Last Sunday on the Santa Monica Promenade, the students from Santa Monica High School’s Team Marine unveiled their opus to the global marine debris crisis: REthink. The 7′ x 21′ art installation contains 34,727 bottle caps and includes a wide variety of marine life species made of the plastic tops. Think of a Rose Parade float, but one made of trash that doesn’t degrade in the marine environment after a millennium.
The students chose the “Rethink” theme to emphasize that solving the marine debris crisis involves simple personal choices.
They want to wean consumers from their addiction to single-use packaging. Use aluminum bottles rather than buying water bottles. Go reusable instead of single use. Buy durable goods and drinks with leashed lids. Never use Styrofoam. All of these Team Marine recommendations are consumer choices that don’t involve a lot of sacrifice.
Samohi’s marine biology teacher and Team Marine mentor, the youthful Ben Kay, has worked his eight student volunteers an average of 20 hours a week for the last two months. Team Marine has made marine debris and climate change presentations at numerous schools and tabled at conferences. Members are building a solar-powered boat and developing an energy conservation/renewable energy proposal for the city of Santa Monica.
They designed their own Team Marine T-shirts and have written press releases and given media interviews. They’ve testified in front of Santa Monica civic leaders to push them to move forward on a plastic bag ban and they’ve marched throughout the city on numerous occasions to get people to say no to single use bags and yes to reusable bags. They’ve handed out free reusable bags every step of the way.
I can tell you, I never worked this hard as a student at Samo and I certainly didn’t volunteer for anything for more than a couple of hours a month. These dedicated students are trying everything they can think of to make a difference on the marine debris crisis. Last Sunday, hundreds of people on the Promenade took notice of their massive art installation, and maybe some of them were inspired to change their consumer behavior.
I know I’ve been inspired by these guys, although we have spent a lot feeding them at their home away from home — my house. (My oldest son Zack is a team member.) They are not part of Generation Entitled and their cynicism is balanced by creativity and optimism. If Kay’s crash course in eco-activism trains leaders, then there may be reason for hope in a time of environmental crises.