In the 2017-2018 school year, a student-run club on the campus of Santa Monica High School conducted a large-scale waste audit of Samohi’s campus and found that a significant portion of the school’s waste could be composted or recycled.

The following school year, the group used the data they collected to inform their peers about the importance of sorting their waste properly, the environmental issues associated with plastic pollution and offer ways for Samohi students to decrease their own personal plastic consumption and carbon footprint.

The work of Team Marine culminated this year with an 11-foot-tall art installation that helped the group secure first place in the international Bow Seat Marine Debris Creative Advocacy Competition and a prize of $5,000.

Comprised of nearly a dozen Samohi students, the local organization said Thursday their work is far from finished.

Alongside his peers — Nikita Bahadur, Anastasia Shakhidzhanov, Karina Wisen, Ansel Garcia-Langley, Isabel Homberg Reissmeier and Catherine Todd — Daniel Thurmond said, “We really wanted to do this project because we recognized that plastic bottles were the most prominent sample of trash in the waste audits that we conducted at beaches and (school).”

The team presented their audit discoveries to the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Board of Education in an effort to lobby district leaders to pass a sustainability plan that frames sustainability as a priority for the district.

The plan was successfully passed in the spring of 2019, and gave Team Marine the confidence to engage with the greater community.

Their installation, “Giant Plastic Bottle sculpture,” would make its debut at the Third Street Promenade shortly after on June 16, when hundreds of residents and tourists stopped by to discuss Team Marine’s work and the issues associated with single-use plastics and solutions. The event also allowed an opportunity for individuals to confess their “plastic sins,” and take a plastic-free oath.

The interactive structure was composed of more than 600 plastic bottles that were mainly sourced from a single classroom on the local high-school campus, according to Bahadur.

“We really wanted to do this project because we recognized in our prior studies that the accumulation of plastic bottles, specifically, were the most prominent samples of trash in waste audits that we conducted at beaches,” Thurmond said. “So, we decided to begin advocating to start decreasing the amount of plastic bottles that end up in our oceans.”

Shakhidzhanov, a senior at Samohi, added the group’s efforts aligned with two legislative measures that sought to regulate single-use packaging and cigarette filters.

“We wanted to be as creative as possible to catch people’s eyes,” said Homberg Reissmeier, “because sometimes people will ignore getting educated, but if they see it… then everyone is going to be shocked and curious and want to learn something interactive and engaging.”

“So instead of just seeing data on a page, people can actually put the amount of plastic we use into perspective,” Wisen said, “which hopefully helps them realize how much plastic we’re actually consuming as a society.”

If the size of the installation and factoids from Team Marine weren’t enough to convince visitors of the danger, visitors had the opportunity to see footage of the local Pico Kenter storm drain during the first flush.

“There was footage from the storm drain so you could see all of the plastic being washed into the ocean,” Shakhidzhanov said, while group members described the faces of children who stopped in to see the installation.

“Once people came over and got immersed in the display and information, they really started catching on to the cause,” Thurmond said.

“It certainly made the dumpster-diving we did to get the bottles worth it,” according to Garcia-Langley.

The team added they were disappointed to learn their efforts weren’t enough to impact the passage of Assembly Bill 1080 and Senate Bill 424, which both failed to receive Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature this legislative session; however, the team said they will continue to lobbying their cause using the prize money from the Bow Seat competition.

Samohi’s Team Marine said they intend to donate 14% of their prize to their various non-profit partners, which include, among others, the Surfrider Foundation, Heal the Bay and Climate Action Santa Monica.

“We also hope that other kids and youth are inspired by what we do and are inspired to take their own actions,” Shakhidzhanov said. They may feel that what they’re doing might seem small, but they’re making a change and that’s what we need.”

Team Marine members:

  • Nikita Bahadur
  • Lilly Chertock
  • Jay Cho
  • Ansel Garcia-Langley
  • Isabel Homberg Reissmeier
  • Anastasia Shakhidzhanova
  • Siri Storstein-Norgaard
  • Kian Taheri
  • Daniel Thurmond
  • Catherine Todd
  • Karina Wisen

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