Ever since she was a toddler in Tennessee, Ella Van Cleave has been mad about the ocean.
A self-described water-baby whose first birthday was celebrated on the beach during a family vacation in Florida, the Grade 9 Glenlyon Norfolk student is distressed that what was once her playground has become as endangered as it is.
Rather than turning a blind eye to issues from oil spills to dolphin slaughter, however, Van Cleave, 14, is doing something about it.
Inspired by The Cove, the disturbing Oscar-winning documentary that covertly exposes the annual roundup and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, the Chattanooga-born conservationist entered her own short in MacGillivray Freeman Films' World Oceans Day video contest.
Her film is the only Canadian entry among eight finalists selected since the closing of the contest that challenged 12-to 18-year olds around the world to make a one-minute video about why the ocean inspires them.
The winner will be determined Friday - World Oceans Day - by Greg MacGillivray (The Living Sea, Everest), the veteran Imax filmmaker who with his wife Barbara and son Shaun created One World One Ocean, a non-profit campaign designed to inspire people to help restore the planet's oceans.
Viewers can increase Van Cleave's chances of winning by clicking on the Like button beneath a clip of her film at www.oneworldoneocean.org/page s/world-oceans-day-contest-vote.
Imax Victoria has pledged to donate $2 from every openingday ticket purchased for To the Arctic, MacGillivray's new film that opens there Friday, to an environmental charity of Van Cleave's choice.
"I am a teenage activist," the student proudly declared last November in her acclaimed TEDxYouth@Victoria talk on ocean conservation at an ideas sharing conference here.
The eloquent public speaker and certified scuba diver delivered an impressive 12-minute plea for ocean conservation with such passion and clarity it has attracted widespread attention.
Van Cleave says she was deeply moved by The Cove after a friend suggested she see the eyeopening documentary detailing the capture and brutal slaughter of dolphins off the coast of Japan.
She subsequently launched a website, savethedolphinsmile.com, and an online petition to stop dolphin hunting, with nearly 2,000 signatures so far.
A provincial debater and member of Glenlyon Norfolk School's highly regarded debate program, she has since being racking up some impressive speaking gigs.
She showcased her debating skills at Harvard, was keynote speaker at the national Environmental Education and Communications (EECOM) conference at the University of Regina and has been invited to speak at an environmental conference in San Francisco.
A producer with MacGillivray Freeman Films, the world's largest independent producer of Imax films, was so impressed he offered her an opportunity to appear on camera at Aquarius Reef Station, the underwater ocean lab in the Florida Keys.
She would fly to Key Largo in July, dive into the undersea habitat and get to meet one of her heroes - Dr. Sylvia Earle, the famed oceanographer who has said human actions taken within 10 years will determine the ocean's fate for 10,000 years.
Van Cleave said she was excited about the prospect of potentially returning to the Sunshine State, this time for a cause.
"It's always been our 'happy place,' " she said, recalling family visits to Destin, Florida, where her mother Liz, a prolific recreational tennis player, would often travel for tournaments before the family moved here five years ago.
Ella has a sister, Carrie, 12, who is also an activist and involved with Fin Free Victoria, and her father Bruce, a former ski instructor in Aspen, Colorado, runs Victoria Prime, the vacation property management company, with his wife.
"I'm so lucky that my parents have been so supportive," said Ella, who learned to dive in warm water before being certified as a scuba diver in Australia two years ago. "In a sense, I grew up on the ocean even though I lived in Tennessee."
It was her best friend from Tennessee who she used to go diving with in the Grand Caymans who sparked her interest in filmmaking, she adds. She took her new passion a step further after getting a nicer camera and underwater housing last year.
Her short film includes dolphin slaughter footage by another friend into marine conservation - Nicole McLachlan, an Australian ocean advocate who has spent two years in Taiju and is involved in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Van Cleave said she hoped to give half her charity proceeds to the society and the remainder to One World One Ocean.
As for her future, she's weighing her options, but speaking passionately about her causes will figure prominently.
"It's not something you plan to get into," she says. "People don't wake up and go 'I want to be an activist.' You get involved because you believe in a cause.
I'd love to be more involved in filmmaking, too."
To view Ella Van Cleave's short film, click here.
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