Celebrating Great Lakes youth stewardship leaders

Alpena High School senior selected as the State of Michigan's Environmental Service Award Competition winner for exploration and education relating to marine debris in the Great Lakes.

Teenager Emeline Hanna walks barefoot along a lakefront in the sand with small waves rolling up on the sand.
Emeline Hanna worked with her high school research team, including Maddy Saddler and Tayler Hansen-Bates, to study the growing Great Lakes issue of marine debris.

Each year Earth Day celebrates appreciation, stewardship, and also leadership toward our planet’s diversity of land and water habitats, fish and wildlife, and their interacting ecosystems – in which we are a part. One youth leader from Alpena High School also celebrates her own passion and values for our Great Lakes, while contributing to environmental stewardship and community conversations toward protecting these important coastal resources.

Youth values, voice, and leadership offer perhaps the most visible, inspiring, and important contributions in celebrating Earth Day. This year, on Earth Day, Emeline Hanna – a senior at Alpena High School in northeast Michigan – was recognized with the State of Michigan's 2020 Environmental Service Award. She was honored for this community-focused environmental stewardship project during a celebration of Earth Day 2020 hosted virtually by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Emeline worked with her high school research team, including Maddy Saddler and Tayler Hansen-Bates, to study the growing Great Lakes issue of marine debris. As part of their AP Biology class, they focused their research on microplastics and microfibers (small plastics and fibers around the size of a grain of sand) and took their project to the beaches of Lakes Huron and Michigan.

The student research team collected small microplastics sifted from sand samples using a microplastic filtering screen using a static charged filtration (SCF) technology. This student project and opportunity was supported through the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, a place-based education (PBE) partnership, including science resources, sampling equipment, and other support through the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and a Great Lakes NOAA B-WET watershed stewardship education project facilitated by Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension.

Emeline’s film, titled “Microplastics: The Looming Crisis,” details her own personal journey. This story includes her appreciation, values and benefits received from the lakes, along with her team’s research and marine debris discoveries – and also a call to action. Her film was originally developed for the 2020 Thunder Bay International Film Festival Student Film Competition, where she received second place honors. The 2020 Student Film competition theme was #GreatLakesAre asking students to explain what the Great Lakes mean to them. This Student Film Festival is also led by Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative network and partnership, the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan Sea Grant, Huron Pines, and other partner sponsors. The student film competition hopes to inspire young filmmakers with youth-selected themes addressing Great Lakes and natural resource issues.

Emeline's contribution, among many other student films, brought an enthusiastic youth voice to the Thunder Bay International Film Festival at NOAA’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich. This film festival helps raise awareness while exploring and celebrating our valuable Great Lakes and oceans through film. Her film also contributes a youth voice to the ongoing regional goals and work of the NOAA Great Lakes Marine Debris Collaborative.

A guiding principle for exemplary place-based stewardship education speaks to the importance of youth voice and fostering opportunities for youth engagement – through learning and leadership – within our community and environmental stewardship conversations. A core Great Lakes Literacy Principle is that the Great Lakes and humans in their watersheds are inextricably interconnected. Through her own personal experience, camera lens, and in her own voice, Emeline captures diverse values and the importance of our Great Lakes resources while illustrating how our human activities and interactions can negatively affect the very coastal resources that benefit us.

Emeline shows us how a high school science project paired with the power of film can also translate into an opportunity to engage a local community in conversation about the values in our Great Lakes coastlines – and raise awareness of emerging issues, such as marine debris, that negatively impact these valued natural resources. Her personal and heartfelt – yet science-based and self-researched – film brings to life the value in educational processes that foster opportunities for youth voice and leadership.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

This article was prepared by Michigan Sea Grant under award NA14OAR4170070 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Regents of the University of Michigan. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the Regents of the University of Michigan.



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