El Molino sophomore takes top prize for student film at International Ocean Film Festival

An El Molino High School sophomore took home first place in the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival’s student film competition for a short documentary on purple sea urchins destroying kelp forests.

Kaden Anderson, 16, of Santa Rosa, won $500 in prize money at the March 10 competition for his first film “Why Seagoers Hate the Color Purple.” The film was inspired by lessons from his freshman biology class, where he learned about the decline of kelp forests, an important ecosystem for many aquatic animals.

Purple sea urchins have eaten away kelp forests in Northern California, as their population has exploded because of the declines of otters and sea stars, their main predators.

Otters saw their population drop as a result of the 18th- and 19th-century fur trade and never rebound, while sea stars began to vanish over the past few years because of sea star wasting disease.

“Urchins are mowing down the forests,” Anderson said. “It reminds me of deforestation, but underwater.”

Kelp forest loss is occurring all over the world, and climate change is a factor, scientists say.

Just days after Anderson was recognized for his film, youth led rallies in more than ?100 countries, urging political leaders to take action against climate change. Local strikes were held in Petaluma, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.

“I think it’s on our generation to know the trends and doing what needs to be done to fix it,” Anderson said.

Drawn to the smaller teacher-to-student ratio, Anderson transferred into the West Sonoma County Union High School District to attend El Molino, where he’s enrolled in chemistry. He plans to take Advanced Placement chemistry next school year.

His five-minute film took about two weeks to make, including three days of shooting, he said.

The film features Justin Gill, an abalone diver and surfer, and Aiden Angus-Henry, a volunteer at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory.

“As of right now, the future is not looking too bright for kelp forests,” Angus-Henry said in the film. “I think one of our hopes lie in otter population recovery.”

Anderson also shows maps of kelp decline in Van Damme State Park and Point Arena Cove in Mendocino County and Timber Cove and Fort Ross in Sonoma County.

Considered the largest ocean film festival in the world, the San Francisco competition awards points based on storytelling, artistic and visual appeal, continuity, originality, creativity, editing and technical skills. There were about ?60 student film submissions, Anderson said.

Other winners included middle and high school students from South Korea, Japan, Canada, Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand, the Philippines and from throughout the U.S.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or

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