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After attending the Youth Summit for the UN Ocean Decade 2020 (YS2020UNOD) my perspective changed because I never really had considered or thought about Indigenous culture and their major contributions to the field of science and innovation. I really enjoyed learning from Olilai’s comprehensive explanation of the Indigenous culture in Palau and would love to learn more too!

As a youth leader, attending Heirs To Our Ocean’s YS2020UNOD was my most enjoyable online conference and by far the most international connections I’ve made!

Olilai presents at H2OO’s Youth Summit for the UN Ocean Decade 2020.
Participants at H2OO’s Youth Summit for the UN Ocean Decade 2020.

Attending SEAL 2019 was really hard, and I did learn a lot of new things.

I made new friends who are passionate about saving OUR ONLY PLANET.

Being at SEAL 2019 was an experience I will never forget. I learned how to be an effective leader, a brother, and built confidence.

I created an Heirs To Our Oceans chapter after returning to my school, Xavier in Chuuk (in the Federated States of Micronesia). My friends have joined me and we having gained our principal’s approval,  we will be doing a lot of activities that will help transform students into leaders.

Ranton presents at SEAL 2019.

For my team’s SEAL 2020 film, I presented the topic of “Lack of educational opportunities offered to Latinx students” which was a topic that every team member felt was significant to our generation. In spite of the fact that our experiences were dissimilar, we all agreed that the educational system in the US did not lay out adequate information for students to prepare for circumstances like pandemics, wildfires, racial injustices, and environmental issues. For example, today we still learn from history textbooks that were written decades ago, resulting in outdated, unreliable, and flawed information and we are taught from the perspective of the white man who conquered the land, rather than learning about the experiences of the people who had already established communities and indigenous lifestyles. 

It was not until high school that I was exposed to STEM activities and learned about the STEM gap (referring to the lack of women in STEM fields.) Similarly, it was not until I began doing research, about two and a half years ago, that I learned about ecological concerns (water pollution, global warming, deforestation, the green gap, soil erosion, etc.) These issues are important for all students across the world to understand, yet they are not implemented into academic curriculums. These were all issues we wished would’ve been taught to us, but were not. To learn about these topics, we had to individually and collectively seek out opportunities and knowledge.

Gen Z recognizes the need to rethink this education system. If more than one story is being told, students may have a greater understanding of what needs to be done and changed, to keep history from repeating itself.  

After learning about these issues, I had to ask myself: 

Where do I see these issues happening? 
What issues are affecting my city? 
What can I do to help solve them? 
What is the city doing for our community? 
Is the city informing community members about these issues?  

As I thought about possible answers to those questions, I realized I did not have any solid answers. I was not prepared to answer those questions because I had no clue.  

The US education system failed me, by not providing the tools, knowledge, resources, and information I needed to take action. I wanted to do something, I wanted to change the world, but I did not know where to begin. 

SEAL 2020 ended up being exactly what I needed to take action. My team and I worked endlessly on a film that voiced our experiences, and what we think is integral to create change and take action.

SEAL 2020 participants on last meeting together.

I learned a lot about the ocean and how it’s dying because of human activity. I learned that some sunscreen causes coral to die. I learned that we don’t always need a plastic bag — I know because I went a day without plastic. I also learned how to speak in front of a crowd, but most importantly I learned how to protect our oceans.

I am inspired to go out and make big change for my generation.

I am inspired to not use plastic.

I am inspired to teach my community the things I learned from Heirs To Our Oceans.

I am inspired to make our world a better place.

JoJo at SEAL 2019.

My generation is now on its way! This experience has been amazing, it made me connect more to nature and people.

We became one big protecting family.

And I do believe that despite where we come from, we are a connected group now working towards making a change TOGETHER instead of against each other.

Participants at final presentation at SEAL 2018.

Hi, my name is Uldekel Adora Ililau. I am a proud Palauan member of Heirs to Our Oceans.

I was given the opportunity to join SEAL 2018 that impacted my life forever. I made new lifelong friends and learned from others about what they have done in their communities to try to solve our ocean’s challenges. During our studies at camp, I  learned so much about the ocean, how humans are impacting our fragile ecosystems, and how we youth can solve this problem. I saw, experienced and then understood the many different reasons why and how our ocean was deeply impacted by all of us.

The camp was held at Melekeok State, one of the many beautiful states in Palau. Joining Heirs To Our Oceans got me to look at our ocean and our planet with a much, much clearer perspective. It has taught me that I myself and all Heirs To Our Oceans members here in Palau must work together. We need to make our mark so we can reach our goal to save our oceans, not only for us but for our future. During camp I came to understand that I was partly responsible for the poor health of our ocean.

