April 23, 2012
On April 19 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a press event at the Aquarium of the Pacific in which representatives of the federal agency presented the President’s Environmental Youth Award to six students from Oak Park High School, which is located about fifteen miles inland from Malibu, California. The students were commended for their efforts to raise awareness about ship strikes on migrating whales in the Santa Barbara Channel. The award winners included eleventh graders Rebecca Gordon, Kathleen McKeegan, and Kayla Thadwick, and twelfth graders Sam Hirsch, Justin Orens, and Jacob Wyner.
EPA Administrator and President Obama appointee Lisa Jackson made the presentation. The Oak Park students won the 2011 award for Region 9, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii. The awards are given annually to students from each of the ten EPA regions.
The Oak Park students began work on this project in 2009. Ship strikes occur when large container ships hit migrating whales, often seriously injuring and sometimes killing them. To educate the public and policymakers about this issue, the students developed a lesson plan for middle and high school students about whale migration in the Santa Barbara Channel, ship strikes, and other threats to whales. They researched petitions to move shipping lanes and reduce ship speed and planned a Week of Whale series of events in their school district. They also organized a community whale watching trip and authored a whale activity book that they used while visiting elementary school students in their school district. In the end, all of the district’s 4,200 students were involved in the project.
“The urban ocean off Southern California is home to one of the largest and most diverse assemblages of whales on Earth. On behalf of the Aquarium of the Pacific, we commend the Environmental Protection Agency for highlighting whales and working with the next generation to further ocean stewardship. We would like to thank Administrator Jackson and her office for all of their work in protecting our urban ocean and whales in our waters for generations to come,” said David Bader, director of education, Aquarium of the Pacific.
Through the Aquarium’s blue whale conservation research program, Aquarium staff members collect data for use in whale studies, recording sightings of blue whales off the coast of Long Beach and surrounding cities. The results of these studies may contribute to decisions made about shipping lanes in the local area.