Advocating for the environment is something the Riesen family does together.
Whether it’s picking up trash in parking lots or purchasing sustainable household items, it’s something the whole family is focused on.
However, Sophia and Addison Riesen have their own ways of protecting the environment.
Sophia, 15, just finished an internship at Mote Marine Laboratory where she completed more than 30 hours of volunteer work teaching kids about the marine ecosystem.
But long before her internship, she was interested in the marine world. She is a member of SCUBAnauts International, a group of 12 to 18 year olds that are certified to do scientific diving for fish and coral surveys. The data she and the other teens collect is given to scientists.
In the past year, Riesen has done 46 dives to bring her total to 57 and has spent more than 36 hours underwater total.
“I feel at home when I’m underwater diving,” she said.
Through SCUBAnauts, Riesen has been able to participate in the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge with Mote. During the challenge, scubanauts dive with veterans and plant coral.
And for the second year in a row, Riesen will attend CHOW – Capitol Hill Ocean Week– for five days in June and talk with politicians and lawmakers about issues facing the ocean and how laws can help.
“When I was little, I loved the beach, and I didn’t really think anything more than ‘I love the beach and aquariums and fish’ and that sort of thing,” she said. “Once we moved here, I was kind of like ‘woah, this is what I want to do.’”
As she’s grown up, her involvement and certifications have gotten more advanced. Currently, Riesen is a certified scientific diver, oxygen provider and first aid administrator. She is also junior open water certified and advanced open water certified and can provide nitrox, a different type of air that allows divers to stay underwater longer, and has photography and buoyancy certificates.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, Riesen started her own organization called Shark Mates, which teaches kids and their parents about sharks.
“We kill 100 million sharks every year, which is way too many,” she said.
Riesen has had a table at Mote’s World Ocean’s Day and said she wants to do more in the future, which is why she is creating and submitting a short film to the Youth Making Ripples Film Festival. She wants to change the perception people have of sharks, which is that they’re scary.
Riesen’s younger sister, Addison, similarly wants to help marine animals.
Addison, 9, is a member of the Longboat Key Turtle Watch’s Sea Turtle Defender Program, which means from May to October, she is on the lookout to make sure Longboat’s beach is safe for turtles.
Every time she sets foot on the beach, Addison is aware of litter and sand castles and holes that need to be knocked down and filled in.
“There was an amazing, humongous sand castle that had bridges, and I was so sad, but I had to knock it down,” she said.
While on the beach, she helps educate tourists and never steps on the sand without a bag in hand to pick up any trash she finds. She does the same wherever she goes, even if it’s just a parking lot.
Together, the girls cleaned a beach in Costa Rica on a recent trip and spent some time on Earth Day cleaning up south Lido Beach.
Jorie Riesen, Sophie and Addison’s mom, said she was an environmental advocate growing up and said the girls have inspired her to get back in the game, especially following their move to Florida four years ago.
“I was an advocate as a kid as well, and I think we lost a little bit of that through life, and especially moving here, I see how important every one of our actions are and what a difference really one person can make,” she said.