From Portugal to Passion Project

Programs for this blog post

Aquatic Ecosystems & Sustainability

Our Global Discovery program in Lisbon, Portugal places an emphasis on the conservation and sustainability of aquatic ecosystems. In 2017, students worked alongside local nonprofit Ocean Alive with a goal to transform the coastal community by learning to protect and preserve the ocean.

Moved by their experience and passion for marine science, four of our summer 2017 participants took their final project a step further and created their very own nonprofit organization - Elimiwaste. The goal is to raise awareness about ocean pollution and educate others about their own ecological footprints and the impact humans have on preservation. Elimiwaste’s website provides information about other eco-initiatives and innovative companies, tips on how to make a change, and information behind the June 28th day devoted to cleaning the beaches.

Our CIEE staff reached out to CIEE alumni Whitney and Madeline, half of the quad behind Elimiwaste, to learn more about their 2017 experience in Lisbon and their continued efforts to keep our oceans clean. Follow our Q+A!


CIEE: What was your interest level in marine science before going on our Lisbon program?

Whitney: Ever since my first trip to SeaWorld as a little girl, I’ve always been fascinated in marine life. Obviously when I was little it was just because the dolphins were cute, but as I grew up I started really enjoying the science. After taking an environmental science class at my high school I realized how hazardous humans are towards marine science. That was what made me want to become more educated on how we can protect something so important.

Madeline:  My family fishes a lot, I’ve grown up on an isthmus, and both of my grandparents have property on the water. As a result, both my brother and I have been drawn to water science as something we may want to study…[and] personally I have always gravitated towards and been more interested in the ocean.


CIEE: Close your eyes and think about your time in Portugal. What is the first memory that comes to mind?

Whitney: One day, we traveled to an old fishery and spent a short time cleaning up trash in the area. There were these deep ditches with water in them surrounded by tall grass, but a majority of the plastic was in the water. I was laying on my belly trying to reach these big pieces of plastic so that they wouldn’t end up in the ocean or potentially killing an animal.

Maddie collecting trash on a beach

CIEE: What surprised you most about your experience in Lisbon?

Madeline: I think I was most surprised with just how influential the experience and every person I met was. I never knew how much 20 days could influence a person. Between the people that I met, the knowledge I gained, and the experiences the program offered, I will forever be affected by the program.

Whitney busy collecting trash too!

CIEE: What are the skills you gained in Lisbon that you feel make a difference in your life today?

Madeline: I learned a lot about the impact that I as an individual have on the planet and environment; when I got home I got sick at the sight of plastic bags and excessive waste. On a completely different note, I gained a lot of courage and spontaneity from the trip. I was not at all planning to go abroad last summer but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Whitney and Maddie in snorkeling gear

CIEE: You explain on your website that Ocean Alive inspired you to create Elimiwaste. Can you describe your experience with that organization?

Whitney: We spent the last part of our trip with the two leaders of Ocean Alive, and they shared with us their passion. They took us to meet fisher women, they took us to a beautiful museum, to their favorite restaurants, they taught us how to cook their food, and showed us their favorite places. While experiencing all these amazing things they taught us how important the ocean is and how much the world relies on it.

Madeline: I have never met people as passionate about what they do as Raquel and Silvia are about the work that they do in the Sado Estuary. The entire time I was with them I could not stop thinking about how much I want to find a career and job that brings me as much love and passion as theirs. Meeting Raquel and Silvia and learning about Ocean Alive made me realize that I should use what I have to make as much of an impact as possible. When we were presented with our final project we kind of thought “If we have to spend time doing a project anyways, why not do something interactive that we can continue to work on and develop.”

Meeting Silvia and Raquel, from Ocean Alive

CIEE: Did the idea of Elimiwaste come during or after the program?

Madeline: We came up with Elimiwaste very randomly, actually. We were thinking about doing a game show or powerpoint presentation for our final project and then one of us just randomly threw out the idea of doing something bigger. Hours later we had made the outline of the website and come up with a name and logo.

Presenting "Elimiwaste" as their final project in Portugal

CIEE: In what way would you say the CIEE program encouraged you to stay involved in marine science after the program ended?

Whitney: The distance between us has been a huge set back in the goals we wanted to obtain, but now that we’re all in or near college I’d love to plan more clean ups and outreach in the summers.

Madeline: Since going to Portugal I actually have completely changed my plans for the next few years. When I got home I changed a few of my classes to take environmental science, limnology and oceanography. I decided to go to college in a region that is closer to water than I originally desired and I’m planning on studying biology, probably more specifically marine biology.

Beautiful Setubal

CIEE: What is your wish for Elimiwaste?

Madeline: I think that using it as a virtual platform for people to learn about the ways that people can reduce their footprint and prioritize the integrity of the ocean the environment is the main goal. I’d like to expand the information and maintain current information to best accomplish this. Another cool addition I would like to make is a regularly updated blog from the four of us that highlights what we do personally and things happening in our communities.