Robert Irwin has signed up to support the Duke of Cambridge’s environmental Earthshot Prize
Robert Irwin
Credit: Marc Grimwade/WireImage

Robert Irwin is on a mission!

Following in the footsteps of his late father Steve Irwin, the 17-year-old is combining his role at his family's Australia Zoo with advocating on behalf of the wildlife around him.

And he has been enlisted as one of the advocates for Prince William's Earthshot Prize, which is seeking innovative ideas to help solve the planet's problems. The first awards will be handed out later this year.

"It's in my DNA, and it's what I've been born to do. My dad will always be my greatest inspiration and he is first and foremost the reason why I care and the reason why I do what I do — to continue that legacy that he started," Irwin tells PEOPLE.

As people around the world mark Earth Day, Robert, who became an uncle when his sister Bindi, 22, welcomed daughter Grace Warrior last month, fondly recalls their father.

Robert Irwin, Bindi Sue Irwin, Chandler Powell
Credit: Robert Irwin/Instagram

"A lot of people saw my dad and thought of our family — particularly him — as this crazy, larger than life, enthusiastic, boots-and-all 100 mph guy, which he was," he shares. "But he was also an incredibly scientific person. He was given an honorary professorship by the University of Queensland for his devotion to science."

"It's something that carries down, what my dad said to me at a very early age: Treat everyone you encounter in your life how you would wish to be treated and that really is what sparked, from my little 2-year-old self, that passion."

It's the same for the creatures of the world, he says.

"We've got to love crocodiles the same as we love koalas," he explains, referring to some of Australia's iconic wildlife. "You can't go up to a croc and give it a hug — you can do that with a koala. But it doesn't mean that a croc's any less important. It's exactly the same in any form of life — everyone deserves to be cared for and have that sense of kindness. That was the most important life lesson. Treat every animal you wish to be treated."

Last year, he and Bindi were asked to support the prince's Earthshot Prize, which is concentrating on five different areas: restoring nature, protecting oceans, fixing the climate, eliminating waste and cleaning the air.

"The Earthshot is gathering together some of the most influential voices in conservation and in science to start this really wonderful conversation about creating solutions," he says.

Prince William Thanks Frontline Workers
Prince William
| Credit: Kensington Palace

Prince William called for the world to show the same "spirit of invention" it did with the COVID-19 pandemic response in tackling climate change in an open letter sent to The Times in the U.K. this week.

"The availability of vaccines after only a year is both a triumph of science and a victory for collaboration," the letter reads. "These lessons apply not just to pandemics but to the most pressing challenge in human history: stopping the climate emergency."If we do not act in this decade the damage to our planet will be irreversible, affecting not only those of us alive today but the future of generations to come."