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Plan To Save Mississippi's Oyster Reef Population Leads Teenage Black Girl Demi Johnson To Receive National Geographic Award 

Demi Johnson, a ninth grader from Gulf Coast, Mississippi, is heading to Washington, D.C., for the National Geographic Explorers Festival. She earned this opportunity after becoming a top-15 finalist in the Slingshot Challenge and receiving her Girl Scout Silver Award for her work with the Mississippi Oyster Gardening Program. 

"I'm happy and I'm proud. I want this to be a fun one and one that I can talk about to others. I just want it to be really informational," Johnson said.

Johnson began her oyster farming project at Schooner Pier in Biloxi in the seventh grade, maintaining the farm with help from the Department of Marine Resources. Her efforts from September 2022 through March 2023 resulted in over 1,000 oysters, with her site expected to spawn millions of larvae into the ecosystem.

"I made a video and I submitted it and ended up being the final 15. Then I found out I got $1,000 to go towards my oysters," Johnson exclaimed.

In addition to her farming, Johnson collaborated with other Gulf Coast youth and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art for the Slingshot Challenge, aimed at finding future environmental problem solvers. Her video submission earned her a spot in the final 15 and a $1,000 prize, which she donated back to the Mississippi Oyster Gardening Program. Johnson's work led to her winning the 2024 Significant Achievement Award for her project "Off Bottom Oysters."

"We were really able to connect what Walter Anderson is all about which is investigation, inquiry, and nature but creativity and storytelling as well," Rankin said. "So, she brought in her own experience, her own passions. We didn't know about all the wonderful work she's been up to then we were about to delve into the science and equip her to share that story to the world."

Johnson's project has advanced local ecological efforts and spearheaded a community education program to create oyster gardens and restore Mississippi's threatened oyster reefs. She is now competing for the People's Choice Award for her "Off Bottom Oysters" video in Washington, D.C. Johnson's dedication and passion for her community are evident as she plans to continue her environmental efforts.

Voting for the People's Choice Award runs through May 31.

Link: WLOX


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