She's Saving Our Oceans

As an aquarium volunteer, Shelby O’Neil, 18, learned firsthand how plastic can endanger marine life. So she did something about it.

I've always loved the ocean. In seventh grade, I started volunteering at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. It’s an amazing place right on the water, located in a bay off the Pacific Ocean. More than 35,000 creatures live in the aquarium. Through my work there, I learned that many sea animals eat plastic trash, thinking it’s food. That really upset me.

I decided to do something to educate people about this problem. In 2017, I founded Jr Ocean Guardians as part of my work with the Girl Scouts. We hold presentations at schools to teach kids about plastic waste. We also host beach cleanups, where we collect and get rid of as much trash as we can.

I wanted to reach businesses too. I decided if I learned of a company that used a lot of plastic, I’d send them an email urging them to cut back. What’s the worst that could happen if they don’t respond? I thought.

One day, I saw a commercial for a healthcare company. People in the ad were using plastic straws. I googled the contact info of the company and emailed its president. In my message, I told him how plastic can harm the environment. I asked him to consider using more sustainable alternatives.

I was so excited when he wrote back! He said he had been thinking about reducing plastic waste. After reading my letter, he made sure the company cut its use of plastic straws, drink stirrers, and cup lids in half.

I kept going. Whenever I heard of businesses using plastic, I’d send an email. One of the biggest companies I emailed was Alaska Airlines. A company representative wrote back and told me the airline was switching from plastic stirrers to paper ones on all of its 1,200 daily flights.

Something I’m really proud of is “No Straw November.” As another way to raise awareness, I challenged people to refuse straws for the entire month. Last summer, California lawmakers officially declared the month “No Straw November”!

I always tell people: Everyone can make a change. Look for small things you can do because they add up. 

Additional vocabulary words: 

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