2013 contest winners


This year’s contest was a major success! We grew submissions by more than 50% from previous years and had submissions from students in 15 states and Canada.

Picking the winners was no easy task... In fact, it was so tough that we had a tie for 3rd place, added a 4th place winner, AND created an additional “Independent Essay” award!

A large number of essays showed depth, voice and research that was truly commendable. We want you to know that we take your efforts seriously and do our part to give each essay it’s due. Each essay is read by a panel of 4-5 readers. Top essays are reread and have a minimum of 6-7 reads. The six winning essayists did a fantastic job with digesting complex information and making big idea connections, seeking out good sources and developing a voice in their essays. Congratulations to them and all Honorable Mention winners!

Thank you for accepting our challenge to learn about the ocean and become a next generation ocean steward. Please consider participating in the 2014 contest which has already launched and allows students to explore Plastics Pollution in the Ocean through essay, art and advocacy tracts and to work alone or in teams!


Sidni Frederick

Brookline High School, Brookline, Massachusetts

Sidni’s essay “The Story of the North Atlantic Right Whale: Past, Present, and Future” is impressive. Her young, strong voice brims with leadership. Sidni sets a stage to introduce the plight of the NA Right Whale, as her essay was one of the few that gave a broader human historic context to examine the issues facing these whales. She observes that many species have been “sacrificed” and “pursued to their extinction as resources for human development or chased to the edge of their habitats by sprawling human developments.” Later on she writes passionately about an “obligation,” “moral responsibility,” and a “collective effort” needed to address these issues. Sidni’s essay uses clear, purposeful writing as she delves into all the major issues concerning the North Atlantic Right Whale. She understands the biological constraints of this K-selected species and how these ecological characteristics have an unfortunate interplay with human activity. She does a masterful job explaining ship strikes, gear entanglement, drops in life expectancy, and the overall significance of reproductive rates. Sidni also includes a unique discussion on how climate change affects copepods range and development. Sidni’s impactful essay is simply outstanding.

Read the full essay >


Brookline High School

Brookline, Massachusetts


Asha-Maria Bost

Canterbury High School, Ottawa, Ontario

Asha-Maria’s engaging and hopeful essay “North Atlantic Right Whales at the Crossroads between Health and Extinction” begins by taking us on a whale watching trip where she is “searching the ocean for their smooth rotund bodies, their paired blowholes and heads covered with callosities.” Her essay is beautifully written with informative discussions about habitat range, female mortality rates, and climate change. Asha-Marai did one of the best jobs detailing the various conservation efforts that are underway to help protect these animals. She provides a fascinating description of the Right Whale Buoy Project developed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Cornell University. She also outlines the significance of the Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule, efforts to move shipping lanes, and gear modifications like sinking rope, color-coded fishing gear, and the use of IPad/IPhone apps. Lastly, the essay concludes with a lovely personal poem where she imagines a Right Whale in the ocean... “feeling the sun beating yellow, on your dark black skin.” Asha-Maria’s essay demonstrates that connecting people emotionally to environmental issues is an effective way to communicate science — a wonderful writing skill to have. An exceptional essay on multiple levels.

Read the full essay >


Jonathan Eber

Brookline High School, Brookline, Massachusetts

Grace O’Brien

Tesoro High School, Las Flores, California

Jonathan’s essay “The Right Solution: Examining the Plight if the North Atlantic Right Whale, and Exploring our Options” is a fabulous, pragmatic piece. Jonathan’s excellent writing has a mature and clear point of view. While he is pessimistic about the NA Right Whale recovery, he says the Right Whale teaches us a “valuable lesson” and that “we should learn from our mistakes.” He understands that “there are plenty of places to point fingers, but there are no easy solutions to the frail condition of the North Atlantic Right Whale.” Jonathan’s essay discusses the overall significance of the whale’s ecology and biological constraints, as well as the higher mortality rates and lower birth rates specific to these whales. Jonathan’s job of synthesizing the statistics and explaining their relevance makes a compelling case for his brave and difficult assertion that these whales have a “small chance of survival.” We applaud his impressive and incisive effort.

Read the full essay >

Grace’s essay “How Bigger Fish are Dependent on the Survival of Smaller Ones — The Critical Role Forage Fish Play in the Rebound of Wild Cod Fish Stocks in the Gulf of Maine” tackled our most difficult question, and one where there is not much research available. She wrote a remarkable scientific-style essay that examined this complex and timely issue. Grace outlined the basic subjects concerning the demise of the Cod fish stock and impact of overfishing. She went on to brilliantly discuss food chain dynamics, the importance of rivers and freshwater estuaries in this region, and the critical role forage fish play. Grace described various management strategies and ongoing projects that are helping to restore these various fish stocks, including protecting ecosystems habitats, dam removal, and understanding the overall economic significance of maintaining healthy forage fish stocks. Grace’s essay was finely constructed and filled with important examples and evidence — a superb effort.

