Winners of the 2021 Science Without Borders® Challenge

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Students from the United States, South Korea, and Slovakia win international ocean art contest 

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is thrilled to announce the winners of our annual student art competition, the 2021 Science Without Borders® Challenge. Every year, this international contest engages students in ocean conservation through art, encouraging them to create pieces that inspire people to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources. 

The Foundation received entries to the Science Without Borders® Challenge from more countries than ever before. A total of 680 students from 63 countries sent in artwork illustrating this year’s theme, “The Magic of Mangroves.” This is the first time we received submissions from more than a dozen countries including Afghanistan, Kuwait, Maldives, Panama, Senegal, and Zambia. Mangrove forests are important marine ecosystems that protect the coast from storms, filter the water removing sediment and pollutants, sequester a surprising amount of carbon, and provide critical habitat for many species both above and below the waterline. The winning entries in each category are beautiful pieces of artwork as well as excellent illustrations of the benefits mangrove forests provide to people and the environment.

Artwork in the competition was judged in two categories based on age. Sharon Choi won first place in the category for 15-19 year old students in the 2021 Science Without Borders® Challenge for her stunning artwork, The Guardians of the Sea. A 16-year old student at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California, Sharon created a piece of art that illustrates how mangrove forests provide a refuge for marine species, particularly in their early stages of life. “I really liked the idea of mangroves being a safe-haven for young fish, like a kindergarten, so that is what I wanted to portray in my piece,” she said. 

"The Guardians of the Sea" by Sharon Choi, Age 16, California, United States of America
First Place, 15-19 year old students: “The Guardians of the Sea” by Sharon Choi, Age 16, California, United States of America

Mangrove forests support an incredible array of wildlife. Many species of fish and invertebrates rely on the intricate network of mangrove roots for protection when they are young, before entering the open ocean as adults. Sharon said that she hopes her artwork shows the importance of mangroves. “I don’t think that most people know about mangroves, so I hope that my art raises awareness about this ecosystem, so that it is equally talked about like coral reefs,” she said.

Second place in the high school category of the 2021 Science Without Borders® Challenge went Lesana Behanova from Trenčín, Slovakia for Protective Wings of Mangroves, and third place went to Michelle Yang from Sacramento, California for her piece, Stop, Let’s Preserve Our Mangroves.

First place in the category for students 11-14 years old went to 13-year-old Dana Chung, a Korean boarding school student at Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Her piece, Shelter, shows how mangroves create habitat for other organisms and shelters them from storms. Dana says that she wanted to portray mangrove forests as a “shelter that protects sea animals” and that she wanted to show that “mangrove trees are valuable, not just to people, but also for the Earth.” 

"Shelter" by Dana Chung, Age 13, South Korea
“Shelter” by Dana Chung, Age 13 from Seoul, South Korea, won first place in the 2021 Science Without Borders® Challenge in the category for students 11-14 years old.

This competition introduced students around the world to mangrove forests and encouraged them to learn more about this critical coastal marine ecosystem. Dana says that the Science Without Borders® Challenge made her really interested in the environment and mangrove trees, and the competition inspired her to do more. “I’m so fascinated by this topic that I would like to learn more about mangroves and create a website to teach others about this ecosystem too,” she said.

Zihan Wang from New York City took home second place in the middle school category for her piece, Propagules’ Future, while Chenyue Wang from Cupertino, California won third place for her artwork, Seed of Hope.

Each of the winners will receive scholarships of up to $500 from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation to celebrate their achievement and so they can continue to pursue their interests in art and ocean conservation.

Through this competition, the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation hopes to educate students worldwide about the need to protect our ocean and inspire the next generation of ocean advocates. Amy Heemsoth, Director of Education at the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, said that “students and teachers who participate in this competition continue to impress me with their evident passion for marine conservation and drive to make a difference. This gives me hope for our ocean’s future.” 

The Science Without Borders® Challenge
The Science Without Borders® Challenge is an international student art contest run by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation to engage students in marine conservation through art. The annual competition welcomes entries from all primary and secondary school students 11-19 years old. Scholarships of up to $500 are awarded to the winning entries. Students and teachers interested in next year’s competition can learn more and apply at:

Winners of the 2021 Science Without Borders® Challenge

"Propagules' Future" by Zihan Wang, Age 14, New York, United States of America

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Artist's Statement: Mangroves are, in fact, the only species of trees that can tolerate salt water. While they’re thriving on ocean coasts, they’re also being a big help to people that live in coastal communities. These trees possess thick roots, which helps cushion the effect of storms from towns. Despite their great protective properties, deforestation is a problem wreaking havoc on these forests. Hope is the main focus in my piece. Mangrove saplings bring a new light of promise for this issue. Replanting is the best bet, and if the hope is for these trees to be saved, the distribution of these sprouts should be widespread, as shown by the flying envelopes. Looking up from the bottom of another envelope, every one of them contains a bright new world clean water, flocks of coastal birds, and teeming with mangroves.

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