BY Dollita Okine, 11:15am June 21, 2024,

Meet the teen girl saving Mississippi with oysters

Johnson also obtained her Girl Scout Silver Award for her research with the Mississippi Oyster Gardening Program, of which she was proud and added that her goal had been to make the study enjoyable and educational. Photo Credit: WLOX

Since her seventh grade, Demi Johnson has been cultivating oysters off a pier in Biloxi, contributing to the restoration of the oyster reefs.

While the teen was in Washington, D.C. recently, she received a $1000 grant to support her oyster-growing endeavors after being recognized by the National Geographic Society with a Slingshot Challenge Significant Achievement Award for her environmental initiative.

The Mississippi resident told WLOX in a 2023 interview, “I found out that oyster reefs and gardens are endangered, so I felt inspired to help the environment, to give back to it.” 

Johnson also obtained her Girl Scout Silver Award for her research with the Mississippi Oyster Gardening Program, of which she was proud and added that her goal had been to make the study enjoyable and educational.

At Biloxi’s Schooner Pier, the young trailblazer began her oyster farm as an environmental initiative in the seventh grade. With assistance from the Department of Marine Resources, she went to her farm once a week to remove trash and predators from the oysters.

She said that she was given four cages in St. Martin Bayou between September 2022 and March 2023. Six cages were installed at Schooner Pier between September 2023 and March 2024.

Since then, Johnson’s site has generated more than 1,000 oysters this year, which will have a significant ecological impact by spawning millions of larvae into the ecosystem.

The Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, along with other young people from the Gulf Coast, teamed up with Johnson for the National Geographic Society Slingshot Challenge, an endeavor aimed at finding the next generation of problem solvers and effective environmental champions.

Johnson explained, “I made a video and I submitted it and ended up being the final 15. Then I found out I got $1,000 to go towards my oysters.”

She was one of two students recognized in the United States that received an award in the Slingshot Challenge from the National Geographic Society, out of over 2,100 submissions in the worldwide competition.

She received a $1,000 scholarship after winning the 2024 Significant Achievement Award for “Off Bottom Oysters,” which she then gave back to the Mississippi Oyster Gardening Program.

Her work serves as the driving force behind a community education initiative aimed at reestablishing oyster gardens and protecting Mississippi’s endangered oyster reef population.

A string of disasters have destroyed oyster populations in Mississippi over the years. Research shows that the oyster industry contributed an estimated $24 million in sales to the state’s economy in 2009 and it sustained over 500 jobs. Authorities spent millions of dollars that failed to save the oysters.

Johnson believes the 2010 BP oil spill and the Bonnet Carre Spillway being opened in 2020 made matters worse. “My solution is to partner with educational institutions to clean up programs and teach them to grow their own off-farm oysters,” she said. “I’ve already been working on that myself.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 21, 2024

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