Announcing Scouting for Clean Waterways, a new conservation program for all Scouts

A photo of a kayaker carrying a bag of trash to shore
Somewhere under all that trash sits a kayaker who's removed debris from the waters around Sea Base.

Plastic trash is a problem.

Scouting for Clean Waterways could end up being part of the solution.

Saturday is World Oceans Day, which makes this week a great time to talk about Scouting for Clean Waterways, a nationwide Scouting effort designed to inspire Scouts to reduce personal consumption of disposable plastics, properly dispose of trash, recycle trash when appropriate and actively participate in cleaning waterways in their local communities.

“This initiative aims to address the critical issue of waterway and marine debris while promoting environmental stewardship and community service among Scouts nationwide,” according to a statement from the Scouts for Sustainable Development Goals workgroup.

And thanks to an official partnership with CleanHub, Scouts’ impact on improving waterways will be doubled, as CleanHub matches high-adventure base cleanup of plastic debris pound for pound.

The concept of Scouting for Clean Waterways was launched as part of an existing Sea Base program in 2022. The program is sponsored by Sea Base, along with Scouting America’s International Committee and Outdoor Ethics & Conservation Subcommittee.

How does Scouting for Clean Waterways work?

Nationally, Scouting for Clean Waterways officially begins on Earth Day (April 22) 2025 and is associated with two awards. Both are part of the World Organization of Scouting Movement’s Scout Centres of Excellence for Nature, Environment and Sustainability (SCENES) program.

The SCENES Award is available to any Scout, while the SCENES Ambassador Award is reserved for Scouts who attend a national high-adventure base.

A photo of the water around Sea Base
Plastic pollution can have a detrimental effect on our favorite locales, like Sea Base. It’s also a problem in every community with a river, canal, lake, stream, swamp, beach or other waterway.

The SCENES Award

Any Scout of any age can earn the SCENES Award by logging the details of his or her cleaning efforts on the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) app. More on that below.

The requirements are:

  • Encourage Scouts (and adults!) to reduce their personal use of disposable plastics. For example, use a refillable water bottle instead of buying water bottles. Properly stow and dispose of trash.
  • Participate in a cleanup project at a river, canal, lake, stream, swamp, beach or other waterway in your community.
  • Post about the project on social media, using #ScoutingCleanWaterways.
  • Log the details of your cleanup efforts on the NOAA’s Debris Tracker app.

The SCENES Ambassador Award

Scouts who attend a national high-adventure base are eligible to earn the SCENES Ambassador Award.

The requirements are:

  • Attend one of the four national high-adventure bases — Sea Base, Philmont Scout Ranch, Northern Tier or Summit Bechtel Reserve — and participate in an environmental education program while there. Some of these projects are land-based, others are waterway- or marine-based. All include a program designed to encourage environmental ethics, action and personal responsibility.
  • When you return to your community, those who attended the high-adventure base should give a presentation to their unit, district or council that highlights the importance of cleaning up waterways.
  • With their home unit, organize and participate in a waterway debris removal project in their home community, such as a river, canal, lake, stream, swamp or beach.
  • Share the harmful effects of waterway debris, and then schedule and participate in a waterway cleanup using the NOAA Marine Debris Tracker.

What is SCENES?

SCENES is a certification presented by the World Organization of the Scout Movement. It is designed to attest to the status, the high level of quality and the accomplishment of a specific standard that applies for Scout properties around the world.

Any Scout Centre — defined as a site or place where people can enjoy natural areas and use their infrastructure to enjoy the benefits of outdoor life and programs affiliated with a Scouting organization — is eligible for SCENES certification.

As SCENES accreditation puts extra emphasis on environmentally friendly operations and environmental education, the certification is reserved for properties at which Scouts are in charge of those aspects of the center’s operation.

Philmont, Sea Base and the Summit are SCENES-certified. Northern Tier is expected to get its SCENES certification later this year.

A photo of Scouts picking up trash from the ocean
A successful ocean cleanup project at Sea Base on Earth Day 2024

How big of a problem is plastic pollution?

Really big.

About 26 million pounds of plastic are dumped into our oceans each year, according to Conservation International. Millions of pounds more are dumped into rivers, lakes, streams, swamps and associated waterways.

But it isn’t just plastic. Anything manmade can become waterway or marine debris. Car tires, vessels, shoes, toys, aluminum containers, diapers and other common-use items find their way into waterways and oceans each year.

The vast majority comes from land.

More than 1 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic marine debris.

Just as important, waterways and marine debris pollute soil, animals then ingest that pollution, and humans eat those animals.

Waterway and marine debris negatively impacts our economy to the tune of billions of dollars.

Will there be a patch?!?

Information on emblems, the award application and other aspects of both the SCENES Award and the SCENES Ambassador Award will be available later in 2024.

Photos courtesy of Sea Base

About Aaron Derr 467 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.