I realize that stubbornness and poor decisions must stop and we have to act now and save the ocean before it’s too late. I learned there are many different alternatives that could benefit  both us and the environment.

The ocean is depending on us to keep it from dying.  As an islander, I definitely don’t want any harm to our oceans, the ocean is our life and without it our culture, customs, and our way of life will surely die.

If we take hands together and make a difference it will benefit generations to come.

Participants in workshop at SEAL 2018.

Climate change is one of the most significant issues we are facing today. Plastic, a material that fills our daily lives, is contributing to this crisis. Many people are aware of the numerous negative ways in which plastic is impacting our oceans. But plastics have another hidden threat: climate change. In this way, plastics are a human health crisis and a human rights crisis.  Four major petrochemical plant fires occurred in Texas this year. Fires like these have a direct negative human health impact on the vulnerable communities who live in the areas.

How are plastics contributing to the climate crisis? Plastics are made from fossil fuels and contribute to climate change from cradle to grave. Extracting fossil fuels from the earth and transporting them releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The refining and manufacturing process is also full of emissions that contribute to the climate crisis youth are inheriting. Plastic production is predicted to go up, and with it, so will emissions released into our atmosphere and into our planet’s water system. Plastics add to the climate crisis and directly impact human health throughout their existence.  We Heirs are always working to connect the dots between issues like plastics and the climate crisis including the impact upon communities most heavily impacted by anthropogenic impacts.

We recognize that one of the most crucial solutions to the climate crisis is educating and empowering all youth. Heirs learn in a project-based way. We are out in the field talking with scientists, leading and participating in workshops, and practicing thinking critically about what we learn. With this knowledge, we can engage in shared learning with other youth, inspire others to learn about impacts on their ocean and waterways, think critically, and work towards real-world solutions for the world we are inheriting.

Cambria presents to students about the intersectional impacts of the petrochemical industry.

Olilai Chilton, head of H2OO Palau, organized an opportunity for youth to learn in their beautiful outdoor laboratory! 

H2OO Palau’s UEL Day was a success!  Uel means turtle in the Palauan language, and UEL stands also as an acronym for Underwater Excursion Learning. 

Sixty-four high school and elementary school students in Palau spent a day in Palau’s waters participating in three hands-on learning activities where they were able to explore and observe the unique marine ecosystems. Youth snorkeled at Jellyfish Lake with Coral Reef Research Foundation and helped scientists collect data, they snorkeled at Ulong Channel and visited Biota to learn about sustainable coral and fish farming, and they paddled at Nikko Bay with Palau Paddling learning about the geology and ecology around the bay and assessing the impact of war on the natural environment.

Olilai, Age 20, Palau
Elementary school students learn about corals at H2OO Palau’s UEL Day.

Despite the challenges of 2020, the Berkeley Heirs have accomplished a lot! January 1, 2020, marked the start of the Disposable Free Dining Ordinance in Berkeley. We helped pass this groundbreaking law by collecting signatures and speaking at press conferences and city council meetings beginning in 2018. The all-encompassing law (as it includes all cutlery, containers, bags, and straws) prevents single-use plastic disposables from being given out by restaurants and other businesses in the first place.

For 2020, we decided to study the rollout of the new law; we wanted to better understand how the citizens of Berkeley would react to this law so we divided the city into four quadrants and interviewed random people to find out what they thought. We conducted interviews before the law went into effect and planned to expand our interviews of people after. Unfortunately, Covid-19 hit, the use of plastic disposables skyrocketed and human interaction became limited.

As we were working on our project (August 2019- February 2020) called Speaking Up For a Disposable Free Berkeley, we decided to enter it into the Algalita Plastic Pollution Youth Summit and National Geographic Geo Challenge. We succeeded in being chosen for both! In early March, we learned that our project Speaking Up For a Disposable Free Berkeley was chosen as a semifinalist to compete in National Geographic’s Geo Challenge for Tackling Plastic Pollution at the regional level competition. Our project included researching, supporting, and educating the public about Berkeley’s Disposable Free Dining Ordnance and the pilot reusable cup program, Vessel. Sadly due to Covid-19 the competition had to be cancelled. We are very proud of our accomplishment of advancing from 6,000 teams to the top 250 and definitely had our eyes set on winning at the finals in Washington DC. We look forward to the day when we can finally return to the streets of Berkeley and continue to raise awareness in our community.  

