Top of the World Elementary students lack uniforms, but they recently returned to campus clad in unison, in “Change the Life of a Seal” t-shirts, to pack the multi-purpose room with 150 family and guests for Ocean Awareness Family Night.
The special event served as a culmination of an initiative by fifth-grade teacher Teryl Campbell, who wanted to enlist students in a project that would make a difference in the world. After a field trip to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Canyon, students were inspired to support the rescue center’s fundraiser for schools, Save the Life of a Seal.
“I knew it was bad but it can be so bad that there are giant gyres twice the size of Texas floating in the middle of the ocean; it all adds up,” 10-year-old Jude Young said in an interview, referring to a trash patch trapped by ocean currents. “Littering needs to stop. If the ocean dies, we will die.”
The student Ocean Awareness Club scheduled beach clean-up days once a month. Members encouraged their peers to spread the word about the damage plastics and litter wreak on sea life and the planet.
“We can help, even if it’s just picking up three pieces of trash on the beach,” said student Chase Benson, during his “TED Talk” and a student skit. “Hey, you can tell a friend and that friend will tell their friend and naturally it will spread across the world if we unite. I need you and the sea creatures need you.”
Currently, 46 sea mammals are undergoing rehabilitation at the rescue center. Sea lions eat up to three pounds of fish per day, at a cost of $1 per pound to the center, said Ramiro Barbuzano, the center’s education coordinator.
The center is seeking emergency funding because of a recent influx of sea lions that show signs of domoic acid poisoning. An algae-produced neurological toxin accumulates in sardines and anchovies, consumed by sea lions. Of the 14 rescues, seven have died from the poisoning, said Krysta Higuchi, a center spokeswoman. Similar conditions created a similar influx in April 2013.
The Ocean Awareness Club continues to meet, said Campbell. A speaker from the Surfrider Foundation will address students, who will also get the chance to observe a release of a revived patient by the center in May.
“I have a feeling it’s only just begun,” said Campbell of her student’s advocacy for recycling.
The family event Thursday, April 6, included a raffle, baked goods and games, which raised $2,700 for the center. Campbell was to present the student contributions this week to the center to help underwrite food, water and medicine necessary to rehabilitate rescued marine mammals.