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High school seniors honored with NCCF Coastal Stewardship Awards announced

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is honoring three graduating high school seniors with outstanding dedication to the coastal environment with the 2021 Coastal Stewardship Award. High school seniors from the 20 North Carolina coastal counties were invited to apply for the award and share their accomplishments and activities that make them a great coastal steward. Out of a wide range of applicants, NCCF’s award committee selected three students to receive the 2021 award: Cecille Ernst of Kitty Hawk, Anthony Marello of Cedar Point and Meagan Bergstrom of Wilmington.

NCCF launched the award program in 2019 with one award and expanded the program coastwide in 2020 to include three awards of $1,000 each. This program was supported by Coastal Stormwater Services, Emerald Isle Realty and private individuals.

“During a time of so much upheaval, and while our students are not able to be in school or participate in group activities, we’re so happy to share some good news and honor these students who have really gone the extra mile for the coastal environment,” said Bonnie Mitchell, NCCF coastal education coordinator. “Their dedication and enthusiasm is so inspiring.”

Ernst is a senior at First Flight High School. She gained an early appreciation for the environment while planting pollinator gardens and composting. She has been participating in beach clean-ups with her church’s youth group since she was 12 years old and joined the recycling club her freshman year. She also joined phytoplankton club where she collected water, examined specimens under a microscope and recorded findings to send to NOAA. Ernst hopes to further her education by seeking a bachelor’s in geology or environmental science.

“I am interested in protecting and helping the coasts due to my upbringing on the Outer Banks. This area has allowed me to see how beautiful and amazing our coastal environments really are, and has helped me to develop a passion for wanting to keep them that way,” said Ernst. “I believe that we must strive for cleaner and safer marine ecosystems, as they not only help us in so many ways, but they are also the backbone of our community.”

Marello is a senior at Croatan High School. He has been volunteering with the federation since his freshman year. So far, he’s dedicated 30 to 40 hours on oyster restoration projects alone. Marello also spent summers volunteering at the Pine Knoll Shores aquarium giving presentations to the visitors on the wildlife. He’s participated in various marine debris cleanups on local beaches and the Croatan National Forest. Marello plans to major in computer science with a minor in marine biology or environmental science while continuing his passion for community service.

“I’ve always enjoyed being outside and enjoying our coastal beaches and waters. Our coast is a defining part of our community, and when given the option to contribute to the community, the coast is where I want to commit my time,” said Marello. “It’s fulfilling to be able to help preserve our coast and the wildlife it supports. I’ve had a great experience working with the Coastal Federation, and I am grateful for the scholarship and the opportunities that comes with it.”

Bergstrom has been enrolled in Eugene Ashley High School’s Marine Science Academy for three years. Through the program, she’s been able to apply her marine biology and oceanography studies on research cruises, labs at UNCW and through the role of captain on the National Ocean Science Bowl. Bergstrom has interned with Plastic Ocean Project, managing the social media for the Blue New Deal Coalition, logged over one-hundred volunteer hours at the Fort Fisher Aquarium and has worked with 350 Wilmington to organize Climate Strikes. Bergstrom plans to major in environmental science in college, either at NC State or UNC Chapel Hill. Bergstrom is hoping to minor or double major in communications, so she can better educate others on environmental issues.

“Living and working on the coast has driven me to realize both the importance of conservation and the challenges faced everyday by the coastal community,” said Bergstrom. “Moving forward with this award I hope to continue my education on environmental conservation so I can one day make a difference in this field.”

“The federation is pleased to honor these impressive students and is grateful for the support of our sponsors who make the Coastal Stewardship Award possible,” stated NCCF.

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