OCEAN HERO PROFILE, Gonzales Youth Council, Gonzales, CA, High school students, Warriors of the waterways

Salinas Valley Students Taking Action for the Environment

Ocean action: The Gonzales City Council recently took a bold step, giving a group of motivated young people a voice in city affairs. Called the Gonzales Youth Council, the group regularly advises city leaders on a variety of issues. As part of their participation in "No Straw November," they reached out to local restaurants, encouraging them to provide plastic straws only on request. So far, 10 restaurants have made the commitment. "This city has a deep investment in youth leadership," says Michelle Slade, an advisor to the group. "The city didn't direct them to be involved—they just presented the Youth Council with the opportunity, and the students made the decision to take action."

How the community benefits: Researchers estimate more than 500 million straws are used in the United States every day. When laid end to end, they could circle the planet more than two-and-a-half times. And they're not collected for recycling at local waste management facilities—they go straight into the landfill, or worse: into our ocean, where they ultimately break down into tiny microplastic particles. "No Straw November," asking people to pledge not to use plastic straws for one month, is helping reduce this harmful source of plastic pollution while raising awareness of the larger problem of single-use plastic.

"Why would a community that's so far from the ocean care about ocean plastic? It's part of our ethos—it's 'The Gonzales Way!'"
– Michelle Slade, Gonzales Youth Council Advisor

Oceans of inspiration: "No Straw November" was created by a teen volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Shelby O'Neil. Now the Gonzales Youth Council has taken up the charge, both through "No Straw November" and with trash cleanup efforts to keep streets, storm drains and the Gonzales Slough free of debris that would otherwise end up in the ocean. "Why would a community that's so far from the ocean care about ocean plastic?" asks Michelle Slade, an advisor to the Youth Council. "It's part of our ethos—it's 'The Gonzales Way!'"

Learn more: Gonzales Youth Council

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