The amount of plastic that is polluting our oceans and waterways is staggering. Most of us feel helpless when faced with the stories of the great garbage gyres and birds starving to death because their stomachs are too full of plastic to have any space for food. But there are people out there doing great things to help this situation.
To celebrate some of these warriors of the ocean, non-profit organization Oceana conducted a search to find the Ocean Heroes of the Year. From over four hundred nominations, the field was narrowed down to six adult finalists and five junior finalists. The winners were determined by online voting and they are, in the adult category, Captain Don Voss and, in the Junior category, James Hemphill.
Here’s why these two are this year’s Ocean Heroes.
Captain Don Voss, from Fort Pierce, Florida, is the owner of the MCII, a debris collection organization that cleans up Florida’s waterways. Over the last 11 years, MCII has grown from six volunteers to over 400, who have collectively removed over 300,000 pounds of marine debris. Don started SCUBA diving as a form of therapy after he was wounded in Vietnam, and his love for the ocean motivated him to help clean up the waterways that he loved to dive in.
Don was thrilled to hear that he had won, and is excited for the future of his work.
“I’m 64 now and keep thinking I’ll go back to recreational diving, but every time I go back in the water I find myself picking up debris. People need to understand that this is an ecosystem and that every one thing affects the next thing… What I’ve learned from my grandchildren, if you want an adult to stop doing something, you tell the kids. I’m hoping is that I can get more kids involved with diving, I can get less debris in the water and the water quality improves.”
Junior Ocean Hero, James Hemphill, is 15 years old and has already been working in ocean conservation and debris removal for several years. He’s the president of Project Green Teens, a student-run environmental group that promotes conservation in Virginia Beach. They have removed 2,300 pounds of trash from Virginia waterways, and are currently working on a plastic bag ban in Virginia Beach.
James wants kids his age to know that getting involved in conservation is easy, and you can make a big difference by making some changes in your lifestyle.
“Start out with the little creeks that run into the ocean and start small where you can physically see the results. Get a group of friends that are interested and experiment. There’s no such thing as failure… it’s just a matter of how much effort you’re willing to put into it.”
Let these personal stories inspire you, and make a personal commitment to doing something to help rehabilitate our oceans and waterways—even if it’s just picking up a few pieces of plastic every time you go to the beach.
Top photo via Project Green Teens’ Flickr page.