Central Elementary student committed to pollution awareness

Fourth-grader Bellace making the circuit to help save oceans and ocean life.

Central Elementary School fourth-grader Olivia Bellace, who has taken up the cause of ocean conservation and looks to inform the public about the dangers of plastics in the ocean, (center) poses with Central EA Bill Graham (left) and her mother Jaime (right) in the office of interim principal Xavier Barrios on March 27.

There’s an old saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” For Central Elementary School fourth-grader Olivia Bellace, apparently a little knowledge cannot only change opinions, but kick-start a calling. 

On March 27 at Central, The Sun caught up with the budding environmentalist, who spoke  about her newfound passion. 

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“When I was younger, I used to be completely afraid of the ocean and didn’t want to have anything to do with it. That made me more curious about it, what was down there, and what it was all about,” she said. 

“So, I researched, had books read to me, I read books on my own, and I discovered problems that oceans are facing and that it could be bad for our environment. Like pollution and overfishing and a bunch of other problems, that have all been caused by humans.” 

That research and an “aha” moment around the holidays led Olivia to focus her attention on the world’s oceans and one particular pollutant: plastics. She found that awareness of the issue was not where it could be.

“It’s not reusable plastics, because they’re much safer than single-use. Single-use plastics have toxins which can leak into your food and drink, and they can cause cancers,” she said. “Water bottles, goldfish bags, trash bags, everyday-use things. The thing is, there’s always an alternative: reusable water bottles, or reusable snack bags and produce bags, which will reduce your use of plastic.”

Inspired by New Jersey-native Sylvia Earle, who leads “Mission Blue,” which hopes to use a global coalition to raise awareness and spur action to explore and protect the world’s oceans, Olivia decided to take action. 

With Earth Day celebrations coming up later in April, Olivia will be getting the jump and taking her message to the public.

“I’m participating in the ‘Green Festival’ in Collingswood. We’re going to have a booth, and we’re participating in this thing called the ‘Students Rebuild Oceans Challenge,’ where they want you to create art out of plastics,” she related.

“You could make toys, so you don’t buy toys that would come in plastic boxes. Or create little cups you can use for food at parties, instead of buying that food in a plastic box. We’ll have a full table of plastic and other trash, and we can have all the kids (who attend) come and create, and then we’ll take photos of the art and we’ll send it to ‘Students Rebuild’ and they’ll send that to the Bezos Family Foundation which will give $2 each toward ocean conservation.”

According to Olivia’s research, approximately 1,500 pieces of plastic land in the ocean every second, and 8 million pieces of plastic find their way into oceans every year. All marine life is under assault because of this, but no place is it greater, she said, than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which exists between Hawaii and California and is twice the size of Texas.

Not quite old enough to tackle such a challenge, Olivia is thinking globally but acting locally with an eye toward the future.

“I wanted to try and organize dates where we could have big groups come in and try to pick up litter. I’m in the Environmental Club at school and we just did an inventory of our garden. In every single garden there was at least two pieces of trash. It was kind of upsetting, but I realized that we don’t clean enough,” she said. “There needs to be scheduled cleanups often. So we can keep our Earth clean.”

So, about those oceans she once had so much fear to be around: “I am much less afraid now. I love it!”

The 11th annual Green Festival will be held in downtown Collingswood on April 13 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit: http://www.collingswood.com/things_to_do/arts_and_events/green_festival.php.


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Former radio broadcaster, hockey writer, Current: main beat reporter for Haddonfield, Cherry Hill and points beyond.
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