Kids doing rad stuff: Heirs to our oceans

What’s your name?

Chloe McKenna

How old are you?

I am 16 years old.

Where are you from?

I was born in Orange County, California and have lived here ever since.

What are your favourite subjects at school?

My favourite subjects are science, English, and literature.

If you could change anything about school what would it be?

I would love to see more hands-on learning opportunities. I would also reduce the homework load, so students could have more time to travel, spend time with family and friends, and have less stress!

If you could add another subject to be taught in school, what would it be?

Even though environmental science is available in some schools, I would make this subject a requirement with a plastic pollution section. It is important for students to understand human relationship to the environment and how our personal choices impacts our Earth.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

If I could have any superpower, it would be to see and breathe underwater without equipment or communicate with animals.

What are your favourite things to do outside?

I love going to the beach with my friends and spending time in the water surfing, swimming, and snorkelling. Something new I am trying is scuba diving, which I have really enjoyed. I am in the process of getting my Open Water Diver Certification and look forward to logging more dives. I also love hiking with my family in our local mountains here in Southern California and spending time getting fresh air.

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

I would love to travel to Palau to visit another ‘Heirs To Our Oceans’ chapter and to go diving and discover its underwater world.

What do you love most about the ocean?

I have loved the ocean for as long as I can remember like a home away from home. The beauty of marine life and seeing new creatures I have never seen before. There is still so much about the ocean we have to learn, which means we need to preserve it. We are hurting animals we may not even know exist! I have always wanted to grow up to study the ocean, to better understand the ecosystem and how humans fall in line.

What’s the best memory you have from this year so far?

This year I travelled to Hawaii for a three-week camping trip with Bold Earth. I camped with complete strangers at the time, but people who now are some of my close friends! We went backpacking, snorkelling, visited live volcanos, helped on a local farm, and so much more! During the trip, one day we went to a remote green sand beach on the Big Island. It was a two-mile trek to the beach, but once we got there, it was a breathtaking view. Within the first minute of looking down at the beach from the cliff above, I saw a huge piece of styrofoam flying on the other side of the cliff! I knew right away I had to grab it before it escaped into the waves. It took about three hours before the styrofoam came low enough with the wind for me to climb a steep hill of green sand to reach it. Once I got it, everyone on the beach, even people I didn’t know, were cheering for me. It was the best feeling in the world! After that, I decided to do a little beach cleanup and found discarded fishing nets, coffee lids, cigarette butts, and so much more debris.

What was it like to meet Sylvia Earle?

I have looked up to Dr. Sylvia Earle since the fifth grade. I chose her as the subject of a biography research project and presentation. The first time I met Dr. Earle was in San Francisco at a forum about forage fish. I saw on Instagram that she would be speaking at the forum held at the Aquarium of the Bay. I convinced my mom to drive me to San Francisco, which is a 7-hour drive. During the forum, I couldn’t believe I was in the same room as Dr. Sylvia Earle. My fifth-grade self would have been jumping up and down, but I was in a room filled with adults and had to contain myself.

The second time I met Dr. Earle was months later in New York for the World Oceans Day Festival. Only this time, I was speaking and performing as an Heir of Heirs To Our Oceans. I was able to catch her on her way out and shake her hand and thank her for her all her work and for inspiring youth like me to contribute to saving our oceans.

Having met Dr. Sylvia Earle was so unbelievable and sometimes it is still hard to believe I have crossed that off my bucket list, twice!

When did you discover the issue of plastic pollution?

I have always known in a general sense that plastic was harmful to our environment, but wasn’t aware to what extent. In February 2017, I attended an international youth leadership summit called POPS, which stands for Plastic Ocean Pollution Solutions, hosted by Algalita, with other Heirs from Heirs To Our Oceans. Here, I learned so much valuable information, inspiring me to create change through education in my home, to my friends and family, and to everyone around me, even local business and government.

How long ago did you start the Orange County, CA ‘Heirs To Our Oceans’ Chapter?

The Orange County, CA Heirs To Our Oceans Chapter started in February 2017. The official start of the chapter came after much coordination with the founding chapter, based in San Francisco, CA.

Tell us a little bit about ‘Heirs to our oceans’ and what you do…

Heirs To Our Oceans are youth leaders dedicated to inspire awareness, responsibility, and action amongst youth worldwide to stand up and protect our oceans for us and future generations. The founding chapter is located in San Francisco, CA, with other chapters in Palau (an island nation in Micronesia), Pescadero, CA, and the Orange County, CA chapter. Each chapter chooses a different initiative per year and within the chapter, each Heir can have one or more focus areas. We work with experts to write current and credible research papers. Also, we present at conferences, schools, summits, and more to spread our global movement and the Heirs To Our Oceans mission.

