At 11 years old, Chloe Mei Espinosa of Newport Beach has already seen some of the world's most beautiful coral reefs, including those in Hawaii, Bonaire and the Cayman Islands.
So when the Newport Coast Elementary School sixth-grader recently watched a disturbing video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged in its nostril, she was compelled to try to eliminate the use of plastic straws.
She designed and launched the website skiptheplasticstraw.com and secured pledges from nearly 390 people around the world to avoid single-use plastic straws.
"It's important because of the fish and all the animals we have in the ocean now, and it would be nice for kids in the future to be able to see them and all the colors and unique features," she said.
In 2014, Chloe Mei did her first scuba dive at Kids Sea Camp in Bonaire, an island north of Venezuela. Generally, the Professional Assn. of Diving Instructors recommends children be at least 10 so they have the physical and mental ability to stay calm underwater.
Wherever Chloe Mei dives, she loves finding eels and stingrays, she said, since their camouflage makes them challenging to see.
Newport Coast Elementary requires sixth-graders to identify a passion project they can research and act on. Chloe Mei showed the sea turtle video to her class during her presentation, teacher Megan Vick said.
"You could hear a pin drop," Vick said. "They were engaged and shocked by what came out of that turtle's nose."
Chloe Mei's father, David, a former editor at Sport Diver magazine, instilled a love of the ocean in his daughter at a young age but said he was blown away when she showed him the website she created for her Skip the Plastic Straw campaign.
Chloe Mei got some of her friends to hop on the campaign, and PADI donated stainless-steel straws to distribute to people who take her pledge.
Chloe Mei's mother, Liyen Yap, said some Newport Coast Elementary students used the new metal straws to drink their milk at lunch.
"They said it was cool that I'm trying to reduce the use of plastic straws," Chloe Mei said. "I feel really happy because that's a lot of straws that aren't being used and entering the ocean."
Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.