Since 2020, the OurEcho Challenge has put $30,000 into the hands of young change makers.

This middle school science competition is designed to engage teams of young problem solvers in studying, respecting, and protecting the diversity of species and ecosystems that make life on earth possible. Guided by a teacher or mentor, teams are challenged to address the decline in biodiversity by identifying threats to natural resources in their communities and developing innovative solutions. 

“Our classroom sessions and plantings have been great successes! Students seem to be engaged and inspired by our project by the interesting questions they raise and their contributions to discussions. The work that we did to set up our project has definitely been worth it now that we are finally educating and activating peers!” -Team Super Plants Member

In 2019, EarthEcho International introduced the first-ever OurEcho Challenge, and by 2020, this year-one pilot program brought 10 finalist teams’ innovative solutions to 1,900 people via Facebook Live. While the competition was significantly hampered by school closures due to the global pandemic, dozens of teachers continued to work tirelessly with remote teams to submit student proposals. Finalist teams virtually presented their proposals to a panel of expert judges in August 2020, culminating with three finalist teams awarded grants to pilot their winning projects in the real world.

Team Crayfish - 2020 1st Place OurEcho Challenge Winners

2020 Finalist Team Highlights

2020 Team Crayfish

Over the course of one year, this team has seen a 250% increase in number of crayfish captured, due largely in part to the team utilizing a new trap design. The team has also secured a new partnership with the Friends of Oak Park Open Spaces (FOPOS). This partnership will allow the team to implement artificial refuge traps (ARTs), making for a more efficient way to capture the invasive crayfish with little-to-no risk of by-catch.

2020 Team Super Plants

In addition to successfully planting 2,470 native California Melicgrass seeds in their community, Team Super Plants has engaged 120 of their peers with classroom kits they personally developed, designed to help students learn about carbon dioxide emissions, biodiversity, and even grow their own Super Plants.

2020 Team Aquabotics

This team continues to implement community-wide cleanup events, using the innovative robot designed specifically for this challenge. These cleanups have led to the planting of 14 native species and the removal of 2 invasive species, all while restoring 70 square meters of habitat and collecting 200 kilograms of litter.

“Through our own observations, we have learned a lot about arthropods, their life cycles, and their interconnectedness with other species and their environment. This has empowered us with the knowledge to educate local communities about arthropods and the important roles they play to keep the ecosystem functioning and to encourage citizens to adopt insect-friendly gardening practices.”  -Team Springtails Member

After a successful Year 1, the competition opened once again for Year 2. In 2021, the OurEcho Challenge culminated in a Facebook Live event where 10 finalist teams presented their project ideas to 1,547 live attendees. Year 2 also introduced a “People’s Choice Award” for the live viewers to vote upon during the event. To date, the 2021 winning teams have reported over 3,582 square meters of habitat has been restored; 2,261 invasive species removed; and 4,141 native species have been planted.

Team Algae Biofiltration - 2021 1st Place OurEcho Challenge Winners

2021 Finalist Team Highlights

2021 Team Algae Biofiltration

This team is hard at work recruiting classrooms from around the world to test their algae biofiltration kits in order to gain an understanding of how the kits respond under different conditions. By testing the kits with a variety of different variables, the goal is to have the kits be “proven” and widely accepted within the scientific community. 

2021 Team Habitat Hotels

This restoration group has been organizing clean-up and planting events resulting in the removal of 56.7 kilograms of invasive species and 96.6 kilograms of litter, the planting of over 250 native milkweed plants, and the restoration of 1,200 square meters of habitat. The team also participated in the America Recycles November Challenge with USAgain, which resulted in their school community recycling 385.1 kilograms of textiles.

2021 Team Springtails

In addition to habitat restoration work, this team has created a leaflet called ‘Biodiversity in your Backyard,’ which they are working to distribute along with native seed packets to increase education of plant biodiversity in their community.

“Participating in the challenge empowers students to make meaningful changes in their communities. It provides a focused mission for students to carry out. Prior to this, our student environment club did many one-time events: clean-ups, recycling drives, etc but after the event, it was over. All of these things are good, of course, but now they have a project they are invested in.” -Amy Truemper, Team Habitat Hotels Mentor

We are honored to be part of these young conservation leaders' journey and are excited to see what they will do in the new year!

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