Waves of Change
Delaney Reynolds, still a university student, is taking action to fight aquatic pollutants with Miami Sea Rise.
By Erica Commisso.
“I believe that our world’s climate change crisis is the biggest issue that my generation will ever face, and sea level rise is, of course, a direct by-product of our warming climate from rising temperatures that are melting the world’s ice and causing oceans to rise,” Delaney Reynolds says. “Sea rise is, however, not an issue that impacts only coastal communities such as South Florida but ultimately will impact entire nations and every aspect of our society.”
When Reynolds refers to her generation, she means the wave of youth activists that have swept the nation to protest injustices and advocate for the environment. Reynolds, a university student at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, is leading the charge to undo the damage done to the oceans. The 18-year old Floridian grew up splitting her time between Miami’s urban landscape and No Name Key, a small, one thousand acre island in the Florida Keys that has about forty solar powered homes and array of plant and animal life. “I’ve grown up surrounded by nature, by water, in one of the most beautiful places on our planet and I fell in love with those things at an early age,” she says. So, she founded The Sink or Swim Project to combat the climate change crisis. It aims to inform people and partner with political leaders and activists to create funding and laws to mitigate the existing issues.
Reynolds has hosted a TEDx Talk, won the inaugural National Geographic Teen Service award, serves on the Youth Leadership Council of EarthEcho International, is an Ambassador for Dream In Green, and is a member of the CLEO Institute's Leadership Circle. She’s addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City, and has appeared on television with actor Jack Black, explorer Philippe Cousteau, and Vice President Al Gore to highlight the dangers of climate change. And, padding an already impressive resume, she’s also a published author.
Having already published three children’s books, her fourth, geared towards young adults, focuses on climate change and sea level rise from the perspective of scientists, political leaders, government officials and members of society. “In fact it was researching for those books that I initially learned about climate change and the threat it posed to our society,” she says. “The more I learned, the more experts I spoke with, the more I was motivated to want to do something about climate change and sea level rise.”
Through The Sink or Swim Project and Miami Sea Rise, Reynolds and her peers are working to combat coral reef bleaching and the inevitable aftermath of a rising sea level, helped along by society’s reliance on fossil fuel. “Unless we shift soon from a fossil fuel economy to a sustainable one, eventually people won’t even be able to live in coastal areas anymore and will be forced to move. In Miami-Dade County alone, there could be an estimated two point five million climate refugees,” Reynolds explains. “In places like Bangladesh in India the figure could be as much as fifty million people being displaced because rising seas will prevent them from living where they and their families have resided for generations. All told, hundreds of millions of people are at risk of being displaced because of sea level rise. It’s imperative that we work together and begin to shift our society away from a fossil fuel based economy towards a sustainable energy economy so that we can begin to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are destroying our planet.”
“When it comes to aquatic life, we should keep in mind that carbon dioxide does not just go ‘up’ into our atmosphere but also ‘down’ into our oceans and other bodies or water. In fact, about forty percent of carbon dioxide pollution goes into our world’s oceans, and it’s killing them. Yet, since most people don’t get to see what’s happening underwater, the damage is often overlooked yet it is devastating,” Reynolds adds. “Coral bleaching, for example, could be seen as the underwater equivalent of the ‘canary in a coal mine,’ as it visually illustrates one important impact of global warming, in this case to our ocean’s coral reefs. While usually a natural phenomenon in small doses, mass coral bleaching of the type that has begun happening all over our planet, stresses coral beyond their breaking (or recovery) point, causing them to expel more of their symbiotic algae than typically necessary or healthy.”
Reynolds believes that we have the power to undo the damage done to the coral reef and slow down the effects of sea rise. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we shift to sustainable energy and away from the use of fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide. Mankind can fix much of the problem, but we need to stop protecting the use of polluting products such as coal and gasoline and move to sustainable energy solutions before it’s too late. I believe we can solve this problem and have hope that it’s possible, but we need to move quickly and need to have leaders committed to changing our society in important and impactful ways.”
With an impressive set of accomplishments and a seemingly endless breadth of knowledge, it’s hard to see Delaney Reynolds as a typical teenager. But, she thinks youths like her are becoming increasingly common as awareness increases. “Whether the topic is climate change, gun rights, equality, or anything else, what’s clear is that today’s youth, what I call Generation Delta, for change, are empowered with communication devices and an availability of information that is unprecedented in the history of our world.”