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Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Contest

A global educational platform that empowers youth to connect, create, and communicate for our blue planet through the arts.

This multidisciplinary program engages students in exploring critical ocean conservation issues through visual art, writing, music, film, and multimedia. It is a platform for teens to share their questions, concerns, and visions in a global discussion; a community of like-minded activists, thinkers, and creators; and a stepping-stone into the world of advocacy.


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

Web presence






Target group
April 2020
This program has been a great opportunity for me to become passionate about a real issue plaguing our world. I hope my writing inspires others to recognize their roles as the keepers of the ocean.

About the innovation

Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Contest

Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs (Bow Seat) empowers youth through imagination and creation, with the mission of engaging them in ocean conservation and advocacy through the arts.

Bow Seat’s flagship educational program, the Ocean Awareness Contest, invites middle and high schoolers to explore the connections between human activities and the health of our ocean through visual art, writing, music, film, and multimedia. With themes such as endangered species, plastic pollution, and climate change, the Contest has been at the forefront of introducing critical ocean issues to youth. More than 13,000 students from all 50 U.S. states and 106 countries have participated, and we have awarded almost $400,000 in scholarships to Contest winners and the educators who support their participation and encourage them to be active stewards of our blue planet. The Contest is open from September to June every year.

Art-making is a powerful way for program participants to explore knowledge and feelings about environmental issues, find and share their voice, and shape their attitudes about their own power to make a difference. According to participant surveys, 73% of students reported that the Contest increased their ocean literacy; 66% stated that it impacted their worldview or behavior (e.g., reducing plastic use); and 84% reported that creating something (i.e., art, writing, music, films) helped them personally connect with environmental issues. In written reflections, students noted how participating in the Contest opened their eyes to environmental problems and inspired them to advocate for change beyond themselves. Results from educator feedback surveys corroborated these findings, demonstrating that the Contest is an effective tool for teaching students about ocean issues, applying classroom learning to real-world problems, and building students’ research and communication skills.

Bow Seat showcases student work in our online gallery, and through exhibitions, film screenings, publications, social media, and partner initiatives. This provides a special opportunity for teens to display their individual creative skills while demonstrating the strength of their collective voices, bringing awareness of ocean issues to wider audiences. Bow Seat also collaborates with schools and community organizations to combine ocean literacy and the arts in classrooms and afterschool programs, and to ensure that youth voice is included in environmental campaigns and conversations.


"In Our Hands" by Ely German, 16 (Houston, Texas)
2017 Gold Award, Film
Student Art Exhibitions
Bow Seat partners with aquariums, museums, nature centers, and other organizations to host art exhibitions and film screenings featuring student work, with the goal of inspiring broader awareness, dialogue, and action around ocean conservation.
"Save the World" by Lilly Chertock, 14 (Venice, California)
2018 Gold Award, Music
"Plastic Whale" by Dafne Murillo, 14 (Lima, Peru)
2014 Gold Award, Art
"My Second Home" by Rose Ho, 18 (Valley Park, Missouri)
2018 Gold Award, Film
"All That's Left" by Gwenan Walker, 18 (New Canaan, Connecticut)
2019 Gold Award Winner, Art
Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs: Creativity in Conservation
At Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs, we believe that the creative arts are a vital tool to learn about issues impacting our environment, connect more deeply with nature, and bring communities together to care for our blue planet. Our programming teaches ocean conservation through creative investigating and making.
"sea butterflies" by Cynthia Lu, 16 (Belmont, Massachusetts)
2019 Gold Winner, Poetryin English, pteropod translates to wing-foot, sea snail, sea butterfly. too small to press against your ear and listen for the sea, though they are remnants of a past where armor was not yet needed only translucent skin and calcium-glass shells leaving the ocean’s heart visible for admirers. now, in any language, she pleads for a god that does not crumble in our fires, choke on our ashes because like any good mother, the ocean cannot carry the smoky exhales of our mistakes in her belly forever. in chemistry, combustion implies bright, spontaneous destruction but no, there is a softer, quieter death for the pteropods— acid dissolving their homes, shells cracked and cloudy as if the beach was strewn with broken mirror shards all the better to distort reality. they have neither wings nor feet for escape— instead, are condemned to drift in perpetuity. start there, a fingertip on the pearly center of its shell then trace the effects outwards: to the fish, then seals, then whales all linked in an unraveling web, like a fisherman’s net. There is no such thing as a closed system in this world: the same salt that swirls through the ocean runs in our blood. in French, seafood translates to fruit of the sea: imagine white napkins and silver knives empty harvest and barren orchards. teach your diners that rare does not mean valuable, it means loss. in each generation of sand-footed children, open their eyes and lift their voices because these sea butterflies, and oceans and earth of ours are not capable of metamorphosis by themselves.
"Rising Seas" by John Paul Rabusa, 18 (Phoenix, Arizona)
2019 Gold Award Winner, Music
"Our Future" by Jane Zhang, 13 (Vancouver, Canada)
2019 Gold Award Winner, Art
2020 Ocean Awareness Contest, Climate Hope: Transforming Crisis
A call for young artists, conservationists, makers, thinkers, and activists who are concerned about the future of our blue planet. Join thousands of youth around the world in our annual program that raises awareness about the climate crisis and potential solutions, uplifts youth voices for ocean conservation, and inspires hope and action through art, creative media, and storytelling.

