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Ocean Awareness Student Contest - Should You Participate?

Working on research projects and internships as a high school student can open up new doors and give your profile a solid boost for college and beyond. However, there’s another aspect of extracurriculars that many students miss out on - participating in competitions.

Both national and international competitions invite some of the brightest students to participate, and often include engaging and out-of-the box questions.

Note that simply participating in competitions that do not relate to your major don’t add that much of an impact on your resume as relevant, prestigious competitions do. Single out competitions based on the subject you wish to pursue at university, and shortlist contests that you are truly interested in competing in. This adds to both the quality of your submission, as well as the impact of your participation on your resume.

In this blog, we’ll cover a popular art and environmental science contest hosted by the Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Program. The competition sees thousands of entries each year, and is open to high school students across the world. The theme of the art contest changes each year, and is updated to match recent happenings in art, environmental science, climate change solutions, and policy. High school students interested in majoring in/conducting research on/passionate about the subjects mentioned are encouraged to participate in this contest.

The competition’s details, eligibility guidelines, submission criteria, and resources for application will be covered below, along with our opinion on whether you should participate in the contest or not.

About the Ocean Awareness Student Contest

What is it?

The Ocean Awareness Student Contest is an art contest that is open to high school students from across the world. The competition is hosted annually by Bow Seat, and saw its first edition in 2011.

The contest is geared at making students more aware and sensitive towards the environment they live in, and express themselves through art across various mediums.

The contest sees thousands of entries each year, and has seen winners from Ukraine, United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, to name a few.

You can send in your entries as a poem, musical performance, canvas painting, an interactive artwork, or an essay, to name a few.

The Ocean Awareness Student Contest is quite strict when it comes to the type of submissions you can send, with 6 clearly defined categories that are accepted. However, it does allow students to send in one entry per category, so you could have 6 entries for the upcoming contest.

However, the quality of your work matters more than the number of entries you send in. It’s a good idea to review the guidelines for each of the categories, the resources available to you, and work on your submissions accordingly.

How do I participate?

To participate in the Ocean Awareness Student Contest, you’ll first be required to take a look at the rules of the contest, the submission guidelines, as well as the theme of the year’s competition.

The 2023 competition invites submissions from students on the theme “Climate Heroes in Action”. This theme requires you to research and pick an inspirational scientist, environmental activist, community leader, artist, educator, or climate hero who are putting in efforts towards solving climate change issues. Your artwork/media submission must highlight their efforts, organization(s), and the positive impact they've had on global efforts towards solving climate change.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules and requirements above, send in an entry for any (or all!) of the 6 categories of the contest -

  • Art

  • Creative Writing

  • Film

  • Interactive & Multimedia

  • Performing Arts: Music & Dance

  • Poetry & Spoken Word

Note that each of these categories accept a specific format, such as audio quality video quality and size, or artwork size, to name a few.

Along with your entry, you will also be required to submit a written reflection of 100 or more words, in English. The reflection is meant to understand your creative process and your learnings, as part of your participation in the challenge.

As part of your reflection, you will be required to refer to the following questions as a starting point for your writing -

  • What inspired your work and creative process?

  • Why are you interested in the arts?

  • What feelings did the process of creating (art, writing, film, music, dance, interactive/multimedia) raise for you?

  • What is your message to viewers of your artwork?

  • After doing research on climate change and our oceans, what have you learned?

  • Beyond individual actions like recycling, what actions will you collectively engage in with your community to tackle climate change?

  • How does this Climate Hero’s efforts make you feel about the future?

These questions may change each year along with a change in theme, but you should expect the format and components that these questions cover (such as your motivation, process, learnings, etc.) to remain the same.

It is recommended that you focus the same amount of time on both your artistic submission as well as the quality of your written reflection, as they both contribute to the judging criteria that the panel will follow to evaluate your submission.

Who is eligible to participate?

The contest invites submissions from students aged 11-18 from anywhere in the world, as submissions are to be made digitally.

There are two age-based categories, with students above the age of 14 enter in the Senior Division, while younger participants compete in the Junior Division.

There is no participation fee to enter, which makes the contest a lot more accessible to middle and high school students.

Entries can be submitted as a group or individually, with no cap on group size. You can thus prepare artworks or musical pieces along with other students in your class/community.

What are the judging criteria for my entry?

Once you upload your submission via the official contest portal, your entry will be evaluated by Bow Seat judges. This panel includes artists, writers, teachers, scientists, as well as a cohort of Bow Seat student alumni and emerging artists to judge entries!

Note that the panel will judge your entry on the basis of the following criteria -

  • How well you have adhered to the theme of that year’s contest

  • The quality of your work, originality, your imagination, and your artistic vision

  • Your technique while choosing to work with certain materials and mediums, as well as your attention to detail

  • If your submission meets category guidelines such as length, file type, etc.

When will the winners for the Ocean Awareness Student Contest be announced?

The judging process begins as soon as the submission deadline closes, and results of the competition are announced about 4 months later. This year, the submission deadline falls on June 13th, 2023, and the results are to be announced in November, 2023.

