Updated: Nov 14, 2021
We interviewed high school senior and sustainability advocate Gabe O’Brien about his journey establishing Beachlex: a nonprofit advocating for ocean and marine life conservation. Learn more below!
Gabe O’Brien has been passionate about sustainability for as long as he can remember. In his home state of Massachusetts, he’s involved in a plethora of environmentally-focused activities, from STEM club to independent research. Last year, at his school science fair, he even investigated the role organic food can have on addressing the hunger crisis. But his perhaps largest involvement is the product of an idea that came to him overnight last summer, just before his family’s annual vacation to Cape Cod: an Instagram account that documented marine life on the coast, while educating the general public about the importance of ocean conservation.
Beachlex was born less than a day later, when Gabe created the account and formed an executive board with two friends. That September, he put out applications for general team members, and from there, Beachlex was thrust into a stream of upwards growth. Today, with over seventy-five active members across twelve countries, and with initiatives spanning from beach cleanups to fundraising for the Ocean Conservancy; it’s safe to say that they are making waves in the aquatic world.
Gabe says he’s most proud of Beachlex’s extensive blog, which–– in addition to sharing a variety of ocean content from their international team–– interviews activists across the world about their experiences in ocean conservation. TikTok conservationist Kate Dolbier discussed plastic pollution with them; the Atlantic Shark Conservancy shared about their latest shark-tagging technology; and the Ocean Conservancy talked about their unique ocean sustainability programs.
“[The articles] are my favorite thing we do. We’ve made a lot of great connections with different ocean conservation activists. It’s great to learn about the work of these different people and how they’re helping the environment–– because it’s very relevant to us, and it helps educate us,” he says. “If more people can be educated and change their habits and live a more sustainable lifestyle, hopefully things can start to be reversed.”
But being an activist isn’t always easy. When Beachlex’s partner organization, Teens for Sharks–– a shark conservation group in Connecticut–– received pushback from a shark-fishing company in the area, Beachlex joined them in advocating for the illegal marine hunts to end. Though there was a fear that the company would retaliate, Gabe notes that, sometimes, activists have to take risks to make true change. After all, Beachlex began with a single spark of passion, not knowing where it would lead: and today, with thousands of followers on a rapidly-growing social media page, they’ve established a global presence for themselves.
Looking back on his experiences with activism, Gabe is a firm believer that true change really can begin with an overnight idea.
“If you have an idea for a project, jump right into it,” he advises young change-makers. “Start right away. You don’t know where it will end up, so if you feel passionate about something, [go for it] and don’t look back.”
Looking forward, he’s excited to see how Beachlex continues to grow. Whether the future means expanding their beach clean-ups beyond the three they’ve already done or coming out with a new podcast to complement their blog series, though, he knows one thing for sure: His role in the ocean conservancy world is only just beginning.
Beachlex is always looking for new members! Apply to join the team as a writer, ambassador, photographer, or social media lead–– applications are now open on their website, linktr.ee/beachlex. Learn more about the organization by following them on Instagram, @beach.lex, or emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.