Chúk Odenigbo is a young ocean leader and an alumnus of the Ocean Bridge program. He is currently based in the Ottawa/Gatineau area. Find out more about Ocean Bridge here: https://education.ocean.org/oceanbridge/Ocean Bridge

In February 2018, the day after my birthday, I got a call from a Vancouver area code. I answered the call, curious but wary. Telemarketers can be very annoying, but I’ve never been the type to just let the phone ring.

I heard a wonderful Franco-Columbian accent (Franco-Columbian: French Canadians or French-speaking Canadians from British Columbia) on the other end of the line, informing me that I had just been accepted as part of the first-ever cohorte de Portail Océan (or in English, the first-ever Ocean Bridge cohort), an initiative by Ocean Wise, financed by the Government of Canada. I was ecstatic! Quelle belle nouvelle!

As part of this cohort, we were tasked with creating ocean-related service projects during two extended expeditions (in Haida Gwaii and in Vancouver), but also to lead service projects in our home community.

I am originally from Calgary (I am a proud Franco-Albertan). At the time of my acceptance, I was living in Montréal and that summer, I was moving to the Capital Region (Ottawa/Gatineau). My “home community” was in fact three or four cities across the country. What could I do to help ocean literacy and ocean health in such diverse communities?

Midnight one evening, I was perambulating around a city park in Montréal listening to music. All of a sudden, the song J’y vais by Paul Cournoyer started to play and sent me into a trance. In a matter of moments, I had the idea, I had the characters, I saw their powers and I immediately had to call my partner in crime, Samantha (also a fellow Albertan), to see what we could do with this. We decided to write an illustrated story, calling it The Forces of Nature.

The Forces of Nature tells the story of a group of superheroes blessed with the personification of Canadian nature, who save the world from villains representing very real issues menacing our environment and oceans. Each character is different and unique, all connecting with the character Nature in different ways. The story aims to not only show the diversity of thought, character and approaches to nature and the outdoors, but also seeks to demonstrate that they are all equal. There is no “one” or “correct” way to be an environmentalist today. Different priorities, different ways of connecting with the environment, but all equally valid. The story emphasizes the importance of knowing yourself and connecting to nature on your own terms.

The story is geared towards teens and young adults in order to address any challenges this audience may feel in attempting to connect with blue spaces. Through the multiple characters, the illustrated story also aims to address representation, allowing people to see themselves in nature through seeing people who look like them as the superheroes. Each hero is based on a real-life Canadian individual who fights for the environment in their own, unique way. So if someone finds they connect deeply with a character, they can be comforted knowing there is a real person behind that character who is doing very interesting things in and for nature.

The idea for an illustrated story also touches upon the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages. Connecting with nature has statistically been shown to make human beings happier and healthier. It is believed to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, provide more opportunities for physical activity, and aid children in their development; creativity, risk management, motor skills, and more. Studies also show that connecting youth with nature leads to people who want to conserve nature/biodiversity.

In addition to Ocean Bridge/Portail Océan, I would like to thank Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) and Taking It Global for their belief in this project and their financial support. This story was produced by a dedicated and diverse team of young people, all under 30 years old, showing that age and experience should never be barriers to changing the world.

To celebrate the launch of the storybook, we will be hosting two free events, one in Edmonton, Alberta, and the other in Montréal, Québec. They will both be bilingual, reflecting the beautiful linguistic nature of the country we call home and my values as a Francophone from an Anglophone province. The story will be available for download online, and an audio version will be made available for those who prefer listening to books.

J’espère de vous voir en grand nombre à Edmonton ou à Montréal et en attendant, il faut savoir que la nature est pour toutes et tous, peu importe votre caractère, votre histoire, vos origines. Vous êtes la bienvenue en plein air et les océans ont besoin de votre aide dans la façon dont vous pouvez le fournir.

Chúk Odenigbo is an alumnus of the Ocean Bridge program, an Ocean Wise initiative funded by the Government of Canada under the Canada Service Corps. The 2019 Ocean Bridge cohort is in full swing, as immersive service expeditions will take participants to Lake Superior and Ottawa. Follow along with the Aquablog and Ocean Wise social media channels to stay connected with 2019 Ocean Bridge youth in your area and across Canada.

Ocean Bridge is funded by the Government of Canada under the Canada Service Corps.

Portail Océan est financé par le gouvernement du Canada dans le cadre de service jeunesse Canada.

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