OCEAN HERO PROFILE, Shelby O'Niel, San Juan Bautista, High school student, Archnemisis of single-use plastic straws everywhere

Saving Our Seas One Sip at a Time with "No Straw November"

Ocean action: Shelby O'Neil, a high school student from San Juan Bautista, created a successful campaign called "No Straw November," asking people to pledge not to use plastic straws for one month. She's earned national exposure through the Martha Stewart Living magazine and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. She convinced Alaska Airlines to ditch plastic straws and toothpicks on all its flights (a story picked up by Fortune magazine). Shelby was even flown to the headquarters of Delta Airlines to promote her campaign; spoke at Dreamforce, the annual user conference hosted by Salesforce.com in San Francisco; and won unanimous California Coastal Commission support for "No Straw November." But she didn't stop there. "For a Girl Scout Gold Award, I created a nonprofit called Jr Ocean Guardians," says Shelby, "teaching younger schoolchildren the importance of the oceans and how they can help."

How the community benefits: "'No Straw November' challenges people to avoid single-use plastic straws, a significant source of ocean plastic," says Shelby. "They keep a tally of how many they're offered, how many they refuse, and how many they use in a year. I'm trying to get people to be more self-aware." Now she's working with State Sen. Bill Monning and Gov. Jerry Brown to make 2018 the year California endorses "No Straw November," preventing a major source of ocean waste along our coast.

"I'm helping teach younger schoolchildren the importance of the ocean, and how they can help. It's about getting people to be more self-aware."

Oceans of inspiration: Like many kids, Shelby experienced a spark of inspiration while peering into the iconic sea otter exhibit at the Aquarium. "I'd gone to the Aquarium since I was a little kid," she says. While in middle school, she attended the Aquarium's Young Women in Science program, where she "learned about the importance of the ecosystem, and how sea otters need a perfect balance." From there, she went on to become an Aquarium Teen Conservation Leader. "It's been inspiring to meet all these great people, learn about ocean issues, and have the opportunity to inform people about how our actions can help or hurt the Earth."

Learn more: Jr Ocean Guardians

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The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.