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2021 Youth Innovation Challenge Winner Connects with 1000+ Students to Protect Blue Carbon
Zaineb Akbarally is a winner of the GEEP Youth Innovation Challenge (YIC), a program that gives young people (ages 15–30) around the world a chance to come up with innovative solutions to a pressing environmental issue affecting our marine ecosystems, using environmental education as a key strategy. YIC is a program of the Global Environmental Education Partnership (#TheGEEP), a vibrant and inclusive learning network designed to champion environmental education around the world, in partnership with the Taiwan Ocean Conservation Administration.
These are Zaineb's words about her experience with Youth Wing after winning the Youth Innovation Challenge.
We won the award for pitching the novel idea of developing a Blue Carbon Toolkit that we will use as an educational tool to instill an appreciation and understanding of the value of harnessing blue carbon amongst youth living in coastal areas in Sri Lanka. Mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and coral reefs are examples of ecosystems storing 'blue carbon.' These ecosystems sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests, making their protection and restoration an integral endeavor in the fight against climate change.
To develop the toolkit, we visited the Anawilundawa Wetland Sanctuary, one of Sri Lanka's Ramsar-designated Wetlands of International Importance. This wetland area was once a thriving Mangrove forest. But sadly, ill-thought ventures into aquaculture in the 1980s and 1990s destroyed this fertile ecosystem. Today the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), as the lead scientific partner and the Department of Wildlife Conservation, are working together to restore this exquisite ecosystem and build back thriving communities.
The Youth Wing has learned firsthand about the trials and tribulations of working in mangrove restoration from the project. With these learnings, we are developing the toolkit to ensure effective and successful youth engagement in restoring this ecosystem.
To celebrate World Environment Day and World Oceans Day 2022, the Youth Wing conducted a week-long school awareness program series at Anawilundawa. We worked with 10 schools near Anawilundawa International Ramsar Wetland Sanctuary for this program series. The programs were curated to highlight the importance of protecting our mangrove and wetland ecosystems, and we also spotlighted the ongoing mangrove restoration work carried out in the area. This program series allowed us to connect with more than 1000 students from the area, and these students and the networks we have built in the area will help us drive the next phase of the toolkit implementation.
We are working against the backdrop of an incredibly challenging working environment in Sri Lanka, as the country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in history. This has meant crippling fuel shortages and other basic necessities, making travel to the project site arduous. Yet, we continue to be driven to do this work as we are determined to enrich these communities and youth in this highly biodiverse region to become custodians and beneficiaries of the natural capital they're endowed with.
Stay tuned for more updates and the next phase of the project! Subscribe to the GEEP News for more stories of our Youth Innovation Challenge winners and projects promoting environmental literacy around the world.