Implementation steps

Review & Research

REVIEW THE THEME . Be sure to review the description of the Ocean Awareness Contest theme, which changes every year. Submissions are judged based on how well they address the annual theme. 

READ THE RULES. This is an international contest open to students ages 11-18. Make sure you read all of the Contest rules, submission requirements, and FAQs before you get started. 

DO RESEARCH & GET INSPIRED. We have many resources on our website to help you get started on your submission. Explore Bow Seat’s Resource Studio⁠—a unique, curated space that includes inspirational artwork, journalistic media, primary literature, interactive quizzes, and more—to learn about climate change impacts on our ocean, find artists and organizations taking action for the climate, and discover how you can get involved in the global climate movement.


CHOOSE A CATEGORY. Please review all submission requirements carefully. Students may submit one entry per category, meaning that you may enter up to six pieces, one in each category (Art, Film, Multimedia, Music, Poetry, Prose). If you submit more than one entry in a category (for example, two poems), additional entries will not be counted or judged.

WRITE YOUR REFLECTION . A written reflection is required to accompany your submission, regardless of category. 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 thoughtful and personal reflection will certainly help the judges understand you and your work better, and you will likely do better in the Ocean Awareness Contest! 

Your reflection should describe 1) your creative process and 2) what you have learned through your exploration of the Ocean Awareness Contest theme. Use the following questions to guide your writing: 

  • What inspired your work? 
  • What feelings did the process of creating (art, writing, film, music, interactive/multimedia) raise for you?
  • What is your message to viewers of your artwork?
  • After doing research on the climate crisis and potential solutions, what have you learned?
  • What gives you hope?
  • What action(s) will you personally take now that you’ve learned about this issue and potential solutions?

Reflection requirements:

  • Length: 100-250 words 
  • Your reflection must be written in English.


Students must create an account and submit their work through our online system. If you are submitting multiple works, you only need to create one account. Submission Deadline: June 15, 2020.

Preview submission form > 

 Submission Checklist: 

  • Your contact information 
  • Your submission (Art, Film, Interactive & Multimedia, Music, Poetry, Prose)
  • A title for your submission
  • Your written reflection
  • Works cited (if applicable): List of sources for any ideas, quotes, or facts used that are not your own
  • Contact information for an adult sponsor (required for all participants)
  • Parent/guardian consent (required if under 13 years old). Click here for more information about parent/guardian consent.

Once you make an account and start a submission, you will have the opportunity to save your work and continue at another time.

Teachers: You can submit on behalf of your class or multiple student participants. Review Information for Teachers & Adult Sponsors.

Connect & Take Action

SHARE YOUR WORK . By participating in the Ocean Awareness Contest, you are joining Bow Seat’s global community of more than 13,000 young people and counting who are using their creative voices to speak up for our blue planet. 

Share this opportunity with other artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, climate activists, and ocean lovers you know! By giving young people an opportunity to think creatively about ocean conservation and climate action, and a platform for you to express your ideas, we hope to create a wave of awareness and impact around the world. 

TAKE ACTION . The work isn’t over just because you’ve submitted! Do what you can as an individual, connect with others in the movement, and explore opportunities for staying involved. Find an organization working on climate action, ocean conservation, and social justice in your community. Continue to use your creative voice to speak up and out on local, regional, national, and global issues!

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