As part of a yearlong class project on the subject of environmental threats to sea turtles, the students — members of Jessica Cambell and Nate Rockhold's class at Mount Madonna School in Watsonville — cited the proliferation of plastic bags in waterways and oceans as a major threat to the turtles.
Cambell said that the students' project includes beach cleanups, civic service, and presenting research to representatives of state and local governments.
As part of the project, the class is also raising funds for impoverished Indonesian children to attend conservation camp, where they will learn ways to protect endangered turtles rather than hunt them.
“The reason we started this is to empower students, to teach them to be active in the world,” she said.
In December, the class contacted Jim Reed, mayor of Scotts Valley — the last remaining municipality in Santa Cruz County that has no ban on plastic bags in place and does not require businesses to charge for paper bags — and asked to present their findings.
Reed said that he was happy to oblige, and invited the children to address the City Council at its Feb. 5 meeting.
“I'm happy when we can be an audience for a group of kids that’s getting involved in the public process like that,” he said.
Each child read part of the class' presentation about the environmental concerns caused by the bags, and the potential harm that they present to sea turtles and other marine animals.
“You would have thought they were going to Disneyland,” Cambell said of her students' excitement to give their presentation, adding that the class had been prepping by practicing public speaking with Larry Hattis, who works with high school students on mock trial.
Several members of the Santa Cruz County environmental protection community spoke at the meeting, urging the City Council to ban the bags in support of the children. The council heard the comments without issuing a response during the meeting.
Laura Kasa, executive director of Save Our Shores — the organization which successfully advocated for bans on single-use plastic bags in the unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County, as well as in the cities of Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and Capitola since 2012 — said that local action was needed to raise awareness on a larger scale.
“We can work together as a community,” Kasa said. “A lot of people think that if there isn't a lot of local bans, Sacramento isn't ready for one.”
While Reed said that the city was likely to address whether or not to enact a plastic bag ban in April, he also said that Scotts Valley has deliberately delayed enacting a similar ban due to threats of legal action raised in other areas where bans have been in place.
“The threat of litigation has been hanging over this issue since it arose,” he said. “Our council has been very cautious about taking action.”
Reed said that the council was unwilling to risk the costs of being drawn into legal action simply to be at the forefront of an issue — legal action which would siphon funds from the city's primary focus, “bread-and-butter” issues, such as law enforcement, education, and land usage.
“Something that doesn’t fall in that wheelhouse; those items have not been high on our priority list,” he said.