Brower Youth Awards

Maanit Goel

Sammamish, Washington

Speaking up for orcas

Growing up in Washington State, Maanit Goel, 17, heard about the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas and efforts to save them. Native to the Salish Sea, which lies between Washington and British Columbia, this orca subspecies currently numbers only 75 individuals. The key factor in this population’s inability to recover has been the staggering decline of the orca’s food source, Chinook salmon, in the Snake River-Columbia River system.

In late 2021, Goel established the Washington Youth Ocean & River Conservation Alliance (WYORCA) to mobilize young people around the decades-long movement to remove four dams on the lower Snake River, which experts say are impeding Chinook salmon migration to and from the ocean, thus harming the orca population. Goel believes reaching students at an early age, and learning from peers, can help turn them into lifelong environmentalists. The movement’s core message: Renewable energy at the cost of a keystone species cannot be considered clean.

WYORCA now has nearly 30 year-round youth volunteers who together have educated more than 6,000 students about the effects of the dams on Northwest ecosystems, held over 20 congressional meetings, and coordinated events and workshops across state lines. The group’s work has been Congressionally recognized and awarded by the US Environmental Protection Agency for his orca and salmon conservation work under WYORCA. Goel also spoke about orca conservation at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, where he was one of the youngest delegates present.

Profile Film

Acceptance Speech