Dylan is Saving Our Oceans

Dylan started his own organization to protect our oceans. 

Courtesy of the Vecchione Family

Pollution is killing off coral reefs around the world. So Dylan, 14, is doing something about it—and he wants you to help.

Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve loved to swim, and there’s no place I’d rather swim than in Hawaii. Even though we live in Southern California, my family vacations in Maui, where I like to explore the underwater coral reefs.

I was 7 when I noticed that the once purple, blue, red, and orange coral was starting to turn an icky brown. I got really upset—it had been the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen before that—and I wanted to know what that brown stuff was. It turns out that it was algae, a result of pollution running off into the ocean, and it was slowly killing the reefs. I was devastated.

Actually, the more that I learned about what was harming Hawaii’s reefs, the more I wanted to do something to stop it. I read that fish, lobsters, clams, sharks, and sea turtles rely on the reef to survive—some live in the reef, while others hide from predators in it or feed off of it. Reefs are also important because they help protect the mainland from strong storms and flooding.

I also noticed that people stepped on the reef, not realizing how delicate it was, and many others, including me, slathered on sunscreen, unaware that there are toxins in the creams that can harm the reef. So I felt like I had to let everyone on the beach know what was happening!

At first, I walked up and down the beach, telling people that the coral was alive. “Don’t step on it,” I’d yell out to swimmers. Some people looked at me strangely; others would just nod in agreement.

Baby Steps

A summer or two later, I was hoping to do more than harass people at the beach. So I asked to meet the manager at the hotel where we were staying. I had a crazy idea for him: I wanted to make a brochure about things that people could do to help protect the reef in front of the hotel (like taking care not to step all over it) and hand it out to hotel guests.

To my surprise, the manager said that if I made the brochure, he’d put one in every room. I couldn’t believe he said yes—it made me feel like maybe I could make a difference!

Then I discovered that Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources, a government organization dedicated to protecting the state’s oceans, was already working to save the same reef. So I sent them an e-mail asking how I could help.

An environmentalist named Darla White wrote back, and we discussed the importance of creating a virtual reef. If we could take enough photographs of the reef, she said, we’d be able to track its health.

The Big Idea

That’s why I started my organization ReefQuest—its mission is to get others involved in saving the reefs—and the Virtual Reef project. I’m taking detailed underwater pictures of the Kahekili Reef off Maui and posting them online for scientists and students to study. I’m hoping to create a “reef fingerprint” documenting reef conditions over time so we can make sure that the reef isn’t becoming uninhabitable for Hawaii’s fish.

Now when my family goes to Hawaii, I’m not “vacationing” there—I typically wake up around 8 a.m., put on my diving equipment, and swim around the reef. Some days I’ll take pictures of it for the Virtual Reef project. Other days, I’m underwater using a toothbrush to scrape the algae off. I love every minute of it. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Pitching In

Aside from my hands-on work with ReefQuest, I also visit schools to talk to students of all ages about the work that I’m doing. I’ll talk to anyone who will listen, even if that means explaining to 8-year-olds what they can do to help protect their local oceans and reefs. It feels good when the kids ask questions about the reef. I can see that they’re really listening, like maybe I’m planting a seed in their heads.

Everyone can do something small to help our oceans. Organize a cleanup at your local beach, or try to limit how much plastic you use, since it can destroy underwater habitats or harm the animals themselves.

But maybe protecting the Earth isn’t your thing. That’s OK too. Think about what’s most important to you, and start talking to people who know something about it—they may know what you can do to help. Take it from me: Sometimes that’s all it takes!

Asking one passionate question can change your life.

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