The 2010 Junior Ocean Hero Winners are the Shark Finatics, a group of students at Green Chimneys School in Brewster, New York who have raised more than $2,000 for shark research and conservation organizations around the world - and an immeasurable amount of awareness about shark finning.
We spoke to the Finatics' teacher, Robin Culler, who was overjoyed to hear that her students had been named Ocean Heroes.
How does it feel to win this award?
Words can't even begin to describe how it feels winning this award! The Finatics have many friends and fans, around the world, who have been such a great support since the very beginning. The kids can't even begin to comprehend the magnitude of all of this. I'm not sure I can either!
It seems we are living in a time when the oceans really need a hero.
Because of the situation in the Gulf, oceans and our environment are making major daily news. To be winning recognition for all of our work in shark conservation at this time is extremely poignant.
It is unfortunate that it often takes a catastrophe, such as the oil spill, for people to sit up and pay attention to the state of our oceans. I doubt the average person even knows that over 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from our oceans. Unhealthy oceans will trickle down to unhealthy us.
What do want other people to take from your story?
The Shark Finatics is such a great story because it is a cause that grew from compassion. A small group of students from a school called Green Chimneys struck up an interest in sharks. We were fascinated by this truly amazing creature but horrified to learn about finning.
It was only natural that these children, attending a school based on animal-assisted therapy and facing many more challenges than your typical student, wanted to take action. It began with the adoption of a Great White Shark named Jonny and today they are proud to be the adoptive parents of 21 sharks.
More importantly, they have helped educate hundreds of people, most of whom had no idea of the importance of sharks and the horrors they are facing. These are children who struggle with numerous language and social skills. They never once let that get in their way. Over and over in my head, I hear the Margaret Mead quote, "Never underestimate the power of a few committed individuals to change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
How did you get involved in ocean conservation?
I have loved the ocean for as long as I can remember. It is where I go when I need serenity and a good recharging. Jacques Cousteau was one of my childhood heroes and just hearing John Denver sing "Calypso" takes me away to a special place.
Yet, at the same time, I am saddened by how we are destroying one of the most precious gifts we have. Money-driven human greed is killing our blue planet. We can turn it around, if we choose. I know I will spend the rest of my life working to preserve our oceans and the life within them. I hope the Shark Finatics will always remember what they have learned and continue on their path of conservation.