How I Sea: Shelby O’Neil, Jr. Ocean Guardians

Source: The TerraMar Project - December 13, 2017 in Junior Editors, TMP

How I Sea: Shelby O’Neil, Jr. Ocean Guardians
Source: Shelby O'Neil/Jr Ocean Guardians

Meet Shelby O’Neil, the inspiring High School student behind the #NoStrawNovember movement.

Hi, my name is Shelby O’Neil and I am a freshly minted 17-year-old. I go to San Benito High School in California and live in a small agricultural community about 40 minutes from the coast.

My love for the ocean began when I was accepted into the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Young Women in Science Program going into the 7th grade.  I’m now a Teen Conservation Leader at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and I love interacting with guests. One fun fact about me is that I’m currently learning ASL (American Sign Language).

What inspired you to start the #NoStrawNovember challenge? And how many people were you able to sign up/how much plastic did you stop in this one month from entering the ocean?

I was inspired to create #NoStrawNovember because I wanted a challenge that all age groups could easily participate in and feel empowered to make a real difference for our oceans and planet. 

No Straw November

Image: Jr Ocean Guardians

I received almost 10,000 pledges worldwide to take the #NoStrawNovember pledge and my most recent tally results show 15,173 single-use plastic straws offered and 13,920 single-use plastic straws refused. 

The tally results are increasing every day so this number is constantly changing. I’d say this was a very successful first-year campaign.

How important do you think it is to lead by example when it comes to stopping plastic pollution?

I think it’s vital to lead by example when it comes to stopping plastic pollution. If a child grows up with parents constantly showing them alternatives to plastic, and why it’s not the best choice, they will be more likely to do the same when they are adults.

By instilling this sense of eco-responsibility into children at a young age they will carry the virtue with them the rest of their lives.

No Straw November

Photo: Shelby O’Neil/Jr Ocean Guardians

Do you think young people today are more or less engaged in protecting the health of the planet than older generations (ex: your parents or grandparents).

I’ve had amazing experiences with both older and younger generations and I’d have to say that both the younger and older generations were highly engaged. 

I recently worked with the Sustainable Monterey group of amazing older woman who have made it their mission to introduce more sustainable options and reduce plastic pollution on the Monterey Peninsula in California. 

These women attend City Council meetings, work with local restaurants and are constantly spreading the need to be sustainable to as many people who will listen.  

 I also got to work with excited young people who get the message loud and clear that a change is needed if we don’t want more plastic than fish in our oceans by the year 2050.  

I think engagement depends more upon your geographic location, and communities that are disconnected from the ocean are where we need to help build awareness. 

If you don’t see the ocean, river, lake or stream on a daily basis, you may not feel so compelled to help our planet.  

What do you think is the biggest threat to the world’s oceans? (climate change, pollution, overfishing, habitat loss, invasive species)

I think humans are the biggest threat to the world’s oceans.  Climate change, pollution, overfishing, habitat loss can all be attributed to humans. 

We all have to start taking responsibility and making choices that will help and not hurt our oceans.

No Straw November

Photo: Andrew Stickelman/Unsplash

What do you think sends a stronger message to the world about ocean pollution: beach cleanups, or campaigns like yours aimed at stopping pollution at the source? Or both?

I think both are great messages. 

We definitely need people to go out and help clean our beaches. However, a lot of times it is the same people working the beach cleanups and in order to spread the word, you have to have more people getting involved.

What I realized from my No Straw November campaign is that I was able to reach people who live in landlocked states with no ocean. When you explain that an estimated 80% of the trash in our oceans comes from land, people start listening. 

They don’t realize that trash can travel by wind and water and end up in our oceans. No Straw November was an awareness campaign aimed at bringing attention to people who wouldn’t otherwise understand that ocean pollution isn’t a coastal issue, it’s everybody’s issue.

What’s next for you? What would you like to be when you grow up? A scientist? lawyer? Actress? Politician? The sky seems to be the limit.

I’m a junior in high school, so my first step is to graduate high school in 2019! 

I’m still trying to figure out what platform would be the best for me to make a change, but I definitely want to bring needed change on behalf of Mother Earth.

How I Sea is a new effort by The TerraMar Project to dive into the minds of our global ocean community. We highlight opinions on conservation issues such as: marine pollution, overfishing, drilling, climate change, marine protected areas, scientific discoveries, and much more. Stay tuned for more.

Sign up today to become a citizen of our global ocean community and sign up for your very own passport to the world’s ocean by visiting us at: www.theterramarproject.org

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