“Be a Voice for the Voiceless and Never Give Up”: Q+A with Ocean Hero Youth Finalist Derek Petrisko
BY: Justine Sullivan
Derek Petrisko – Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
Derek, 11, along with his two brothers, founded Wild Over Wildlife (WOW!), a club for kids in elementary school who want to learn about and help protect the environment. Of the three boys, Derek leads the group’s focus on ocean issues, which includes protecting loggerhead and green sea turtles via turtle walks, beach cleanups and raising nearly $5,000 for ocean-related charities. In addition, WOW! successfully petitioned three area restaurants to stop serving shark fin soup and convinced the city of Ft. Lauderdale to provide recycling bins in Derek’s neighborhood beach. Next up, WOW! is raising funds to purchase a shark tag for the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami.
Please describe your contribution to ocean conservation:
I have organized dozens of beach clean-ups for my club, Wild Over Wildlife. I especially worry about trash and pollution because I have seen loggerhead and green sea turtles nesting on my beach. We have many nests roped off each year and I want to protect the mothers and hatchlings. I tell everyone who lives along our beach to use turtle-safe lights. Each summer, I take a large group of my club members to go with me to the turtle hatchling release programs. Our club got recycling bins placed in our neighborhood beach, Vista Park Beach, a few years ago.
I also started petitions to tell three local restaurants that were serving shark fin soup to stop…We have adopted many endangered animals including right whales and sea turtles. We choose a different cause each month and raise money and awareness to support it.
Please explain why your contribution is important and why voters should choose you as a winner of the 2013 Ocean Hero Awards:
I am only 11 years old, but I have already done a lot of great things to save our oceans. I started a club, Wild Over Wildlife, with my brothers five years ago. We have raised thousands of dollars for endangered species and to protect habitats. I think that our generation needs to know about the terrible things happening to our beaches, oceans, and marine life. I think my friends will spread the word about the issues we discuss in our club meeting regarding animals and the environment. I was surprised to know that most of my friends had never heard about shark fin soup, coral reef bleaching, turtle hatchlings being disoriented from lights, right whale ship strikes, and how pollution is linked to a virus on sea turtles…If I could win this award, I think I would get more publicity and that would help my club grow. I could spread the word about my efforts to save the oceans and everything in them.
What inspired you to get involved in ocean conservation?
I love ocean animals, especially sharks, and always have. I was always interested in the ocean, even when I was very young. At nature preserves, I went to their educational programs and found out the bad things happening because of humans to our oceans. This made me want to help my generation save the oceans from all the damage done through the years. I learned that humans have done more damage in the last 50 years than in the rest of our time on Earth combined.
What is one piece of advice someone has given you that has aided your efforts? Who gave you that advice and how did it affect you?
“Be a voice for the voiceless and never give up.” My mom gave me that advice. I always think about being a voice for the animals who do not have one. Sometimes the problems in the environment seem too big and I worry that we can’t make a difference, but I think about never giving up and keep on working.
What was your first victory and when did you start believing you could make a difference?
I was really happy when we convinced the city of Fort Lauderdale to put recycling bins along Vista Park Beach. I am glad to see them always filled up so I know people are using them instead of leaving their bottles, cans, and plastic bags all over the beach.
What do you hope to accomplish through your ocean conservation efforts?
My goal is to educate my generation so that we can make a difference. A lot of damage has been done, but we can be the ones to make changes for the better. I will work to see shark finning banned, longline fishing banned, reefs restored, mangroves preserved, and ship speeds reduced so that whales can survive possible collisions. I want to see all of the coastlines required to use turtle-safe lights and I want people to stop polluting our environment. I want to raise awareness so fishermen dispose of their lines in the right way and also so boaters are responsible.
Inspired by Derek Petrisko? Vote for him to be a 2013 Youth Ocean Hero!