as they relate to marine conservation:
Olivia and Carter got involved in marine conservation after seeing an image of a dead sea turtle being pulled out of the Gulf caked in oil during the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill.  They spent four months collecting badly needed animal rescue supplies and then on Olivia’s eighth birthday they drove 11.5 hours down to the Gulf where they spent five days delivering their supplies and helping at the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Center.  It was there that they learned about the issue of plastic pollution.  Upon their return, they spent four months educating themselves on the issue and hired two teachers and a retired principal and together they authored their award winning Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum for K-6 graders.  Their curriculum is now available nationwide and is even being tested in the UK and soon in Australia.
After learning that an estimated 50,000 sea turtles drown each year by being caught up in shrimp trawl nets, they partnered with Oceana and created a Sea Turtle Letter Writing Campaign, which was made available to schools around the country.  The campaign educated students about the issue and ask students to write to President Obama asking for his help to mandate the use of TED’s (Turtle Excluder Devices).  The campaign received over 12,500 letters and last June the kids were invited to the White House to deliver the letters and President Obama signed legislation into action just before leaving office mandating the use of TED’s in certain shrimp trawl nets.
More recently, Olivia and Carter launched a global OneLessStraw Pledge Campaign in an effort to get people to reduce the number of single use plastic straws they use.  Their campaign has three distinct components designed to reduce then overall straw usage around the world.  The first is for “Individuals” and asks people to sign a pledge stating that they promise to go strawless for 30-days.  The second component is for schools and asks teachers to share the information provided with their students and tasks the students with becoming the teacher in their homes by getting at least one family member to sign the pledge.  The third component targets restaurants and asks them to pledge to only hand out straws upon request.  So far they have received over 3,000 signed pledges from over 45 countries and have garnered the support of over 400 organizations and restaurants around the world supporting their efforts.

Describe how the nominee’s efforts directly or indirectly benefit marine life and/or marine conservation:
The UN recently published a report stating that Plastic Pollution is now considered one of the largest environmental threats facing humans and animals globally.  Each of the initiative listed above both directly and indirectly affects every species living in our oceans and waterways and their educational components provide badly needed awareness that help more people realize the severity of our daily actions and provides them with real-world solutions we can all implement so that we are all immediately being part of the solution.

What are the specific results of the nominee’s efforts?
Over 30 US based schools and community organizations have already implemented the weeklong Plastic and Recycling Awareness Curriculum, which has educated over 75,000 students, and the number continues to grow.  The mandate of TED devices has an immediate impact on the number of sea turtles that are saved from drowning in the nets, not to mention the countless by-catch that is prevented from entering the nest as well.  The immediate and positive impact of their OneLessStraw Campaign is still growing.  With an estimated 500-million single use plastic straws being used in the US every single day (which equates out to 1.6 straw for every man, woman and child living in this country), every person signing the pledge means we have kept an estimated 1,728,000 straws out of the environment in one year and that does not take into account the millions of straws that are no longer being handed out at the partner restaurants.

List any of the nominee’s outstanding contributions to marine conservation:
I think most have been outlined above.  I would encourage you to view their TEDxYouth presentation to get a better understanding of Olivia and Carter passion and commitment to marine conservation.

