Here at Sea Smart, we focus on having a positive real-world impact on children and youth. Our goal is to inspire them to be curious, empathetic, and inspired about the magical world of ocean science and marine biology. As Communications Coordinator, I love hearing and spotlighting the children, families, teachers, and community members we’ve impacted.
When I asked our Founder and CEO, Dr. Elaine Leung, if any specific people came to mind that we had significantly impacted over the years, she immediately suggested our very own Environmental Educator, Caitlin Stanley. In November 2022, I sat down with Caitlin over Zoom to get to know her better. Her story truly encapsulates what we’re trying to achieve.
Igniting a Spark
Caitlin’s journey with Sea Smart began in the classroom. A curious student, she had chosen to take Grade 9 Ecology as one of her electives. Caitlin’s teacher organized a workshop series with Sea Smart, inviting Elaine into the classroom to lead discussions and activities about plastic pollution and other ocean threats.
Throughout a few sessions, Elaine led Caitlin’s class through hands-on activities, introducing conservation and marine biology. In groups, they created a community action project to build awareness and reduce human impacts on species at risk. Caitlin’s group decided to do what they could to minimize single-use plastics in the school cafeteria.
“We encourage our student groups to generate ideas they can carry out themselves. I remind them not to make assumptions, but to ask questions and then think of their solutions,” Elaine said. “It’s important to teach children and youth that everyone can positively impact the world, no matter how young they are.”
The grade 9 students headed down to speak to the cafeteria staff. Using the investigative skills they had learned in the workshops, they used curiosity to ask the staff about their procedures. Then, they suggested alternative solutions.
For example, Caitlin noticed that the muffins were wrapped in plastic. When questioned, the staff explained that this was for sanitary reasons; they couldn’t handle cash and distribute the baked goods without donning plastic gloves for each student. Caitlin’s group suggested storing muffins in a covered tray and distributing them with tongs, avoiding the need for either saran wrap or gloves.
“At first, we didn’t even know if it was possible,” Caitlin told me. “We were only in grade 9! But it was empowering to realize that we could change something for our entire school.”
When Caitlin was fourteen, she became one of Sea Smart’s first volunteers. She initially joined the after-school team, leading students ages 6-10 through ocean-themed extracurricular activities. Later, Caitlin volunteered with Sea Smart’s summer camps, heading to the beach to help the Environmental Educators set up and run programs. She remained a volunteer for the rest of high school.
“It felt amazing to be on the beach. I could see the change we were having, getting the children interested in the ocean,” Caitlin told me. “I wish there were programs like this when I was a little kid!”
She also learned to be a role model from the Educators and staff members around her. Determined to lead by example, she began taking her bicycle to the beach and bringing a plastic-free lunch. Caitlin even involved her family, creating a promotional video for Sea Smart with her brother’s production company and inspiring her mother and grandmother to become regular donors.
Joining the Team
After her first year of university, in 2021, Caitlin officially joined the Sea Smart team as an Environmental Educator. Now, she takes the lead on creating and delivering programs at Sea Smart’s beachside summer camps.
“I love working with kids. Even when we’re teaching them about dangers to the ocean and marine animals, they’re so hopeful and optimistic,” Caitlin says. “My favourite part is brainstorming answers to ocean problems with them.”
Next year, she’ll return to her studies, where she’ll take classes on environmental science, water testing, conservation, and more.
And after that? She’s not quite sure. “I’m not sure what my next step will be after graduation, but I know it’ll be something to do with sustainability. It’s been my passion ever since that action project in grade 9 ecology class. I can’t wait to discover how to have the biggest positive impact on the environment!”