OurEcho Challenge Turns Environmental Ideas Into Reality

OurEcho Challenge First place Team Crayfish working to remove an invasive species of crayfish from a local creek.
OurEcho Challenge first place “Team Crayfish” working to remove an invasive species of crayfish from a local creek. (left to right) Cheng Ning, Pasha Heydari, and Benjamin Rassibi.

Middle school students across the U.S. are taking a closer look at environmental challenges and protecting native plants and animals in their communities through EarthEcho International’s OurEcho Challenge. The inaugural competition was made possible by Aramco.

Aramco Champions First OurEcho Environmental Challenge

Students focused on local ecosystems and proposed solutions to help preserve, protect or repair those natural resources.

Ten finalist teams from seven states made it to the global nonprofit’s fifth Annual Youth Leadership Summit, held virtually August 6-8, for final judging to compete for three grants between $2,000 to $10,000 to turn their ideas into reality.

“The OurEcho Challenge inspires and empowers a new generation of young leaders,” said Philippe Cousteau, Jr., founder of EarthEcho International. “It turns a student’s passion for science, discovery and love of nature into action, supporting the diverse native species and habitats existing in their own communities.”

Aramco’s culture of environmental excellence and support for biodiversity with wildlife sanctuaries, coral reefs, mangrove trees and other native species coexisting alongside operating areas has earned it a reputation for prioritizing the importance of ecological habitats. The company’s Biodiversity Initiative is a pillar of our corporate citizenship efforts.

Participating as a competition judge was Ronald Loughland, Environmental Consultant, Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Saudi Aramco, who was impressed with ideas directly related to restoration and the technology applications.

“When judging the entries, I looked for an understanding of the issues and the team’s ability to come up with really practical solutions that could be implemented.” He added, “It’s nice to see young people thinking out-of-the-box.”

With team names like “Super Plants” or “Aquabotics” or “Swamp Stompers” creativity was apparent. Proposals addressed “supercharging” roots to help sequester carbon dioxide to combat climate change or designing autonomous robots to collect pond debris or propagating native plants to replace invasive species threatening a critical local bog habitat.

OurEcho Challenge 2nd and 3rd place winners.
Harper Fortgang (left), a member of the second place “Team Super Plants,” explores her San Francisco, California community. Third place winner, Jensen Coonradt (right), testing water at a local pond, was the sole member of “Team Aquabotics.”

Kasey Gaylord-Opalewski, Program Manager, OurEcho Challenge, said despite not being able to hold the Youth Leadership Summit in-person this year, 500 participants from 44 countries and territories pre-registered to take part online.

Judges selected these three teams. First place: “Team Crayfish” from Medea Creek Middle School, Oak Park, California, receiving a $10,000 grant to continue their work creating sustainable fishing practices to remove an invasive crayfish species. Second place: “Team Super Plants” from Proof School, San Francisco, California, receiving a $5,000 grant to create community gardens filled with plants to sequester carbon dioxide to combat climate change. Third place: “Team Aquabotics” from Bednarcik Junior High School, Aurora, Illinois, receiving a $2,000 grant to continue design of a robot to locate and collect debris in a local pond. Ultimately, a network of autonomous, self-sustaining robots to keep water systems and oceans clean is envisioned.

Loughlin said EPD has been involved in programs in countries where we operate, working closely with colleagues to ensure biodiversity conservation is placed at the top of the agenda for any project.

Having a chance to participate in a project like this was fun and furthers awareness for environmental stewardship.

Learn more about the OurEcho Challenge.

Learn more about Aramco’s commitment to biodiversity efforts across the globe.

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