“Never Take a Defeat as a Negative”: Q+A with Ocean Hero Youth Finalist Sierra Garcia
BY: Justine Sullivan
Sierra Garcia – Monterey, CA.
Sierra, 17, founded an independent beach cleanup organization called Save the Sea Club when she was nine years old. The club, which holds monthly clean-ups at Del Monte Beach along Monterey Bay, has inspired adults to get involved in Sierra’s work and has collected over 25,000 cigarette butts and hundreds of pounds of trash. Additionally, Sierra has captained her annual coastal cleanup every year since she was ten, mobilizing volunteers, organizing supplies and tallying trash collection totals.
Please describe your contribution to ocean conservation:
I founded an independent beach cleanup organization called Save the Sea Club when I was nine, focused on cleaning local Del Monte Beach monthly. Since then, we’ve collected over 25,000 cigarettes and hundreds of pounds of trash and recycling with hour-long monthly cleanups.
Please explain why your contribution is important and why voters should choose you as a winner of the 2013 Ocean Hero Award:
I never thought that I was too young to make a difference and take action, and I think that this had an even greater impact than the great quantity of litter that Save the Sea Club has collected from the beach over the years. Creating the Save the Sea Club at nine years old made lots of adults take a second look at what we were doing, because there were young people cleaning the beach and proving that we cared about the future of our oceans. We weren’t fulfilling community service hours or part of a Girl Scout troop – we were doing it for the sake of cleaner beaches.
Many of the adults involved have told me that it impacted them realizing that the youth were taking charge like that, and it motivated them to care as well. Adults who normally might criticize the self-absorbed, video-game-addicted youth of today were forced to take another look and accept that there are young people who care and are deeply invested in the future of the oceans. This impact is greater than the litter of eight years of cleanup.
What’s your most recent accomplishment in relation to your ocean conservation efforts?
My most recent accomplishment was acting as a guest speaker for the Monterey Bay Aquarium camp Young Women in Science, which I attended myself in the early years of my cleanups. It was amazing speaking to over forty girls the same age I was when I first decided to create the Save the Sea Club, and more amazing to consider myself a role model for them.
Where do you want your ocean conservation efforts to go next?
I have already found a passionate thirteen-year-old who will replace me in leading the Save the Sea Club beach cleanups while I am away at college, and I have spent over a year training her. I am going to live in Ecuador for a year before college and intend to pursue environmental work while there. I will also continue to work with ocean conservation in college, and study marine biology and environmental studies. I want to apply all this to a career in ocean conservation, which is honestly the only path I’ve ever been able to imagine myself on since I was nine years old.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to be an Ocean Hero?
To never take a defeat as a negative. I’ve had plenty of challenges and difficult times when a cleanup didn’t turn out how I wanted it to. Advocating for the oceans by its nature can be disheartening sometimes, because it’s such a huge and even overwhelming task with all the issues the ocean faces today: ocean acidification, changing salinity, species extinction and endangerment, pollution, overfishing, etc. To be an Ocean Hero, you can’t constantly recite a litany of these problems or dwell on defeats. Instead, you need to focus on thinking, “What can I do today?” or, “How can I learn from this?” and be oriented on solutions.
Inspired by Sierra Garcia? Vote for her to be a 2013 Youth Ocean Hero!