2017 Winners Announced in January • 2018 Contest Launch This Fall

2017 Ocean Awareness Student Contest
Ocean Pollution: Challenges & Solutions

We invite middle and high school students from around the world to participate in the 2017 Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Student Contest! This year’s theme is Ocean Pollution: Challenges & Solutions.

It’s easy to become discouraged when you think about the challenges facing our ocean ecosystems. Ocean pollution, in particular, is an ever-increasing global concern that threatens marine life, our environment, the economy, and human health.

Yet there have been many inspiring conservation stories and ocean “wins” in the last year: cities implementing plastic bag bans; governments establishing new Marine Protected Areas; and the rise of citizens and businesses embracing zero-waste mentalities. Optimism is contagious, and sharing messages of hope around the world has never been easier than in this digitally connected age. Let’s ride the wave of #OceanOptimism, and think creatively about how our ocean-loving community – from K to gray – can turn the tide of global ocean pollution.

At Bow Seat, we recognize the power of our young ocean caretakers, and our goal is to inspire them to lead the way to finding innovative solutions to ocean pollution. We want you to #BeTheChange. You may choose to focus your work on one type of pollution, or the impact of ocean pollution as a whole. Whichever way you choose, we want your submission – visual art, poetry, prose, or film – to make viewers reflect on the impact of ocean pollution, inspire them to consider possible solutions, and challenge them to take action.

We encourage you to connect your submission to your own life, your local community, or something else that inspires and motivates you. Some questions that you might consider as you work on your submission are:

  • Who is to “blame” for ocean pollution? What are the sources of ocean pollution?
  • Who – and what – is impacted by ocean pollution?
  • How does ocean pollution at one end of the world affect the other end?
  • What innovative solutions have been created or proposed to address different types of ocean pollution? What challenges do these innovations face to widespread implementation?
  • How should scientists, designers, and policy-makers work together to address ocean pollution issues? How do local communities take part? How do individuals play a role? What role do you play?
  • What is the first step to raising awareness about ocean pollution?
  • How does meaningful change happen?
  • What does the future ocean look like to you?

Everything you need to know for the 2017 contest is on this page, so please read it carefully! Download a printable version>


Awards will be presented in each of the four categories at both middle school and high school levels:

Grades 9-12
Grades 6-8
Gold Award
Silver Award
Bronze Award
Gold Award
winner's school
10 Honorable
Mention Awards
3 Teacher
Recognition Awards

Additional Awards Available in 2017

Over the course of the Contest, other awards may become available and will be listed here. The winners of these awards will be chosen and announced at the same time as the category awards.

Making Waves Award
The Making Waves Award will be awarded to one submission is each age division that demonstrates a powerful, engaging, and original voice of ocean activism. Winners receive a $250 cash prize, and an equal amount will be donated to an organization of their choice in their name.

Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Award
The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy will award two cash prizes of $125. There will be one middle school winner and one high school winner. The recipients will have effectively combined the Contest theme and the vision of the Conservancy, which is to increase knowledge of Atlantic white sharks and change public perception to conserve the species and ensure biologically diverse marine ecosystems.

getting started

1. Research.
Use our website to find resources and inspiration. Do research on the topic, ask tough and complex questions, and have conversations about ocean pollution with your peers and sponsor.

2. Create.
Create your own work of art, prose, poetry, or film that interprets the Contest theme and advocates for ocean conservation. Make sure you review and understand all of the requirements for your chosen Category.

3. Submit.
Make sure you’ve met all rules and requirements for submitting to the Contest. Use our online system to create an account and submit your work. There is no fee to enter the Contest.

It is important that you provide a valid email address so that we may contact you. If you provide a school email address as your primary contact information, please provide an additional, alternative email address as well.

Teachers & Sponsors: You may create a single account under your name and submit multiple entries on behalf of your class, but you must submit separate entries for each individual student, unless they are participating as a Group.

Entries are due by June 19, 2017, at 11:59 PM Eastern Time (ET).



  • Middle School
    6th-8th grade, or International or Homeschool Equivalent
  • High School
    9th-12th grade, or International or Homeschool Equivalent


  • An Individual, meaning that you are the sole creator of your submission; or
  • A Group. Groups can be of unlimited size, but you must provide the name of each group member. There will be one group leader who will serve as the contact person for the group. Awards will be given to the group as a whole.




All visual interpretations of the theme are welcome in this category, including painting, drawing, prints, digital art, sculpture, photography, and much more.



All pieces of written and spoken poetry which interpret the prompt are acceptable in this category, whether just a single poem or a collection.



All forms of written interpretations of the theme (except poetry) are acceptable in this category. Feel free to write fiction, nonfiction, personal memoirs, analytical essays, nature writing, political advocacy, op-eds or news articles, or any other form of prose.



All types of cinematic interpretations of the theme are acceptable in this category, from PSAs to short films to educational videos and much more.

the reflection

The Reflection helps your audience and the judges understand more about you, your work, and the issue you are addressing. It is like the introduction to a book, or an artist’s statement in a museum. The judges will not lower your score for a poorly written Reflection, but writing a good Reflection will certainly help the judges understand you and your work better, and you will likely do better in the Contest!

