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Monday, February 26, 2024

Passionate is a word his peers and supervisors have used to describe him. UF alumnus Sean Russell’s passion for the environment and youth leadership led him to win a national award at the age of 22.

In October, Russell won the 2014 Brower Youth Award for his environmental work in decreasing marine debris like fishing line gear.

Each year, the Brower Youth Award selects six environmental leaders between the ages of 13 and 22.

All recipients win a monetary award that has no spending requirements. Sean received $3,000 for his Stow It-Don’t Throw It project.

As a North Port, Florida, native, Russell grew up next to the beach and fell in love with the marine life.

His passion for marine life grew during his high school internship at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota where he saw the devastating effects fishing line and other marine debris had on the environment firsthand.

Through the program, Russell collaborated with Kim Bassos-Hull, a senior biologist at the laboratory, on her project recycling old tennis ball containers into recycling bins for fishing line.

He then created the Stow It-Don’t Throw It project to make the containers on a larger scale and spread awareness about marine debris prevention.

He brought the project to his local 4-H club to get students involved in the volunteer work. Started in 2006, the project has now spread to 12 states, including Alaska.

Russell said he wants to expand the project to every state and eventually internationally.

Shaumond Scott, the state 4-H communications coordinator, said Russell’s passion will propel him to further his environmental work.

“If he sets it as a goal, then he’s coming for it,” Scott said. “But, whatever it is, I know it’s not going to be about himself. It’s going to be about how he can help others and the environment.”

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As a homeschooled student, Russell said he actively sought ways to get involved with other students and adults.  

He decided to organize the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, an annual event held at the Mote Marine Laboratory. Russell is still actively working to expand the summit to various states in the coming years.

Russell is now interning with the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service.

Bassos-Hall said Russell set a goal to expand the project and did it in a way not many could because of his proactive spirit.

“He’s just an idea kid,” she said.

[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 11/4/2014]

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