Don’t tell Shelby Hack one person can’t make a difference. At 12 years old, she doesn’t give any weight to the notion.
“I know I can make a difference,” the South Surrey preteen said Friday, on the shores of Crescent Beach, where she spends many hours picking up garbage that would otherwise end up polluting the ocean.
“I can get my friends involved, I can get my community involved. And then all of a sudden, you’ve got 100 people – and 100 people can do a lot.”
Hack, who is heading into Grade 7 at Ocean Cliff elementary in September, was among more than 300 young activists from around the world to gather in Vancouver for the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp. In its second year, the June 28-30 program aimed to empower “existing and emerging youth leaders to create their own campaigns to take action against ocean plastic pollution,” according to information found online at https://oceanheroes.blue
Hack learned about the opportunity through the Vancouver Aquarium, via an email that arrived as a result of her involvement with the aquarium’s Junior Biologists Club.
“I’ve always been interested in climate change and pollution and plastics, so I was really excited about this opportunity, so I applied,” Hack said.
That application process, she said, included explaining why plastic-pollution prevention and the fact the ocean “was being filled up with plastics” was important to her.
Clearly, she made a good impression.
“It was probably 24 hours after I applied that they said, ‘OK, you’re in,’” she said.
Held at UBC, the bootcamp’s focus was on reducing single-use plastic water bottles. Open to youth aged 11 to 18 years old, Hack said participants hailed from 20 countries, including Australia, Mexico, Indonesia, the U.S. and more, and attended courses ranging from media literacy and social media to microplastics versus macroplastics.
Her favourite courses were ‘Campaigning 101’ and ‘Making Your Pitch.’
“Those are honestly the most helpful and the most getting involved,” Hack explained. “It’s about putting my ideas into action. I have all these ideas about how to save the planet, but I don’t know how to use them.”
Those ideas include the focus of Hack’s pitch to the closing plenary – litterless lunches. It’s an idea she hopes to implement at her school this coming year, and reduce waste that reaches the ocean by encouraging her peers to switch to metal water bottles, paper straws, bamboo cutlery and the like.
“It all ends up outside,” she said.
“Eventually, it all goes into the storm sewers. Storm sewers are like pipelines into the ocean.”
Hack noted she learned at bootcamp that by the time she graduates high school, the weight ratio of plastic to fish in the ocean will be 1:3, and that already, “there are more pieces (of plastic) in the ocean than stars in the sky.”
Hack – who counts competitive swimming, dancing and the desire to become a teacher as among her other interests – said her passion for the environment, and her belief that she can make a difference, was only strengthened by what she learned and experienced at the bootcamp.
“I think it’s amazing that kids are so involved in this, and that they have support,” she said, referring to interest in the bootcamp shown by representatives of agencies including the United Nations.
“It’s just amazing to have so much support from such big people, for kids. Sometimes you feel like, I’m just a kid, I don’t know if I can make a difference. Then you have the UN environment telling you… you can do this.”