But why do I have to write about my work, instead of letting my work speak for itself?

It’s important to practice talking about your work because it is one of the hardest but most fundamental skills of being an advocate. People who see your work will likely want to ask questions that only you can answer—the Reflection is kind of like an FAQ. Why did you do what you did? How did you create it? What inspired you? What have you learned through your exploration of ocean pollution? Entice people who see your work to look longer, deeper, and most of all to think about the issue you are trying to address.

The arts have the power to start conversations, raise awareness, and inspire action by asking viewers to think not only logically or critically, but also emotionally. With this in mind, we invite you to reflect on the question: How does ocean pollution make you feel?

Reflection Requirements

naming your files

Please name your file in the following manner:

Your Submission:

Additional Files: (Optional, Art category only)

Your Reflection:

For example, Robert Wyland submitting photos of his painting would name his files:

And Sylvia Earle submitting her Poetry would name her files:

If you have any questions about your submission, please email info@fromthebowseat.org.


We have many resources to help you get started on your submission, including tips and inspiration, resources for learning more about ocean pollution, links to ocean conservation and research organizations, and much more!

sponsors and teachers

Each individual or group who submits to the Ocean Awareness Student Contest must have an adult sponsor. Sponsors are usually teachers, parents, or mentors. We ask each student to have a sponsor so that if we have trouble getting in touch with a student, we have a backup means of contact.

We think that one of the most important parts of ocean advocacy is building relationships and having conversations about ocean issues. Regardless of how closely sponsors do or do not work with students as they prepare their submissions, we encourage students and sponsors to use each other to practice talking about ocean pollution and how the creative arts can make a meaningful difference in our world.

We also offer nomination-based Sponsor Recognition Awards! Students, nominate your awesome sponsor by using this online form.

More information for Sponsors and Teachers >

rules & eligibility

Competition Period

  • The 2017 Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Student Contest opens for submissions on Thursday, September 15, 2016. All submissions must be received by Monday, June 19, 2017 at 11:59 PM Eastern Time (ET) to be considered in the 2017 Contest. The online platform will close automatically at the Contest deadline. Please plan accordingly!

Who May Enter

  • This is an international Contest and is open to eligible students worldwide.
  • Any student in grades 6-8 (or the international or homeschool equivalent) is eligible for the Middle School division. Any student in grades 9-12 (or the international or homeschool equivalent) is eligible for the High School division. As long as you were a middle school or high school student for any amount of time during the Contest (September 2016 – June 2017), you are eligible to enter.
  • Participants under the age of 13 must have a parent or legal guardian complete a Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) Parent/Guardian Consent Form and upload it as part of their submission.
  • Entries may be submitted by an individual or group of unlimited size. If you submit as a group, there must be one group leader who will serve as the contact person for the group. All of the names of the group members must be listed in the submission. Award money will be split among the group members.
  • Any student may submit (i.e., have their name included in) only one entry per category. Therefore, a student may have a maximum of four different submissions, one in each category.

How to Enter

  • There is no fee to enter the Contest.
  • Students must create an account and submit their work through our online system by the Contest deadline. Bow Seat cannot accept submissions via email or physical mail.
  • Students must have an adult sponsor – usually a teacher. Homeschooled students may put down their homeschool teacher’s name.
  • Entries submitted previously to the Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Student Contest will not be considered in the 2017 Contest. Submissions must be created during the 2016-2017 academic year; you must submit work that you made between June 2016 (when the 2016 Contest closed) and June 2017 (when the 2017 Contest closes).
  • All entries must be the students’ original work. While we recognize that existing sources will be used for inspiration and research, Bow Seat reserves the right to disqualify an entry if we suspect plagiarism.


  • Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs reserves the right to use students’ work for marketing and promotional purposes in any and all media.
  • All winners and their sponsors will be notified by email before they are publicly announced on our website.
  • Bow Seat promises to run this contest fairly, ethically, and with integrity.
  • All judging decisions are final.

Still have questions? Review the 2017 Contest FAQ >


All 2017 Contest results will be announced in January 2018.

Bow Seat Judges are artists, writers, teachers, filmmakers, scientists, and of course, ocean-lovers! Meet the Team >

Submissions are judged based on:

  • Artistic voice, originality, and imagination
  • Craftsmanship, including quality, technique, attention to detail, and accuracy of communicating ocean pollution issues
  • How well they address the theme of the Contest
  • Meeting the Contest submission requirements

Judging begins immediately after the Contest ends, and we take the time to fairly judge each and every entry to the Contest. In 2016, we received over 2,100 submissions and our team of judges put in over 1,500 hours of cumulative work watching your films; viewing your art; and reading your poetry, prose, and Reflections. We also send out many submissions to be judged by our Partners for the auxiliary awards that they sponsor.

We know that you’re anxious to hear Contest results. We take an enormous amount of pride in the amount of care we put into the Contest, and we hope that you can be patient with us as we continue to do so!