One example was when I went to St. John to the Plastic Free Island’s Summit this summer. I presented at the summit with Heirs from the San Francisco Chapter and Palau Chapter and others who attended the Heirs To Our Oceans Youth Empowerment Camp over the summer. Our audience included managers of hotels, restaurants, resorts, and other tourist spots, as well as citizens concerned for the island.

In the Orange County Chapter, we attend many events and beach cleanups to educate the community about the Heirs’ mission and plastic pollution and how they can make a difference in their everyday lives. We have developed our goals of reducing single-use plastic available for consumption in the county through targeting schools, restaurants, venues, and CA state government.

How many people do you have in your team?

In the Orange County Chapter, there are about ten 9-17 year olds working to make change within our community to become more ocean friendly and stop single-use plastic at the source.

Name 5 plastic items that someone can stop using in their everyday life… and then tell us what they can use in place of these items?

1. Plastic straws: Plastic straws are easy to refuse and there are so many alternatives! Paper straws are a great single-use alternative, as well as reusable straws made from bamboo, stainless steel, and even glass. When going to a restaurant, all you have to do is say “No straw please!” when ordering your drink. Simply Straws, Aardvark Straws, Stream Straws and Bamboo Straws are all great brands to buy reusable straws from.

2. Plastic bags: Bring your own bag when you go out shopping, whether it’s to the market or a clothing store. You can use reusable bags (canvas, cloth, etc.) or even make your own from old t-shirts. Mesh produce bags are a great alternative to plastic when picking up fruits and vegetables.

3. Plastic utensils: I always have my reusable utensils on me at school and when going out to eat. You can use lightweight camping utensils or bamboo utensils from the brand To-Go Ware.

4. Plastic Bottles: There are so many brands of reusable water bottles in both glass and stainless steel. Having a reusable water bottle that lasts a long time helps eliminate a lot of waste entering our oceans. Some brands include Klean Kanteen, Hydro Flask, S’well Bottles, etc.

5. Toothbrushes: Have you ever thought of what happens to your plastic toothbrush? Well, it is still on our planet in some shape or form, whether you threw it “away” a week ago or 30 years ago. Bamboo brushes are a better alternative than plastic because it’s a natural product and not man-made. Some brands include Sasa Collective or Humble Brush.

What is the most common piece of plastic that you find during your clean ups?

During cleanups, I mostly find bottle caps, wrappers, remnants of plastic bags, and cigarette butts on Southern California beaches, which actually tend to be somewhat clean. The Heirs in Northern California tend to find larger items, such as tires. They once found 26 tires in one cleanup!

What ways do you educate people about the issue?

Education is important when encouraging people to make changes. They have to understand and experience the problem, in order to want to make change. We provide research papers, showcase alternatives, provide websites people can turn to if they have questions or want more information, show videos and films, do presentations to schools and businesses, set up tables at local events and beach cleanups, and more.

We saw a video on Instagram of you releasing 3 healthy sea lions back into the oceans, that must have been an amazing feeling right?

Yes, it was one of the coolest things I have ever done! They were being taken care of and nursed back to health at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, CA. The sea lions were so happy to get back in the ocean! I’m so grateful I had this opportunity.

What are your goals for the new year?

This upcoming year, I am looking to advocate for a plastic straw ban in as many cities as possible and hopefully have the opportunity to lobby California state government. I also plan to talk to more schools and youth locally about how they can make a difference. I am trying to save as much money as I can in order to visit the Heirs To Our Oceans chapter in Palau, an island nation in Micronesia, and go scuba diving there. Next year will be my senior year in highschool, so a large part of my time will be focusing on college prep and applications.

If you could change anything in the world, what would you change?

I would ban every form of single-use plastic to show the world it isn’t impossible to rely on reusables. I would hope this would change people’s view on the environment so everyone would have the mindset of preserving our planet for future generations. Everyone should be thinking about how their actions affect the world around them.

What is the impact you want to have on the world when you grow up?

I hope to create change through policy and education while studying environmental issues myself. Ever since I was a little girl, my goal was to become a marine biologist. Now, as I have become more aware of what problems our oceans are facing, like plastic pollution, I want to work in strengthening and changing policy.