Champion of a plastic-free ocean earns Paul Walker Youth Award

We’ve proudly shared the story of Shelby O’Neil, a Teen Conservation Leader at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who’s been making a huge different in the campaign to reduce ocean plastic pollution.

Shelby O’Neil receives the Paul Walker Youth Award from Brandon Birtell of the Paul Walker Foundation and Aquarium Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Vernon.

She’s been recognized many times for her work, including as a guest speaker at Dreamforce and at Ocean Heroes panel during the Global Climate Action Summit. She’s one of the first class of Ocean Heroes recognized by the Aquarium, and earned a Girl Scout Gold Award for her work to raise awareness about the problem of single-use plastic – notably plastic straws.

Now 17 and a senior at San Benito High School, she’s the 2018 recipient of the Paul Walker Youth Award, presented to young people who share the late actor’s love of the ocean and his commitment to take an active role in safeguarding ocean health. Through the Paul Walker Foundation created by Paul’s daughter Meadow, Shelby will receive a college scholarship to support her studies, so she can contribute in new ways to ocean and conservation initiatives.

State Sen. Majority Leader Bill Monning presented a resolution of appreciation to Shelby O’Neil

During award ceremonies at the Aquarium, Shelby was also recognized with a resolution from the California State Senate, which was presented by State Sen. Majority Leader Bill Monning.

“The issue of single-use plastics is much bigger than one person, and to be successful, it takes an ocean of people spreading the message,” Shelby says. “ I was fortunate to have the support of Ocean Elders, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Last Plastic Straw, the California Coastal Commission, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Lonely Whale, Heal the Bay, Surfrider, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from around the world and many more organizations and people. It’s been an incredible journey, and there is still much more awareness needed.”

The confidence she developed through participating in Aquarium teen programs propelled Shelby O’Neil to the stage at the 2017 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

Beyond awareness, Shelby is contributing to action – from championing #NoStrawNovember, which will be officially marked in California this year, to gaining corporate commitments from Alaska Airlines, Farmer Brothers Coffee and Dignity Health hospitals, among other businesses.

Mary Ellen Leciejewski, vice president of corporate responsibility for the 39-hospital group, told the Washington Post that Shelby made the difference in the decision to reduce plastic straws, stirrers and cup lids.

“The fact that a (teenage) girl had taken the action to write the CEO” was a powerful incentive, Leciejewski told the Post. “Maybe it was that it was a single person, one lone voice.”

Learn more about the issue of ocean plastic pollution and how you can make a difference.



One thought on “Champion of a plastic-free ocean earns Paul Walker Youth Award”

  1. My name is Preston Patterson and I have a passion for the ocean and sea life and what Paul walker did was the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen and I wanna do the same to help ocean life and I wanna deticate my life to ocean biology and marine biology just like Paul.


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