Skylar Mandell

My nomination for the 2017 Blue Hatchling of The Year Award is my daughter, Skylar Mandell. Skylar is currently a senior at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton. She has always had a passion for the ocean and all of the living things in it. With a strong desire to make a difference in the world, Skylar set a goal, just one short year ago on a beautiful, August day and I am so proud to say that she has accomplished it. Let me tell you how it all began…. During Skylar’s Sophomore year, she applied to a nationally recognized program through our local chamber of commerce. The program was called YEA! -Young Entrepreneurs Academy. http://yeausa.org/about/introduction/
Skylar was very fortunate to have been selected to participate in this prestigious program . She was one of only 24 palm beach county students who were accepted out of hundreds who applied.
At the end of the program, Skylar launched a real company, a company of her own, that she created from start to finish. She even had to go on stage and pitch this company in a “Shark Tank” like competition where the sharks were some of Boca Raton’s most prominent, successful business leaders. Sounds scary and intimidating for a 16 year old doesn’t it? Skylar handled herself with poise and portrayed the confidence of a veteran salesperson. She stood out and was awarded for this…This was a BIG accomplishment!
Skylar has always been creative and loved art projects and making things, so naturally her business involved just that.
She started making unique handmade beaded bracelets. She worked really hard on designing items that she knew her friends would want to wear. Every morning before school, Skylar would wear another bracelet that she had made the night before, and every day someone would ask if she could make them one like that too. Before, Skylar knew it, she was in business without even trying. It was then when she decided it was time to take this to another level.
Skylar spent a weekend with her Aunt in Jupiter and went shopping at a local surf shop called Blue Line Surf & Paddle. She noticed that they carried a lot of jewelry from local designers and asked her Aunt if she could speak to a manager. They did just that, and the manager agreed to buy 20 of Skylar’s handmade bracelets. She was overjoyed to see her designs displayed in a surf shop…a surf shop that locals love! This was a HUGE accomplishment! A few weeks later, Skylar received an email from the manager at Blue Line. She wanted to know if Skylar could make more of one specific bracelet…guess what that bracelet was? It was the sea turtle bracelet!
Skylar didn’t know it then, but she was about to embark on the beginning of an incredible journey.
It was time to get to work, so Skylar and I began by placing an order for assorted gemstone beads, some stretch cord, and 100 Howlite sea turtles charms. Skylar started researching sea turtles and was surprised to learn that our state of Florida is home to one of the largest sea turtle nesting populations in the entire world. Ironically, later that evening, as we took a walk on the beach we witnessed the birth of baby hatchlings…it was so incredible. This was the birth of Florida Sea Turtle Company!
Skylar has always had a BIG heart and often thinks about ways she can help in her community. So, she decided that 10% of the proceeds from her bracelet sales would be donated to sea turtle conservation organizations in our state. To date, over 8000 bracelets have been handmade and sold and over $2500.00 has been donated to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, and The Turtle Hospital in Marathon. We personally visited each center to deliver the donation checks. It was so rewarding for Skylar, but also for me as her Mom who has watched her grow into such an amazing person.
Making these sea turtle bracelets became a labor of love for Skylar. The bracelets became known as Sea Turtle Awareness bracelets. Skylar has been educating followers through Instagram and Facebook posts about how the public can help protect this very special marine animal that is endangered.
News about her accomplishments started to spread in our local community and created a buzz
wherever we go.
Florida Sea Turtle Company bracelets are now carried in over 16 stores in the state, including our local Hallmark store. Loggerhead Marinelife Center has sold over 1000 Florida Sea Turtle bracelets in only a year! Florida Sea Turtle Company has participated in many beach clean-ups and now offers community service hours for help beading. Skylar is honored and committed to continue spreading awareness for sea turtles and marine conservation efforts.

