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Teenage Waste Fans, Part One: Santa Monica’s Team Marine

This is part six of Stiv Wilson's tour to better understand how plastic ends up in the ocean. Read the previous installments here.

Traveling 4,000 miles to look at plastic garbage on the beach everywhere can be hard on the senses. Yeah, the problem is really, really bad. It’s overwhelming and somewhere right now an albatross is dying because someone littered a plastic bottle cap or a plastic lighter. How does one find some hope, especially when the exponent on ocean trash is growing? Answer: Learn from our children.

Jacob Hassett, Raphael Mawrence, Vallerie Whacker, and Kou Collins are some of the already distinguished members of the Team Marine movement. Team marine is a grassroots, student-run organization that looks at ocean issues at their core and offers solutions to battle the problem. Their main initiative focuses on plastic pollution and the group does outreach, education, cleanup, new media presentations, and even lobbies for better policy. They’ve developed a mantra: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Research, Re-educate, Reinvest, Refuel, Regrow, and Rethink. Commenting on the inadequacy of the three R model, Hasset says, “It’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle on steroids and meant to look at every aspect of the problem.”

I met Team Marine at their home beach in Santa Monica while conducting a beach cleanup. What I found was inspiring: These kids actually wanted to be here, it wasn’t just some after school requirement. They don’t just pick up trash, they investigate and quantify it to better understand what kinds of plastic garbage are most prevalent—data which is useful when looking at what kinds of consumer products have the greatest impact on our oceans and how best to target pollution sources in campaigns. As we sit on a life guard stand after the cleanup, I ask the four about their fears and what they perceive to be the problem. Each kid enumerated valid concerns about consumer habits, corporate greed, and the usual laundry list of societal ills, but what resounded was a feeling of being confounded. They’re not naïve, but they simply can’t understand why so many people behave the way they do, especially when confronted with the ill that behavior causes. This point, I think, is where many activists lose their ambition. In the real world, logic and truth don’t necessarily win. The kids understand this, but they don’t see the future with cynical eyes; they see the future as one of their own making. "Eventually we will take over,” Whacker says with Obama-like confidence.

I believe them already—the body of work Team Marine has created is impressive, rivaling many well funded nonprofits even though their organization is entirely student-based. Mawrence, with the help of his teammates, created a 14-minute film (called "The 10 R’s") that’s better than much of the work that more established groups use for their outreach and education. Besides beach cleanups and film making, Collins tells me that they develop course curriculum for other schools and train other students on the issue. Hassett is proud of their accomplishments thus far, “We have been written up in over 150 newspapers, have been on Nickelodeon, and have ultimately reached nine million people.” Not bad for a bunch of kids, most of whom can’t even vote yet. Check out Team Marine’s film and a whole list of accolades at their website,

Stiv Wilson is a freelance writer/photographer and the communications director for the Project. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Next, Teenage WasteFans Part two: LA's Environmental Charter School.

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