By Kate Irish Collins
The Forecaster news story
PORTLAND — In their bid to protect the ocean from litter, two students at King Middle School have won the People’s Choice Award from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The council held its annual conservation leadership awards ceremony Oct. 19 in Bath, where Addie Farmer, 13, and Lainey Randall, 14, were both honored.
The conservation awards are given out each year “to individuals or groups who have made an extraordinary contribution to the protection of Maine’s land, air, waters or wildlife,” the Natural Resources Council said in a press release.
Farmer and Randall were singled out for their efforts in galvanizing the Portland community into collecting and tracking litter found in Casco Bay.
In just a month, with the help of their friends, neighbors, city leaders and others, the girls were able to collect and remove nearly 8,000 pieces of trash from local beaches.
“It’s wonderful to see such passion for the environment in the upcoming generation of Mainers,” said Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council.
“But Addie and Lainey are inspirations for all, regardless of age,” she added.
As part of their ocean cleanup project, Farmer and Randall introduced the Portland community to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Tracker mobile app.
The app helps users track the litter they find at beaches and provides data that helps experts better determine the specific marine debris problems at the local level, according to Pohlmann.
“Addie and Lainey engaged teachers, parents, and students through posters, newsletters, morning announcements, and events, (even) testifying before the Portland City Council and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute,” Pohlmann said.
“They concluded their campaign with a cleanup and tracking day at East End Beach in June and were joined by 30 volunteers who picked up litter and used the debris tracking app to log in data,” she added.
Farmer said when they were in sixth-grade, she and Randall entered a nationwide competition designed to raise awareness about the dangers of marine debris and plastic pollution in the ocean.
“About a year after we entered, we saw (there was) another competition,” she said. “This time it was a creative advocacy competition (and) as soon as Lainey and I saw this we were intrigued.”
“While brainstorming things we could do to engage our community on the significance of marine debris and push people to work to reduce it, we found an app called the Marine Debris Tracker,” Randall said.
So the two girls centered their project around that app.
“We urged our community to join us in picking up and tracking trash using the app for about a month,” Farmer said. “To further engage our community we set a goal of 5,000 pieces of trash logged.”
Randall added, “The purpose of this was to get people working hard to reach a goal, but also to show that this app can be used as a resource for individuals to use to set personal goals.”
“This work is so important and necessary because it prevents trash in our community from becoming marine debris, polluting our oceans and threatening our aquatic life,” Farmer said.
“If we don’t do something no one will. Keeping our oceans safe is necessary to have a healthy world.”
Randall agreed and said, “Oceans are a huge part of earth and all life depends on water.”
“Humans have been polluting oceans for a long time and significantly harming all forms of marine life and ecosystems. Large pieces of marine debris can destroy habitats, while smaller forms of marine debris are being consumed by animals,” she said.
Farmer said winning the People’s Choice Award was “a great honor,” adding, “We hope it will continue to raise awareness about the dangers of marine debris and hopefully encourage others to do their part.”
“Winning this award was really amazing,” Randall said. “It really reinforces how important the issue of marine debris is and really encouraged me to continue working hard on this issue.”
Farmer said she and Randall “will continue to spread the word about marine debris and encourage others to take action.”
“We want to educate people on the importance of keeping our ocean habitats and marine life safe. We are currently working on a new project where we will target elementary students,” she added.
Randall said marine debris “affects the ocean in lots of ways and it is up to us to get it out. Every person can make a difference by picking up trash. It is so easy.”
Going forward, Randall said, “I want to educate more people about the importance of marine debris and I plan to continue my effort to reduce trash from entering our oceans.”