International school students have responded to the challenge of producing art on the marine-conservation theme “The Sixth Extinction” in the 2023 Science Without Borders Challenge. The annual competition encourages primary and secondary-school pupils aged 11-19 to create artwork that could inspire people to protect the world’s oceans and aquatic resources.
The competition is organised by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, a US-based nonprofit environmental body set up to protect and restore the world’s oceans through scientific research, outreach and education. The 2023 theme concerning endangered marine species attracted a record entry from more than 1,200 students in 67 countries, and was judged in two age categories.
Unlike the previous five mass extinctions that occurred because of natural environmental factors, the sixth extinction is primarily driven by human activities, says the foundation. Pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, climate change and the introduction of invasive species have disrupted delicate marine ecosystems, pushing many species to the brink of extinction
Winner in the 15-19 age group was Boram Shim from the USA, who depicted in her artwork We Are Next endangered species including a Kemp‘s ridley turtle and a vaquita porpoise to illustrate the history of animal extinction (above).
“Learning that there are only around 10 vaquitas left, and that they’re on the verge of extinction, truly devastated me,” said Boram. “I wanted to channel this passion for their survival through my artwork.” She added that participating in the contest had led her to realise that humans posed a greater danger than she had thought – ultimately not only to other species but to themselves.
Second and third places in the older category both went to South Korean students: Celine Yang for The Currents of Pollution and Annette Kim for Writing the Next Chapter.
In the 11-14 age group, Chinese student Yanjun Mao, 14, won for his artwork The Sea Bears Witness to Everything, depicting hawksbill turtles, a species on the verge of extinction, swimming in front of a tearful eye in the ocean.
He said that this signified the ocean’s witness to the history of the hawksbill and their killing by humans, and that he wanted to convey the importance of protecting marine life while offering hope for a better future. “I am willing to work for the protection of the ocean,” he said.
Ridham Agarwal from India came second with The Dark Journey Ahead, and Alexander Zhang from China was third with Mother River Saves Lives.
Each of the winners receives scholarships of up to $500 from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation to celebrate their achievements and help them “continue to pursue their interests in art and ocean conservation”.
“This contest plays a vital role in raising awareness about endangered species in the ocean,” said foundation director of education Amy Heemsoth. “The artworks created by these talented young individuals bring attention to the critical need for ocean conservation and inspire us all to take action.” Students and their teachers interested in taking part in next year’s competition can find out more at the foundation’s site.