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Meet The Young Ocean Explorers Using The 36th America’s Cup To Empower Kiwi Kids

With one month to go until the events begin, Steve and Riley Hathaway, Young Ocean Explorers, have a new educational programme that's using the 36th America's Cup to empower young learners to make a difference to the Hauraki Gulf Tikapa Moana.

What started as a school project for then 12-year old Riley Hathaway has since turned into an enduring passion for ocean education.

Riley, now 19, and Steve Hathaway, are best known as the father-daughter duo behind Young Ocean Explorers, whose educational web platform has had more than 1.6 million content views since its foundation in 2012 – reaching thousands of Kiwi kids, teachers and international learners alike.

The pair featured on 20 episodes of TVNZ’s What Now over 2014 and 2015, growing young learners’ knowledge of the marine environment – and highlighting the urgent issues facing our moana.

“Young Ocean Explorers is all about showing this incredible underwater world through the eyes of another kid,” explains Steve – using his impressive underwater footage, featured on BBC’s Blue Planet 2 and Blackfish, to create kid-friendly content and activities that inspire future generations to take meaningful action.

Riley and Steve’s latest project, the 21 Day Challenge, is using the 36th America’s Cup presented by PRADA to empower tamariki to make a difference to the Hauraki Gulf, the stunning natural venue for the events, which kick off next month (17 – 20 Dec) with the America’s Cup World Series Auckland.

The 21 Day Challenge runs from 15 February to 15 March 2021, in the lead up to the ultimate event of the campaign, the 36th America’s Cup Match. With broadcast partners in more than 100 countries around the world, the 36th America’s Cup will take place against the back drop of the Hauraki Gulf and Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

Leveraging the largest international sporting event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was a no-brainer, says Steve.

“A large event like the America’s Cup has a massive opportunity to leave a legacy,” he says.

“While the eyes of the world are marvelling at these incredible boats, we have an opportunity to show a slice of New Zealand that the world doesn’t know about – how magnificent it is underneath that surface.”

Designed with a team of teachers around New Zealand, the 21 Day Challenge includes 21 days of pre-planned learning exercises to empower students to care for the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa Moana Te Moananui-ā-Toi.

“The 21 Day Challenge is all about inspiring and putting tools in kids’ belt so they can restore the health of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park,” says Riley.

The programme, which targets years one to eight in school, covers a range of curriculum areas, including Te Ao Māori, digital curriculum and education for sustainability, using three core challenges to build understanding of the importance of the ocean to people and encourage critical thinking about Kaitiakitanga.

“The first challenge is to pick up at least one piece of rubbish per day, which will actually have a huge impact. The idea is that this simple habit will raise students’ awareness about the seriousness of plastic waste long after the events are over,” says Riley.

The second challenge is kids must complete a digital project, such as a video or blog, followed by a third task around amplifying that message and raising awareness – a call to action for a generation of students who are both digital and environmental natives.

“You can have the best message in the world,” says Steve, “but if you don’t know how to get it out there it’s not going to have any impact.”

“Across the 21 days, students will learn about the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, significant species, issues our Tikapa Moana faces and hear a series of hope stories of people actually making a difference,” says Steve.

The 21 Day Challenge is one of six core learning programmes aligned to the 36th America’s Cup which will be available to schools and kura during term one 2021. These include Emirates Team New Zealand’s Genesis Gen-School’s Programme, Yachting New Zealand’s Kōkōkaha and two featured exhibits at the New Zealand Maritime Museum.

Educational programmes represent an important legacy benefit of Auckland’s hosting of the 36th America’s Cup, with pre-planned curriculum and activities like the 21 Day Challenge providing strong real-world context around science, technology, design, environmental education and learning about New Zealand’s voyaging history.

As Steve Armitage, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) General Manager – Destination explains, despite challenges posed by COVID-19, the partners responsible for the 36th America’s Cup remain committed to ensuring the events leave an enduring legacy for Auckland and New Zealand.

“In addition to new infrastructure, which will transform Auckland’s waterfront for years to come, and the international broadcast putting Auckland and New Zealand firmly on the world stage, programmes like the 21 Day Challenge will ensure the legacy of these events also inspires generational change – leveraging the events to raise awareness and build knowledge of significant environmental issues,” says Steve Armitage.

For Steve and Riley, that legacy is personal.

“Our hope for the 21 Day Challenge is that we hear great stories coming out of schools about kids who have actually seen some really issues and are saying, you know what, we can do something about this,” Steve explains.

“Once you truly love something, you want to look after it and keep looking after it for future generations. And I truly hope that every kid feels that deep love and connection,” says Riley.

Find out more about the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland and how you can get in on the action at Want to learn more about the 21 Day Challenge or encourage your local classroom to sign up? Find out more and spread the word at!

Notes and additional information

  • The 21 Day Challenge is one of six core learning programmes aligned to the 36th America’s Cup which will be available to schools and kura during term one 2021.
  • Educational programmes fit into a wider framework of leverage and legacy activities to wrap around the 36th America’s Cup and ensure Auckland and New Zealand experience long-term benefits from the city’s hosting. Programme outcomes include:
  • Place – Accelerating the sustainable transformation of our communities, water and whenua.
  • Economic wellbeing – Creating shared benefit through connection, innovation and trade.
  • Participation – Every New Zealander has the opportunity to participate in and celebrate the 36th America’s Cup.
  • Storytelling – The rich cultural and voyaging history of Tāmaki Makauru Auckland is shared and valued.
  • Find out more about the 21 Day Challenge at Steve and Riley’s online educational platform, Young Ocean Explorers.
  • A recent study by Centre for Social Impact found that for students in the Auckland and Northland regions, YOE is making a strong contribution to understanding of the marine environment in the Hauraki Gulf. Teachers from these regions thought YOE was contributing a great deal (44%) or a reasonable amount (39%), substantially higher than students from other regions.
    • Of those surveyed, teachers widely agreed that the Young Ocean Explorers platform and resources inspired young people by:
      • Reducing the amount of plastic they and their families use (90% indicating either a reasonable amount or a great deal)
      • Learning more about the marine environment (95%)
      • Keeping our communities clean (86%)
      • Making changes in the school about plastics and waster (79%)
      • Picking up rubbish every day (80%)
  • Under the current alert level, preparations, planning and management of the 36th America’s Cup presented by PRADA can continue. All partners have determined they are able to work safely within the parameters outlined by the Government.

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