Meet the youth tackling a marine environment emergen-sea
Updated: Apr 25
By: Madi McKinley
Turning 10 is quite a momentous occasion. It’s the double digits, that next step towards a little bit more freedom you are granted as you prepare to enter those awkward preteen years. For some, they go to have a sleep over with friends for the first time. Others are excited because they have just received their first phone. But for Steph Evans, her idea of taking that ‘small’ step towards responsibility was something else, creating her own charity.
Young, persistent, and fierce, there was no stopping Steph when she approached her parents about beginning her own marine conservation charity, now called Seas of Change. Its main aim is to give a voice to those who don’t have one, in promoting for marine species and their environments. The team at Seas of Change raise awareness and encourage conversation through school talks and a podcast, as well as raise funds through the selling of sustainable goods such as upcycled products.
The idea for conserving marine life was prompted by a decline in aquatic life and habitats and the fight for more marine parks.
A 10-year study produced by the University of Technology Sydney released in 2018 indicated that a range of large fish species in Australian waters have declined by over 30 per cent.
Not many parents would have encouraged their ten-year-old to start a charity, but for Steph she is lucky she was given the green light. “I am a pretty determined person,” Steph laughs. “Once I have decided on something there is no shifting it!”
Growing up in the Northern Beaches, salty hair and sandy shoes were the least of Steph’s worries. The beach was always a major part of her life as she’d often watch her dad embrace the spontaneity of the waves. And now this little blonde-haired 10-year-old was going to take her love for the surf further by saving the dugongs, a large marine animal often overlooked by the popularity of the dolphin.
As years went by, despite Steph’s best efforts to raise awareness of the dugong species, her young age sometimes stood in the way, despite her noticeable confidence and warming character.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority states the largest population of dugongs are found in Australia in shallow waters, stretching from Shark Bay in Western Australia to Moreton Bay in Queensland. Although they are protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, according to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, dugongs are now listed as vulnerable to extinction. They are threatened by climate change and commercial gillnet fishing, long vertical lines of fishing net placed onto floaters in the water. Contributions to the decline of dugongs were also reported by the National Environment Research Program in 2011 to be at an all-time low in the southern area of the Great Barrier Reef, just before Steph began her charity.
“No amount of love will curb the soon irrevocable effects of climate change and human-made pollution on Australia’s marine ecosystems,” warns Mel, Creative Lead for Seas of Change.
But despite the clear need for an increase in dugong protection, Steph was struck by the realisation that no matter how educated she may be, some people would not take her seriously because she did not have the experience in the field. No wrinkles on her face to show her wisdom and too young to handle monetary donations.
Yet her resilience shown through. “I started at a time in my life where my life had been turned upside down and I was so lost, so it was an amazing distraction,” she says. Now 18 years old, no one would be able to guess that this professionally dressed, charismatic young woman with an affectionate smile has gone through the psychological torment from climate deniers and adults who believed she wasn’t serious enough.
She succeeded in creating multiple fundraisers, donating all funds to Dr Janet Lanyon from the University of Queensland, one of the main researchers in dugong conservation and health checks. Dugong health checks have developed from aerial view photographs and recovered dugong carcasses to physical checks of the animals. According to Dr Lanyon, it drastically helps determine the health of the individual and its aquatic ecosystem.
When Steph turned 15, she was able to participate in the dugong health checks and took it as a year of reflection of how much impact she made and a time of rebranding her charity. “They (the health checks) were the first big thing that made people realise that I was serious about what I am doing,” she says
Her determination also didn’t come unnoticed by those who stood by her. “I’ve known Steph since the start of high school, and I’ve honestly never met a more determined person. Her momentum since I met her has never stopped,” says Mel.
“If anything, I would say she was the busiest with Seas of Change related work during the most hectic and stressful parts of high school. Whilst earning multiple awards, Steph was simultaneously performing well!”
People like Dr Lanyon did more than protect marine life in those few years, they gave Steph hope. Nine years ago, there was not a large platform of accessible activists and role models for marine action.
“I reached out to all these people, and they all said no. I didn’t have a role model and I didn’t have a mentor or someone to guide me. The process would have been so much easier if I just had someone else there,” she says.
“Because of my age, many people wouldn’t take me seriously at first. A lot of the time organisations would also want to put me up as a ‘show pony’ instead of properly recognizing youth contribution.”
But despite the pessimistic outlook by some towards Steph’s work, she rebranded alongside a small team to create Seas of Change, ready to achieve more than anyone would have ever thought.
In 2019, Steph shared her thoughts about the Climate Emergency Declaration at the Northern Beaches Council. Although well praised by many, it angered many adult climate change deniers. She was targeted with hateful comments, ordering her to silence and judging her with misconceptions of her lack of education. Although it dampened her spirit, she kept fighting for change.
“I think for some reason when we are young, we put a limitation on ourselves because we are not 18 yet. I guess I never had that limitation, and I am so lucky that my parents told me to go for it,” she says.
“She is an amazing role model… she displays a great amount of leadership and ambition which I believe makes her a great inspiration for young kids,” says Thilara, Content Creator for Seas of Change.
“Working for Seas of Change has also given me the chance to learn more about important environmental concerns.”
Part of the charity focuses on delivering school talks, the idea flourishing from Steph’s passion for education influenced by her mother’s teaching career. Being able to conduct school talks gave them power, power to teach about the marine environment and power to promote youth education and activism.
A study produced by Bath University in 2021 surveyed 10,000 people aged 16 to 25 across eleven countries. The results indicated that almost 6 in 10 people were worried or very worried about climate change and 4 in 10 people were hesitant about having children due to the climate crisis.
“Our (youth) ideas need to be taken seriously,” says Steph. “We may only be 25 per cent of the population but we are 100 per cent the future.”
Steph’s dream continues to grow supported by her small team of young, marine enthusiasts. Wide-eyed and filled with undeniable passion for the life that lives in our waters, they showed utmost respect for Steph and the work she does.
“Steph is such a great role model for students who are trying to become involved in the world of marine conservation because of her absolute dedication and perseverance to make a positive impact in the world. Starting SOC at such a young age… proves that consistent hard work can create change,” says Gloria, Content Creator for Seas of Change.
Steph’s enthusiasm has inspired both marine life activists and youth alike, being awarded the Northern Beaches Young Citizen of the Year 2021. Her work has shown and educated that all voices need to be heard and actioned, no matter how young you may be.