Mary Katherine, a 2019 National Gold Award Girl Scout, tells us how she’s saving the world.
In elementary school, I earned my Girl Scout Bronze Award by planting a butterfly garden. When I got a little older, I earned my Girl Scout Silver Award by bringing an art program to struggling refugees. But when it was time for me to go for my Girl Scout Gold Award, there was something even bigger that affects us all that I had to focus on.
People talk about damage to our environment and argue about who’s to blame, but the thing is, we don’t have time for all that. The earth is in danger, and that means all of us are in danger. It’s serious business, but the problem can seem overwhelming.
That’s why I founded Project Reeflove, an awareness and educational campaign that teaches kids one super simple and easy way we can all help protect coral reefs, which are essentially the rainforests of the sea.
Lots of incredible creatures, from sea turtles to sharks to star fish, depend on coral for survival, plus the reefs help prevent beach erosion. Coral is really important—but the chemical sunscreens a lot of people wear are essentially poisoning it and threatening the whole ecosystem. Saving coral can seem like a huge undertaking, but once you know how big a difference something simple like switching to a mineral sunscreen or wearing a rash guard instead of using chemical SPF makes, you realize it’s not so hard after all.
The first step, I knew, had to be education—but people could just throw away a flier or not look at it, and what good would that do? So I went to the source: kids. From my own experience growing up in Girl Scouts, I know there’s nothing stronger than the passion of young people. Plus, if you get a little kid excited about saving the environment, you can bet their parents, grandparents, teachers, and anyone else in earshot is going to hear about it, too!
So far, the Project Reeflove message has directly reached more than 11,000 people—and I’ve been excited to see lawmakers take action to do their part, too. Hawaii just outlawed sunscreens that are toxic to our reefs, and I’m hoping other states will follow its lead.
I had no idea I could be this impactful, but the support system within Girl Scouts gave me the motivation and structure I needed to make my work successful. It’s just proof that girls are powerful, intelligent, and driven. When you respect that and support them, they can do amazing things.