Read the full essay >


Mai Mangin

Catherine McAuley High School, Portland, Maine

Mai’s “The Right Whale to Save” was an essay we could not forget, so we added a fourth place category to acknowledge her noteworthy effort. Her unique essay covers all the relevant issues facing the North Atlantic Right Whale, including habitat loss, human induced hazards, pollution and climate change. Mai’s essay also concentrates on the meaningful legislation and various projects that are underway to help protect the Right Whale. She even adds an interesting explanation of disentanglement efforts and techniques. Hers is one of the few essays the highlighted the economic benefits of ecotourism and whale watching. Mai’s thoughtful, impassioned voice was present throughout her paper. She concludes with a truly wonderful discussion about human impact and how “our growth comes at the expense of nearly every other species on the planet.” An inspiring effort.

Read the full essay >


Susan Bell

Coastal Studies for Girls, Freeport, Maine

This year many students requested permission to write an independent essay on an ocean issue they are passionate about, so we made a special award for this category. Bell’s essay on microplastic in the marine ecosystem is eye-opening and powerful. Susan explains the negative impacts of these small plastic pieces and how they affect sea animals and marine ecosystems. She introduces us to the idea that many plastics in the oceans not only release harmful chemicals, but they absorb them as well, becoming “poison pills.” Furthermore, she goes on to describe various unexpected sources of the marine plastic debris including nurdles, exfoliating soaps and scrubs, and even washing fleece! She concludes by detailing the changes she has made in order to use less plastic. We were very impressed with her hands-on and committed approach to this subject which resulted in a personal and persuasive essay.

Read the full essay >


Elizabeth Halliday

Coastal Studies for Girls, Freeport, Maine

Elizabeth is the winner of the On Board Teacher Raffle, and has won a scholarship to attend the Island School Teachers Conference in August 2014 in Eleuthera, Bahamas.

The Island School is a leader in place based experiential learning about ocean science and sustainability. We know she will learn amazing things to take back to her classroom.

Thank you to Elizabeth and all of the On Board teachers who had five or more students submit essays. We hope to hear from your students again in the 2014 contest which focuses on Ocean Plastics Pollution and allows students to work alone or in groups.

A note from Linda:

Before we get to the winners, let’s take a moment to
Think Beyond the Prize...

In the course of reading so many powerful essays this year, especially about the Right Whale, your collective voices spoke to me in a way that no single essay could.

Check out the word cloud we generated using your essay submissions — graphic testimony to the power of collective voices!

Reading all the essays also inspired me to get out on the water and try to track down one of these majestic creatures. Because of all of you, I saw my first whale — a humpback!

The picture I took!

You also inspired me to make a donation to the Right Whale Program at the New England Aquarium. This gift is to honor all of you who, by researching and finding your voices, honored the plight of the Right Whale.


Meet Piper!

Scott Kraus, Vice President of Research at the New England Aquarium and co-editor of the Urban Whale, says: “Piper is a great choice for sponsorship, as she is iconic both for the problems facing right whales — two entanglements in her life — and the hope for their future — three calves so far!"

Though there were significantly fewer entries on Forage Fish, these were also truly inspiring, and I appreciate the efforts of those who tackled this complex and developing topic.

The resonance of the collective voice is magnified, and was truly moving to me.

I’d like to leave you with this lovely quote
from Chaewon Hwang, one of our Honorable Mention winners:

"Many people brush off the news regarding the endangerment, critical endangerment or even extinction of a species. However, the ecosystem will start to deteriorate without the various species. The food web and trophic level interaction will be imbalanced, ecosystem services will start to disappear, and people will become ignorant of the intrinsic value of the species. This is dangerous because we may become ignorant of our own intrinsic value.”  

A small number of entries were awarded Honorable Mention. Congratulations to all the Honorable Mention Winners for their great work!

Danielle Balanov

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Briar Bragdon

Hall-Dale High School, Farmingdale, ME

Julia Di

Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville,  MD

Jiwon Choi

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA

Ari Coopersmith

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Emily Cox

Mt. Ararat High School, Topsham, ME

Jacob Dana

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Kristin Dugas

Greely High, Cumberland, ME

Amanda Farman

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Chelsey Frank

Homeschooled, Ames, IA

Megan Ganley

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA

Chaewon Hwang

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Natalie Janes

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Isabella Langan

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Joon Lee

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Sally Littlefield

Poland Regional High School, Poland, ME

Ariana Nisonoff

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Emily Norman

Catherine McAuley High School, Portland, ME

Cayla Ontko

Tesoro High School, Ladera Ranch, CA

Maddie Pronovost

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Eleanor Reynolds

Santa Monica High School, Santa Monica, CA

Emily Rogan

Cathering McAuley High School, Portland, ME

Leah Rubin

Coastal Studies for Girls, Freeport, ME

Eli Shanks

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Heather Sieger

Coastal Studies for Girls, Freeport, ME

Lily Waldron

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Zak Walker-Kahne

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Katherine Walt

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Emma Wellbaum

Brookline High School, Brookline, MA

Railey Zantop-Zimlinghaus

Coastal Studies for Girls, Freeport, ME