People always ask Hannah Testa how she got February 15, 2017, declared as Plastic Pollution Awareness Day in the state of Georgia. After all, she is just 15 years old. In short, it is due to her passion and hard work, but we wanted to share her full story.
When Hannah was four, she realized our actions today impact the world long after. She noticed trends in her family’s behavior that were not apparent in others, such as using reusable bags. Hannah was upset that others were not taking the steps to protect the world around them and felt called to educate others about their actions.
In elementary school, Hannah presented to classmates on topics such as organic gardening, and recycling. Education became an outlet for Hannah to share her passions with her peers. As she became older, her exposure to more complex issues grew. She began to raise money and awareness for various animal causes. Hannah began to speak at protests and rallies, leading fundraisers, and producing educational videos to help spread awareness of issues facing the animals she so loved. This was also a time when she began to reach out to politicians and her local government by collecting petitions and relaying them to government officials.
Hannah then began to realize a central issue that wildlife faced which became an increasing desire of hers to fix, plastic pollution. She saw firsthand the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean and participated in beach cleanups further reinforcing her passion for the issue. Hannah found it difficult to allow the issue to go unseen by others. Her work began shortly after, first starting with what she knew how to do best, educating others. Hannah completed extensive research about plastic pollution and developed partnerships with several environmental organizations. She started delivering presentations to educate whoever would listen. However, she wanted to do more.
New targets included businesses, primarily restaurants to help them reduce their plastic use. Hannah had reached thousands of people at this point in her career, however, her thirst wasn’t quenched, she felt the need to do more. She began networking with a local senator, educating him about plastic pollution and how he could impact policy in a positive manner to reduce plastic pollution. Together the two wrote a resolution to proclaim February 15, 2017, as Plastic Pollution Awareness Day in Georgia. She worked with almost 100 environmental organizations as well as local and state media to spread the word about avoiding single-use, disposable plastic products such as plastic bottles, straws, and bags. The event was a major eco-success! Currently, Hannah is working to make February 15th an annual event to promote the end of plastic pollution not only in Georgia but around the nation as well. Her partnership with the 5 Gyres Institute is helping to bring this goal to fruition.
When asked what advice Hannah would give to fellow youth she encourages her peers to educate themselves on environmental matters which interest them, to discuss those issues with their peers, and share potential solutions so others can partake in positive environmental change. If everyone can join forces and use the power of our collective voice, we can force change. Together we can create a more positive future for the state of our planet.
My name is Dave Bader and I am the Director of Education at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach California.
A few years ago I was invited along with several others to participate in a conversation about vaquita by Bill Street, Corporate Curator of Conservation and Education at Sea World. The Aquarium of the Pacific has an exhibit about vaquita and I have worked with Bill in the past. He was actually my first boss at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Our goal was to see if we could come up with a way to save some number of vaquita within the following 6 months. At this time there was estimated to be less than 100 vaquita left in the wild. That meeting was eye opening and, to be honest incredibly frustrating, but it set me on a path to work for vaquita conservation efforts. It was at about this same time that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums was establishing its Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program and I signed on as Coordinator for Public Engagement for the vaquita.
Vaquita Conservation issues are extremely complex. It seems like every good idea evaporates minutes after you think it up because of some confounding problem. Vaquita suffer from gillnets set for fish and shrimp. Today only illegal gillnet fishing for totoaba, a large fish, persists in the range of the vaquita and it is driving them towards extinction. Totoaba swim bladders are dried and sold in China for up to $100,000 per kilogram. This illegal trade puts vaquita into the same conversations as illegal ivory and rhino horn. Illegal wildlife trafficking is a global problem with no simple solutions and unfortunately the vaquita is a part of this much larger story.
Prior to the illegal totoaba fishery, legal fishing for shrimp, exported to the United States was complicit in the decline of vaquita population as well. US consumers were largely not aware that the shrimp they were eating may have played a role in helping a species to go extinct. The issue of sustainable seafood therefore also plays a part in the story of the vaquita.
What I have learned most about however is that we, the greater conservation community, have not paid enough attention to the local communities of people that are entangled in the conservation story along with the vaquita. Regulations to protect vaquita have hurt the communities of the upper gulf and little has been done effectively to find alternatives to harmful fishing practices. The communities of the upper gulf are essential to the long term survival of the vaquita and the totoaba. Conservation efforts must include these communities who have very little opportunity outside of fishing. We must care as much about the people as we do about the vaquita because we all want the same thing, to live a prosperous life for our families and to conserve the natural heritage of the place we live.
If we are to save the vaquita from extinction it will be because we have found a way to keep at bay the global pressures causing depletion of natural resources in one small area of the world. We will have used conservation science to conserve a species and social science to support a community. We will also have worked as a global community, not to point fingers and cast blame, but to double down on our resolve to end extinction together.
On May 19th a new social media challenge was initiated. Various members of the Sea World Busch Gardens Youth Advisory Council posted videos of them being pied in the face for a very special purpose, to raise awareness about the vaquita and promote their conservation. The challenge quickly caught on with more noticeable participants such as the Texas State Aquarium, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the Florida Aquarium. With a current estimated reach of 300,000 viewers, the desire to be pied is spreading like a giant tidal wave. To learn more about the challenge visit the pied for a porpoise page!