Shelby O’Neil

Shelby O’Neil started her passion for the ocean and ocean conservation while attending the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Young Women in Science summer program before her 7th grade school year. Here’s where Shelby learned all of the challenges and issues facing the ocean and the need to spread the word. She returned the following summer for the second year Young Women in Science summer program and this program was focused on ocean conservation. After the program ended, Shelby was determined to continue her passion for the ocean and applied for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Teen Conservation Leader program and was accepted and to-date has volunteered 392 hours greeting guests, working sleepovers and a founding member of their Teen social media team.
In addition to being actively involved with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Shelby is also a Girl Scout. When deciding on her Gold Award Project, Shelby immediately knew that she wanted to spread the ocean conservation message and also have a sustainable project that would continue on years and years. Shelby founded Jr Ocean Guardians to help educate lower grade level children on plastic pollution, recycling and the need for ocean conservation. She created an activity book and patch program for children as a fun teaching tool. In addition to Shelby visiting classrooms, she has recruited Ambassadors to help spread the message of Jr Ocean Guardians. Shelby and her Ambassadors take the activity booklets to schools and beach clean-ups. Shelby’s goal is to educate in-land children who don’t live close to the ocean as they don’t understand how their behaviors can affect the ocean. So far, Jr Ocean Guardians has` distributed over 800 books as well as patches, stickers and buttons. The children are very excited and they all have the same message, “We want to be Jr Ocean Guardians and save the ocean. We love the ocean!” This inspires Shelby and the Jr Ocean Guardian Ambassadors to continue their mission!
Along with the education piece, Shelby took it one step farther and decided to contact corporations and ask them to make one small step that can make a huge impact on our ocean and planet – eliminate the plastic stir sticks. Shelby is currently working with Starbucks, Costco, Delta Airlines, Farmer Bros Coffee and Marriott Hotels to make the switch to a sustainable option and eliminate their plastic stir sticks. Shelby is already make a difference, Costco recently added a sustainable wood stir stick option for their members and they have promised to continue to look into reducing their plastic and promoting more sustainable options. All the corporations that Shelby is currently in contact with have pledged support in looking for sustainable options.
Shelby is currently working on the “No Straw November” movement and has gathered the support of large foundations. Shelby is also working with the California Coastal Commission and will be addressing the Coastal Commission Board on September 15th to talk about the need for awareness on plastic straws/stirrers. Shelby will be visiting over 60 school children on September 19th and Shelby is also working with her Girl Scouts Council and will launch “No Straw November” movement on September 23rd at Elkhorn Sluis and will challenge the Girl Scouts to track how many straws they are offered the month of November and how many times they refuse a straw. She’s currently developing a tally sheet. As Shelby puts it, “It’s all about awareness.”
Jr Ocean Guardians was formed by Shelby and continues to grow as people want to be involved and Shelby has provided a platform where both she and her Ambassadors are making a difference. Jr Ocean Guardians is working towards eliminating as much ocean pollution as possible. You can learn more about Jr Ocean Guardians by reading the blogs at http://www.jroceanguardians.org.

More Information: 

Madison Toonder

I would like to enthusiastically nominate Ms. Madison Toonder for the Blue Hatchling Youth Award. Madison is a 4.0 GPA student at Stanford University Online High School in Florida.
When I was initially introduced to Madison through e-mail, I was immediately impressed by her CV and her writing style. I then spoke with her on the phone about her research interests that deal with wildlife immunity and potential treatments for diseases, and I became even more impressed. Usually, as a researcher, I am apprehensive about working with someone so young. She is the exception. She is kind, friendly, well-read, and a joy to work with. Madison is far advanced beyond her years in a number of aspects including her intellect, her field and laboratory techniques, and her ability to comprehend and interpret scientific data. Madison shadowed me at night during our nightly green turtle surveys. She was inquisitive, ambitious, and needed little guidance on all proper techniques. She was described by a collaborator as a “natural” on the lab bench. It was clear to all involved parties that Madison had a passion for protecting, conserving, and researching endangered species.
Madison has been recognized by the Florida Association of Science Teachers for her “Outstanding Research” and is also involved in a number of conservation groups at SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and Brevard Zoo. Madison has also won numerous local, state, regional, and national awards for her research projects. She has also written two bills for Florida Congress that set limits on the amount of chemicals allowed in sunscreens. Some of her previous research has dealt with the effects of chemicals in these sunscreens on mollusk filtration rate, behavior, and gape rate.
Madison is currently working with researchers at Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC), University of Miami (UM), and University of Florida (UF) on projects examining new health variables (lipoproteins, betahydroxybutyrate, haptoglobin) in three marine turtle species. She is also investigating how the fibropapilloma virus (a disease that causes large tumors and is common in juvenile green sea turtles) is related to these newly described health analytes. When these projects are complete, she will be a co-author on all resulting manuscripts, a remarkable feat for a high school student. Madison’s work with LMC, UM, and UF researchers will help us better understand the effects of the fibropapilloma virus on marine turtle health. Her results will aid in direct conservation of the species by providing further information to researchers, veterinarians, and diagnosticians on new health analytes and overall health status of marine turtles with this virus. Her results could improve treatment opportunities for facilities that aid in the rehabilitation, recovery, and release of these animals. A global research and conservation priority for marine turtles is to better understand the “etiology and epidemiology of fibropapillomatosis, and how can this disease be managed.” Madison is helping us work towards that goal.
Madison is more than deserving of this award and has the intellect and the drive to be one of the next great researchers. This young and budding scientist is already having an impact in the field of biology and conservation. Just think of the impact she will have on the field of wildlife research and medicine when she has even more experience and education. These types of very rare individuals need all the recognition and opportunities to help them mature and find new avenues to pursue. If any additional information is required, please do not hesitate to contact me (561-627-8280 ext. 112; email: jperrault@marinelife.org).

