On Tuesday last St. Joseph’s College Borrisoleigh students, Laura Hutchinson and Antoinette Atik departed Dublin for Belgium. The CommOcean conference was being held in Bruges for two days and at the end of the conference the winner of the Dr Mario Ruivo Prize was to be announced.
This competition, which is run by Europe every four years, was open to all European countries with a total of 18 countries involved. The objective of the competition was to increase awareness of our oceans and to take action to protect them.
Having been successful in phase one and phase two of the competition earlier in the year, the girls were funded by EurOcean to bring their project to fruition in early July. They worked tirelessly on their campaign to ensure they were successful and met their objectives.
After submitting their final presentation in late November which was a summary of all their work they had to await the results. 13 different judges adjudicated each project before voting on their winner.
At the conference in Bruges on Wednesday, Ned O’Dwyer, director of EurOcean introduced the prize and gave a background to the challenge. He then called on each of the three finalists to give a presentation on their projects to the conference audience which was made up of many scientists of various backgrounds.
The girls spoke excellently and presented their project to the large audience as did the other two groups, one from Malta and the other from Loughrea in Galway. Ned then called on Ricardo Serrão Santos, member of the European parliament to present the award. Antoinette and Laura excitedly accepted first place!
‘It was a fantastic experience and we really enjoyed the trip and the conference. We arrived on Tuesday and have loved every minute since. On Wednesday morning we took a canal tour of Bruges and then walked around the shops and Christmas market. We then met Ned and the other finalists for lunch. Afterwards we went to the CommOcean conference in a beautiful old castle. We listened to some keynote speakers and attended a workshop. Then it was time for the awards ceremony. We were absolutely thrilled with the result and couldn’t be happier. Later that evening we went on a walking historical tour of Bruges with the conference crew. We went ice skating at the Christmas markets and really enjoyed it. It was an amazing day and experience.’
The girls went on to thank everyone who has supported and encouraged them on their project which started last February when they entered SciFest at LIT.
‘We would like to say a big thanks to everyone that has helped us. The community of Borrisoleigh have been fantastic and have really got behind us. Everyone at St. Joseph’s College, especially the science department have guided us through the experience and helped us at all stages. Sandra and Ruth at EurOcean have been fantastic in keeping in contact with us and for planning our trip to Belgium. We would like to say a big thank you to all our family and friends, in Borrisoleigh and beyond but especially to both our parents who have been so incredibly supportive, Thank You!’
The girls project is based on magnetic ‘tags’ which are attached inside the handles of plastic bags. These bags, if discarded in waterways, would be attracted to magnets that could be strategically placed along streams, rivers, estuaries etc. They also undertook an extensive awareness campaign on their facebook page and distributed tote bags which they designed themselves to be used in place of plastic bags in the community.