Inspiring young people worldwide

OurEcho Challenge turns environmental ideas into reality

Inspiring young people worldwide

Washington, D.C. — Middle school students across the U.S. are taking a closer look at environmental challenges and protecting native plants and animals in their communities through EarthEcho International’s 

OurEcho Challenge. The inaugural competition was made possible by Aramco. 

Students focused on local ecosystems and proposed solutions to help preserve, protect, or repair those natural resources. 

Ten finalist teams from seven states made it to the global nonprofit’s fifth Annual Youth Leadership Summit, held virtually on Aug. 6-8, for final judging to compete for three grants between $2,000 and $10,000 to turn their ideas into reality. 

“The OurEcho Challenge inspires and empowers a new generation of young leaders,” said Philippe Cousteau Jr., founder of EarthEcho International. “It turns a student’s passion for science, discovery, and love of nature into action, supporting the diverse native species and habitats existing in their own communities.”

sharing our culture of environmental excellence

Aramco’s culture of environmental excellence and support for biodiversity with wildlife sanctuaries, coral reefs, mangrove trees, and other native species coexisting alongside operating areas has earned it a reputation for prioritizing the importance of ecological habitats. The company’s Biodiversity Initiative is a pillar of our corporate citizenship efforts. 

Participating as a competition judge was Ronald Loughland, environmental consultant in Aramco’s Environmental Protection organization, who was impressed with ideas directly related to restoration and the technology applications. 

“When judging the entries, I looked for an understanding of the issues and the team’s ability to come up with really practical solutions that could be implemented,” Loughland said.

“It’s nice to see young people thinking out-of-the-box.”  

With team names such as “Super Plants,” “Aquabotics,” or “Swamp Stompers,” creativity was apparent. Proposals addressed “supercharging” roots to help sequester carbon dioxide to combat climate change or designing autonomous robots to collect pond debris or propagating native plants to replace invasive species threatening a critical local bog habitat. 

Kasey Gaylord-Opalewski, program manager for OurEcho Challenge, said despite not being able to hold the Youth Leadership Summit in-person this year, 500 participants from 44 countries and territories preregistered to take part online. 

three teams earn top recognition

Judges selected these three teams, including:

First place: Team Crayfish from Medea Creek Middle School, Oak Park, California, receiving a $10,000 grant to continue their work creating sustainable fishing practices to remove an invasive crayfish species. 

Second place: Team Super Plants from Proof School, San Francisco, California, receiving a $5,000 grant to create community gardens filled with plants to sequester carbon dioxide to combat climate change. 

Third place: Team Aquabotics from Bednarcik Junior High School, Aurora, Illinois, receiving a $2,000 grant to continue design of a robot to locate and collect debris in a local pond. Ultimately, a network of autonomous, self-sustaining robots to keep water systems and oceans clean is envisioned. 

Loughland said Aramco’s Environmental Protection has been involved in similar programs in countries where we operate; working closely with colleagues to ensure biodiversity conservation is placed at the top of the agenda for any project. 

Having a chance to participate in a project such as this was fun and furthers awareness for environmental stewardship.

Top Page Photo Caption: the first-place team, Crayfish, works to remove an invasive species of crayfish from a local creek. from left are  Cheng Ning, Pasha Heydari, and Benjamin Rassibi.

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