Once the pandemic hit in March of 2020, our Chapter Advisor Jacqueline Omania organized Heirs coming together online in a group called Global Heirs welcoming youth from around the world. As difficult as the pandemic is, it is beautiful to have this virtual connection and to keep learning and growing together.

H2OO Berkeley Chapter Advisor, Jackie, with Heirs who helped pass the Disposable Free Dining Ordinance.

H2OO youth leaders hosted two sessions in the Environmental Scouts’ Environmental Change-Maker Series which featured great organizations such as The Whale Sanctuary Project, 5 Gyres, Big Life Foundation, and Kids Against Plastic. 

In PART 1, Heirs Latifah and Rita from Uganda and Sarah from the US discussed food insecurity issues faced by their global communities such as food deserts and the unpredictable nature of farming in the changing climate. They discussed the root cause of the issues and what they have decided to do about it! Watch Part 1.

In PART 2, a panel of four Heirs, Dominion from Nigeria, Seth & Dakota from the U.S., and Elly from Kenya, lead discussions on the water crisis and the various forms of pollution that is causing a lack of clean and safe drinking water for communities across the globe. Elly concluded by discussing the need for everyone to be included in the conversation and solutions around water insecurity. Watch Part 2.

“Being a part of opportunities to share what youth here on the frontlines of the climate crisis are living with every day with regards to lack of access to clean water has been really meaningful as now more people can understand that action must be taken now. It is a life and death matter for many of us, which we shared in our panel. Access to clean water is a human right but to date not enough action is happening to prevent water contamination and increase water access. I am grateful to H2OO for sharing the opportunity and supporting us panelists with presentation skills to effectively mobilize communities to action.”

Elly, Age 17, Kenya
Elly, Dakota, Dominion and Seth present on Environmental Changemakers Series panel.

The H2OO RAISE Initiative has been very busy this year making big splashes with policy! In February, we spoke with Emily Woodward from U.C. Davis’s Russel Ranch and other experts about sustainable methods of fertilization to prepare to talk to legislators about our big ideas — regulating significantly the amount of fertilizers used in California to prevent land-sea pollution and harmful algal blooms from affecting our coastal waters, marine life and drinking water. In the coming year, the warming waters of the climate crisis are only making matters worse.

March was a busy month. To start, we met with Jackie Speier, our national Representative, about the impact of chemical fertilizers on marine ecosystems and human health. She said that we were ‘sounding the alarm’ about this important and often overlooked issue. A couple of weeks later, we participated in Oceans Day at our State Capitol where we created an infographic about the issue to share with seven State Assembly Members and Senators as we discussed our Initiative and how they can support it. All of them were incredibly receptive to the idea. Next, we attended the Ocean Protection Council’s MPA workshop where we learned more about how MPAs could include regulations controlling water quality and chemical fertilizer runoff. Additionally, we connected with Matthew Dumlao, the Environmental Policy Director for the Lieutenant Governor’s office, and Michael Esgro, a leading member of the OPC’s MPA team.

Dakota presents at Soil not Oil 2019.

We gave public comment on the OPC’s 5-year strategic plan after reviewing it, asking for more immediate action and incorporation of policies protecting against nutrient pollution at the source.  To conclude our year we advocated around this issue. Heir Shay presented to the San Mateo County Board about the impacts of chemical fertilizers in her community of Pescadero. Heir Dakota presented at the Soil not Oil conference in San Francisco about the issue of chemical fertilizer use and the goals of the Initiative. As the Initiative builds steam, Heirs from our Pescadero chapter have become more involved, even taking leadership roles in this Initiative. Moving into the next year, we will be filing an amicus brief in support of the Eastern San Joaquin agricultural order, petitioned by Steve Shimek of The Otter Project. We’re looking forward to supporting this order and further driving our government to acknowledge the severity of the Harmful Algal Blooms in our waterways.

I have been a member of Heirs To Our Oceans for two years, and over the years I have been able to do things that are amazing. I went to California with sponsorship from H2OO to participate in Algalita’s Plastic Ocean Pollution Solutions International Youth Summit (POPS).  I got to meet new people and learn about different ways that I can help solve the plastic pollution problem for the betterment of future generations. It was very inspiring to see that so many people are putting in the effort to solve this worldwide problem.

Kids of my age and even younger stepped up and spoke passionately about the importance of solving the problem of plastic pollution. It greatly inspired me to return to Palau, my home, and push to get rid of the plastic pollution issue.

Being an Heir has allowed me to do such great things as being a leader and inspiring others to make change.

Laden, Olilai and Carlos present at Algalita’s POPS 2018.