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CZ-Tip - Calling Student Contestants to Showcase Creativity for the Coast

Find ways to get to, protect, and enjoy the coast with tips from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

Art, poetry, photo, and film contests are a terrific way for creative, artistic students to show off their masterpieces and showcase their skills. And since many contests focus on the coast, ocean, and native plant and wildlife species, students can awaken the creative side of their brain while exploring environmental issues, investigating their relationship to a changing world, becoming an advocate for positive change, and maybe even winning a few prizes (or at least notoriety)!

This CZ-Tip highlights some of the most popular student contests for art, photography, films, design, and other forms of communication that tell a story about the coastal and ocean resources of the region (and beyond).

Drawing, Painting, and Sculpting

  • Marine Art Contest - Massachusetts Marine Educators and Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary seek entries from students in grades K-12 for their annual Marine Art Contest. Students are encouraged to create artistic interpretations of species found within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, show predator-prey relationships, or depict a sanctuary habitat with a diverse array of marine species. Winning entries from each of five divisions are posted on the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary website and used by the Sanctuary and Massachusetts Marine Educators in their outreach programs.
  • Marine Debris Art Contest - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Marine Debris Program Art Contest encourages students in grades K-8 to submit original artwork that shows the impacts of litter and other marine debris and how to help prevent this problem. The winning artwork is featured in the NOAA Marine Debris Calendar.
  • Marine Endangered Species Art Contest - The NOAA annual Fisheries Marine Endangered Species Art Contest highlights the importance of marine endangered or threatened species from the New England/Mid-Atlantic region. Find the latest submission requirements on this Marine Endangered Species Art Contest page and inspirational examples of winning entries on the Art Contest Winners and Honorable Mentions page.
  • Maritime Art Contest - The North American Marine Environment Protection Association, U.S. Coast Guard, and Inter-American Committee on Ports of the Organization of American States invite K-12 students throughout the Americas to enter their annual Maritime Art Contest. Students create and submit posters that highlight a theme identified by the International Maritime Organization that focuses on some aspect of shipping, ports, and marine resources. Twelve finalists are awarded a certificate along with a calendar showcasing the finalists’ artwork. Two grand-prize winners receive $100 and a Coast Guard prize package.
  • Science Without Borders Art Challenge - The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation offers a Science Without Borders Challenge—an international contest for students ages 11-19 and teachers interested in ocean conservation through art. This annual contest encourages students to use creativity to highlight the need to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources. Each 2-dimensional piece of artwork must adhere to the annual theme and prizes of up to $500 are awarded to winning entries.

Film and Photos

  • Boston Harbor and Islands Photo Contest - The Boston Harbor Now annual photo contest invites visitors to submit photos that capture the natural beauty, wildlife, recreational activities, and rich history of Boston Harbor and the islands. Finalists in each category are determined by a panel of park staff and winning photos are featured through Facebook, Boston Harbor Islands publications and materials, and a display at Boston Historic National Park. Winning entries receive $150-$500 gift cards to Hunt’s Photo and Video and ferry tickets to the islands. For inspiration, see previous entries on the Boston Harbor Islands Flickr page.
  • Coastal Management Photo Contest - NOAA offers a yearly photo contest for participants age 13 or older to highlight coastal management in action. Submitted photographs can showcase local protected areas, recreation, public access, coastal hazards, marine debris, ocean planning, economics, and more. Winners will be featured in NOAA’s coastal management social media.
  • Picture This: Your Great Outdoors Photo Contest - This Mass Audubon photo contest welcomes visitors to capture the beauty of the statewide network of wildlife sanctuaries. All participants are welcome to submit digital images that highlight the diversity of Massachusetts birds, wildlife, plant life, landscapes, and people in nature. A grand prize winner is awarded a $250 Mass Audubon gift card, in addition to being featured in their member newsletter. Additional gift card awards are available to categorical winners and honorable mentions. See the previous photo contest winners to get inspired.
  • Native Plants Photo Contest - Submit photographs of an individual native plant or native plant community (in either natural or garden settings) for the Ecological Landscape Alliance (ELA) Spotlight on Natives Photo Contest. ELA will include the winning images in their newsletter and on their Facebook page and website. Winning entries are eligible to win a one-year ELA membership or $50 credit for books or logo merchandise.
  • Youth Making Ripples Film Competition - Each year, the Youth Making Ripples Film Competition seeks short (<5 minutes) ocean documentary film submissions from K-12 students to educate the public on marine conservation. Films can be submitted by individuals, groups of students, or schools or clubs. Finalist films are eligible for cash prizes and will be featured on the Youth Making Ripples website and shown at events throughout the year. See the previous year’s winning films to find examples, while learning about interesting coastal and ocean issues.


  • Creative Communications Contest - The Ocean Awareness Contest, sponsored by Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs, welcomes students ages 11-18 to submit art, creative writing, film, and other communications surrounding important issues, such as climate change and clean water. Participants who reside in Massachusetts are automatically considered for the Bay State Award, a special recognition to celebrate the creative young artists, thinkers, and activists in our home state. Boston, South Coast, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket have additional cash awards.
  • River of Words Youth Poetry and Art Contest - From The Center for Environmental Literacy and the Kalmanovitz School of Education at Saint Mary’s College of California, this annual international youth River of Words Poetry and Art Contest inspires children to translate their observations of watersheds into creative expression, whether through art or writing. The contest, which is open to K-12 students, accepts various forms of poetry (including haiku and American Sign Language poetry) and many forms of art (including paint, pencil, markers, ink, crayon, chalk, photography, cloth, collage, and computer art). Winners are selected from each age category for both poetry and art and winning entries will be published in the River of Words anthology and on their website.


  • Campus RainWorks Challenge - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water offers a yearly Campus RainWorks Challenge, a green infrastructure design competition for undergraduate and graduate students. Student teams, working with a faculty advisor, submit designs, a project narrative, and a letter of support for a proposed green infrastructure project for their campus. Cash prizes of up to $7,000 are awarded to winning student teams.
  • People, Prosperity and the Planet National Student Design Competition - EPA’s P3 Program is another unique competition for college and university students working to design solutions for a sustainable future. This annual, two-phased research grant competition invites students to research, develop, and design innovative projects that address environmental protection and public health issues. Phase I serves as a “proof of concept,” where teams are awarded a one-year grant of up to $25,000 to develop their idea and showcase their research at EPA's National Student Design Expo. Phase II allows these eligible teams to compete for a grant of up to $100,000 to implement their design in a real world setting.

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