CREATING CHANGE: Students and teachers from the Tofino, Ucluelet, Ahousaht, Ditidaht, and Kyuquot prepare for a beach clean blitz of Wickaninnish on Feb.21. The teens were participating in an inaugural youth-led Surfrider Youth Conference on Feb. 20 and 21 in Ucluelet. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Tofino-Ucluelet students host first-ever Surfrider Youth Conference

“When you have 100 plus people all together in one room, you can feel the energy.”

Over 100 environmentally conscious youth and teachers convened in Ucluelet on Feb. 20 and 21 for the inaugural Surfrider Pacific Rim Youth Conference.

Students travelled from Maaqtusiis School in Ahousaht, Ditidaht Community School, and Kyuquot Elementary Secondary School on the northwest corner of Vancouver Island to attend the two-day event led by Ucluelet Secondary’s Surfrider Youth Club.

“When you have 100 plus people all together in one room, you can feel the energy. We were all there looking to do good things. This energy is going to stick with me,” said Nuu-chah-nulth Education Worker and event co-ordinator Jason Sam.

Highlights of the youth conference included a morning beach clean blitz of Wickaninnish Beach, inspirational keynote speakers like Lilah and Sam from Sustainabiliteens Vancouver, and educational workshops led by champions of science like Tofino mayor Josie Osborne and Chloé Dubois, co-founder of the Ocean Legacy Foundation.

READ: Tofino and Ucluelet revise single-use plastics bans after Victoria loses appeal

Surfrider Youth Club member Toby Theriault thanked everyone for making the long journey to Ucluelet.

“In the beginning of the event, I said that ‘when like-minds get together, we can do great things’ and I feel like a lot of stuff has happened here [at the conference]. Whether you’re getting a composting program or garbage program or you’re doing a waste-free lunch week, I feel like stuff has happened and I’m really glad. I feel like it wouldn’t have been accomplished if you didn’t come here, so thank you so much,” said Theriault.

Ditidaht Community School teacher Kaila Pidwerbeski brought nine students from the remote First Nations community of less than 200 residents.

“The beach clean up was awesome. At first it looked like the beach was super clean already and then when we started picking through we found a lot. It just goes to show, right?” she said, adding that her students will likely be talking about the conference for weeks to come.

On behalf of Kyuquot Secondary, elder Daisy Hanson said ‘klecko, klecko’ to Surfrider Pacific Rim for bringing everyone together.

“As old as I am, I’ve never done this before. It has taught me a lot. It gave me a lot to think about. And what I saw, our youth pulled together with what you were doing, I am so inspired and I am sure they are too,” said Hanson.

Marcie Callewaert chaperoned two students from Maaqtusiis Secondary.

“One of our students is working on a school café and she was looking for resources to bring back to make our café eco-friendly and sustainable, so we’ve looked at new products we could use to reduce our plastic impact,” Callewaert said.

“One of our other students is on student council. His time here was spent looking at ways to change policies and procedures in our school to be more eco-friendly in everything we are doing,” she went on to say.

Surfrider Pacific Rim secured funding for the youth conference from the Vancouver Foundation and Tofino Adventure Wildlife Tour. Students can look forward to growing the event in 2021; the environmental nonprofit has budgeted for the youth conference for the next three years.

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READ: Tofino and Ucluelet open zero-waste refill stations

READ: Ahousaht welcomes massive Surfrider Canada conference to Meares Island near Tofino

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