More Information: 


Melati and Isabel Wijsen

Description of nominee’s activities and how they relate to marine conservation.
Four years ago, at the ages of twelve and ten, Melati and Isabel Wijsen founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a social initiative driven by children focused on reducing the use of plastic bags in Bali, Indonesia.

Bye Bye Plastic Bags is comprised of four key components:

  1. Education

Melati and Isabel have focused their efforts on educating the community of Bali on pollution reduction and alternatives to single-use plastic bags. In addition, they have developed curricula focused on waste management, marine debris, and youth empowerment. They are currently working with the Balinese government to implement the curricula in schools throughout Bali.

  1. One Island, One Voice

One Island, One Voice is an outreach campaign focused on recognizing shops, restaurants, and restaurants that are plastic bag free. Participating restaurants receive a sticker for their door and a “shout out” on social media.

  1. Pilot Village

Melati and Isabel have started a project in the nearby village of Pererenan. Every Saturday they visit and distribute alternative bags to the local shops and businesses. This has proven to be a mutually beneficial project. The Wijsen sisters learn about Balinese culture while sharing information about reducing plastic pollution with the local villagers.

  1. Global

Melati and Isabel work with other students across the globe to help them establish Bye Bye Plastic Bag programs in their communities. To date, there are nine communities across the global participating in the program.

 Describe how the nominee’s efforts directly or indirectly benefit marine life and/or ocean conservation.
One of the most significant threats impacting our ocean today is plastic pollution. Despite the challenges of the marine pollution issue, Melati and Isabel have recognized that it’s a completely preventable problem that they, along with their peers and members of the local community, have the power to address. Marine pollution negatively affects marine life, human health, and the economy of Bali. Melati and Isabel’s actions have proven successful to inspire others to change their habits and significantly reduce their dependency on plastic bags.

What are the specific results of the nominee’s efforts?
Total People Reached: 5,583,000
Beach Cleanup Events: 427
Global Partners: 9
One Island, One Voice Partners: 150

List any of the nominee’s outstanding contributions to marine conservation.
April 2013: Founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags

December 2014: Bye Bye Plastic Bags signed an MOU with the Governor Bali, Bp. Mangku Pastika, to work together to encourage the people of Bali to reduce their use of plastic bags.

May 2015: Launched One Island, One Voice Campaign, Organized a one day cleanup event focused on cleaning all of Bali’s beaches: 12,000 participants, 55 locations, 40 tons of debris removed

June 2015: Received confirmation from the Balinese government announcing that Bali will become plastic bag free by 2018.

September 2015: TED Talk London

April 2016: Melati and Isabel established Bye Bye Plastic Bags in Jakarta, Indonesia

August 2016: Official declaration from government that the Bali Airport is going plastic-bag free

January 2001: Balloons are schedule to be banned from Bali on January 2018


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