Contributed by Manar Elkebir, Ocean Heroes Bootcamp participant
How often do you think about what your reckless daily behaviour may cause to our one and only planet? Or in other words, how often do you think about our oceans when buying plastic? Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t think about the future of the planet and the next generations, or at least that is what I noticed in my hometown Tunisia, a country in north Africa.
I am Manar Elkebir, a 17-year-old student, theater actress, young environmentalist, and climate activist. I am also 5Gyres ambassador and the founder of EcoWave, an organization aiming to beat plastic pollution in Tunisia. I was born and raised in a city called "Gabes" on the Gulf of South Tunisia, located on the coast of the Mediterranean. I have always had an intense passion for the ocean – when I was very young, I used to go to the beach with my family every day in the summer, and before going back home, my father would make us collect the trash we left and that of other people. Not until I was older did I realize that picking up after others is not the solution. Thus, I started my research on marine environmental issues, along with plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution has long threatened the world’s oceans and has cast a dark shadow over our life in Tunisia. According to the Tunisian ministry of environment, Tunisians’ use of plastic is increasing every year and has reached one billion plastic bags a year. Every summer in Gabes, we witness a massive amount of dead fish, crabs and sea turtles washed up on the shore. Even my grandparents reminisce about our beaches and life in the past. Back then, they would see dolphins, crabs, mussels, albatross and a lot of exotic marine creatures. Nowadays, we do see them, but unfortunately, pulled by the sea tide, dead on the shore and suffocating from chemicals dumped by the industries and plastic thrown in the sea.
I started my activism journey by taking part in an environmental club called Sea Rangers at my school. The club is a group of concerned students that are committed to raising awareness of environmental issues with a focus on plastic pollution and working towards the conservation and sustainability of the environment. Thanks to our teacher, Mr. Slim, we held successful activities to raise awareness. We also led a campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags by promoting the purchase of traditional Tunisian bags made of palm tree leaves as a substitute. Unlike plastic bags, these bags are 100% organic with no negative effects on the environment. There were school presentations and radio podcasts to encourage the use of plastic alternatives, and we even had a meeting with the mayor of our city to spread the word. We were instrumental in the eventually successful campaign to reduce single-use plastic in Gabes.
In February 2019, I was selected to be an international ambassador with The Green Contributor, along with a group of my friends, and had the opportunity to attend Algalita International Youth Conference in California. Being around people that devote their time and energy to defend our oceans has inflamed my passion for the ocean. After the summit, I felt inspired, concerned and willing to dive more into the ocean field.
In June 2019, I was selected to represent my country Tunisia in an international event called Ocean Heroes Bootcamp. It is a huge event that empowers existing and emerging youth leaders to create their own campaigns to take action against ocean plastic pollution, co-founded by Captain Planet Foundation, Point Break Foundation, and Lonely Whale. A flock of 300 students from over 20 different countries came to attend the three-day bootcamp to received advanced training from experts in leadership, public speaking, community engagement, social media management, and more. During the program, I felt empowered and inspired to make a change. The Ocean Heroes Bootcamp was a life-changing experience for me. It gave me a whole different perspective on conservation and offered the chance to learn new things, as well as form long-lasting relationships across the globe.
I went back home after the program and founded Eco Wave, which now has 120 Tunisian youth involved. Our mission is to expand our individual impact, educate people and change mindsets to abandon plastic and switch to alternatives. I have spoken publicly with local decision-makers in a symposium held by an international festival of environmental cinema in Tunisia, and I am looking forward to announcing my future projects that I’m hoping to implement in our community.
Age is never a hindrance to making a change. By 2030, if we continue to litter our oceans, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. We, the youth of today, may only be the 25% of the world’s population, but we are definitely 100% the future. It’s time to act! Let’s all stand together for our planet before it’s too late.