Whistler Watch still watching following trip to international environmental awards conference. 

Emily Macalister still remembers getting the call.

"I was still asleep," recalled the 16-year-old Whistler student of the day she learned that she and three girlfriends were finalists in an international environmental contest.

"It’s been very exciting and I have learned so much."

Macalister, Sandi Barratt, Talia Smith and Michela Massey, all Grade 10 students at Whistler Secondary, have just returned from an all expense paid trip to Gothenborg, Sweden to present their project which focused on raising awareness of environmental issues in the Sea to Sky corridor.

Their project, "Whistler Watch: Howe Sound is our Environment," was one of 15 finalists chosen from over 1,000 entries from 70 countries from around the world for the Volvo Adventure environmental awards. They were the only team chosen from Canada.

The project focused on some of the environmental challenges in the corridor: Pollution from Britannia Mine and the pulp mill, recycling, pollution from vehicle emissions, power use, and many more.

They gave presentations at local schools, put up posters, and wrote to local government and the newspapers in their effort to raise awareness about issues in the corridor.

While the students may not have won the US$10,000 first prize they believe they had a winning experience – an experience that has left a legacy for a lifetime.

"Even if we didn’t win it is not a big deal because everything helped us," said Smith.

"It broadened our horizons, it expanded our minds so that we know there is a bigger world out there and everything we do affects that world so we have to be very careful about what we do and I think others should feel the same way."

As part of the week of workshops and presentations all the finalists got together and drafted a letter to send to the United Nations Environment Program outlining what the youth believed were the top environmental concerns they faced.

"It was very powerful," said Sandi Barratt.

"The competition empowers youth to take a stand and gives us a voice and just the brainstorming with other people who feel the same way as you do about the environment is just amazing."

The Volvo Adventure winner, "Turning over a new leaf — from Environment to Empowerment" found a solution to the environmental problem of burning dry leaves, which generates toxic emissions into the atmosphere.

The team from Indiranagar, India told the Volvo judges how more than 500 families have learnt how to produce highly valuable compost through vermi composting, which converts dry leaves into organic manure using earthworms. This has not only enhanced agricultural productivity, it has also provided a valuable form of income for women in small rural communities, generated by selling the earthworms and manure.

"When we got there and we saw all the presentations we saw that they were all very different but they all came back to very central issues like water, pollution and what people can do to make a difference," said Macalister.

"Others should do it too."

Said Massey: "I learned that everything matters, everything you do matters.

"If you throw away a plastic bag it will all add up."

Whistler Watch plans to continue their project and hopes to implement a new recycling program for plastics in the high school.

Volvo Adventure is an environmental programme for young people between 10-16 years of age. The aim of the programme is to increase environmental awareness and encourage environmental activities among the decision-makers of the future.

Environmental projects are undertaken by groups numbering a maximum of five participants, with the purpose of improving the local environment.


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