Who are the past winners of the Ocean Awareness Contest?

Bow Seat publishes the work of each winner from both categories on the Ocean Advocacy Art Gallery. You can filter out winning entries on the basis of contest year, category, age level, as well as the different award levels.

What are the prizes and awards?

Cash awards are presented to winners in the Junior and Senior Divisions, across 5 categories.

You stand to receive a cash prize of anywhere between $100 to $1,000 for your submission, if awarded with any one of the following awards -

  • Gold Award

  • Silver Award

  • Bronze Award

  • Pearl Award

  • Honorable Mention

You can read more about the cash awards here

Additionally, there are various cash prizes and titles awarded to winners, a few of which are mentioned below -

1. We All Rise Prize - cash awards of up to $15,000 for youth in the U.S. who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or Latine.

2. Voice of the Sea Award - a cash award of up to $1,500 for two of the best (spoken word) poetry entries in the art contest.

3. Bay State Award and Home Town Award - 3 participating students who reside in Massachusetts and Boston, respectively, will be awarded with cash prizes of up to $250.

4. South Coast, Cape & Islands Award - an award sponsored by the Island Foundation, three participants from Massachusetts ( South Coast of Massachusetts, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, or Nantucket) will be considered for cash prizes of $250.


1. Competitive and prestigious nature of the event

If you’re looking for a competition that sees a lot of participation each year, but is quite selective when it comes to judging and selecting winners. The judging panel sees 7000+ entries from individuals and teams alike, and selects only a few hundred entries from around the world.

Being selected as an award-winner is a solid achievement, and can add value to your profile and portfolio, and provide valuable experience and learning opportunities as a participant in such a space. This is a competition in a niche area, so the level of participation is a great signal of the recognition you’ll receive if you win it.

2. Interdisciplinary approach

The competition isn’t purely an art contest, but draws from themes from environmental science, policy, and climate change solutions. High school students from any of these fields, as well as aspiring writers, poets, and musicians can participate in this contest.

Note that to send in an impactful entry and written submission, you will need to conduct thorough research on the theme, what you aim to send in, and learn more about climate solutions in the process. This knowledge can come in handy while writing your statement of purpose for your dream schools, as well as while pursuing your undergraduate program.

3. Prestigious awards for winners

The competition offers a variety of cash awards for winners in the form of cash prizes and grants, across both age Divisions.

You can benefit from overall cash prizes, as well as additional prizes open to students from certain underrepresented communities, or residents of Massachusetts.

These cash prizes are quite hefty in nature, and can be used to invest in learning experience, save up for college tuition, or a trip during the summer!

4. Flexibility for submission types

One of the biggest features of this competition that has contributed to the number of entries it receives each year is that it invites submissions across art, music, interactive media, and poetry. You can participate in any of these categories, which makes the contest a lot more inclusive in the type of submissions they receive.

The program also has no cap on the number of team members you can have if you choose to work in the team, an added guideline that you can make the most of.


1. Potentially packed timeline of the event

The final submission deadline for the event is around the second week of June, so if you have a particularly packed schedule right after your school year ends, you may not be able to devote enough time to your entry and written reflection.

Also note that if you choose to send in your entry, you will not be notified of your status as a participant/winner until November of the same year. If you are a high school senior, you may have to send in your achievement in this competition to your university separately, or mention simply your participation in your resume/profile.

2. No fellowship/long-standing membership offered to winners

As opposed to other national/international art competitions such as the one hosted by YoungArts, the winners of this contest are not awarded with a long-standing scholarship as such, but may be invited to judge entries in coming years, at Bow Seat’s discretion.

Note that you are invited to be part of the Bow Seat’s international community with over 30,000 members once you send in your entry, but winners are provided solely with cash prizes each year.

Should you participate in the contest?

As you’ve read above, the Ocean Awareness Contest hosts entries from across the world, and is quite selective (and thus, prestigious!) when it comes to announcing winners for each Division and prize category.

It is important to note that if you’re an aspiring artist, or wish to pursue marine science, environmental science and policy, or related subjects, this competition is a great way to demonstrate your passion and dedication towards the subject.

Additionally, the contest allows you to submit multiple types of art and media, such as essays, poems, and music. This is a pretty flexible submission format as opposed to traditional art competitions, a format you should make the most out of.

The program’s submission deadline falls during your summer break, giving you ample time to conduct research and prepare an outline for your submission period well in advance, and record/create after your school year is over.

The Ocean Awareness Student Contest awards its winners with grants, and showcase/exhibition opportunities on top of cash prizes, making it quite the achievement if your submission is a winning entry.

You should definitely consider participating in the competition if you wish to demonstrate skill and dedication towards environmental conservation and related topics, but reconsider if you’re only participating for the sake of an addition on your resume. Admissions officers are looking for extracurricular activities and competitive experience related to the subject you wish to study, and may not look at competitive participation just for the sake of it too favorably.

If you are interested in doing university-level research in environmental science and art, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: Bow Seat logo



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