Scuba divers are used to descending great depths in the name of conservation, but how often do we look up? With a great love for the world below the sea, teenage ocean advocate Stephanie Wooley set her sights high above – she’d climb Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds and awareness for ocean protection.
Not only the highest peak on the African continent, at 19,336 feet high (5,895 meters), Mount Kilimanjaro is also the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. Stephanie had little to no previous climbing experience, but with a heart for adventure and determination to rise to a new challenge, she was undaunted.
After all, Stephanie is used to pushing herself outside her comfort zone: an England native living in Australia, she’s constantly traveling, exploring, making new friends and discovering new places. After becoming interested in the world of scuba diving during a holiday in Thailand, Stephanie had returned home to England and immediately enrolled in scuba training, rapidly becoming an advanced diver. With the opportunity to explore new underwater environments, Stephanie quickly developed a passion for ocean protection. She noticed the drastic differences in health and beauty of underwater environments protected and not – in unprotected waters, she had been shocked to witness dead coral, while in marine sanctuaries, she swam in awe of reefs and ocean life that flourished. This realization fuelled her to begin her advocacy efforts. Stephanie sought out opportunities to raise awareness of the challenges the ocean faces, became increasingly involved in marine volunteer projects, and participated in fundraisers supporting Project AWARE’s ocean protection programs.
Inspired to take her ocean activism to the next level, Stephanie assembled a group of five friends and family to hike Kilimanjaro with her and support her Finathon fundraiser for Project AWARE. With bags packed and tents and camping materials prepped, Stephanie and her group set off with their guides on an eight-day trek. Each day, climbing started in the early hours of the morning when skies were clear. Averaging five to six hours of straight hiking and climbing daily, Stephanie and her group pushed on through rainforest downpours and frequent wind chill with tired, aching muscles and bouts of altitude-induced light-headedness. Though physically challenged, gorgeous scenery – including lush forests, gushing waterfalls, and breath-taking views – motivated her to persevere. Surrounded by Africa’s beautiful, untainted landscape, she couldn’t help but be reminded of her beloved underwater ecosystems she was fighting to protect.
On her last day hiking toward the summit, Stephanie and her group set out on an eight-hour hike beginning at 11:00pm. She describes her experience: “As I was climbing toward the top, it was pitch black and if you looked out across the horizon you could see the curve of the earth. It was an amazing sight I’ll never forget.”
Six hours into her final ascent, battling muscle fatigue, exhaustion, and signs of mild hypothermia, Stephanie made it within 500 meters of Kilimanjaro’s peak! Pushing herself to her limits, the mental and physical challenges, as well as the reward of her experience, exceeded her expectations.
She explains, “The experience was more challenging than I anticipated and I surprised myself to see how capable I was. I learned that I am stronger than I realized.”
Stephanie’s efforts not only helped generate funds and awareness in support of ocean protection, they’ve also shown that most individuals are capable of so much more than they realize. Stephanie encourages others to do all that they can to bring awareness to marine conservation. Any activity or event, large or small, can be used as a tool for fundraising and empowerment.
Project AWARE thanks Stephanie for her contributions to ocean protection and congratulates her on her incredible feat! You can donate to Stephanie's fundraising page here.