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Community Spotlight: Shell Cleave, Founder of Sea Hugger

Community Spotlight: Shell Cleave, Founder of Sea Hugger

In this edition of our Community Spotlight series, we talked with Sea Huggers' Founder, Shell Cleave. Through education-based activism, Shell has encouraged communities to reduce their dependence on plastics and protect marine environments. Continue reading to learn more about Shell and Sea Hugger.


Tell us about your organization— what was the idea behind Sea Hugger?

Climate change may very well be the greatest issue affecting us at this time. But what many people do not realize is that the ocean is our biggest protector against climate change. The algae, marine plants, organisms, and coral absorb CO2, and also generate oxygen. In fact, the ocean generates 70 percent of the Earth’s oxygen, more than trees. Also, as plastic breaks down into microplastic, it releases greenhouse gases. Reducing the amount of plastic in the marine ecosystem and maintaining the health of our oceans is paramount to our existence.

Earth is an Ocean Planet. We cannot have a healthy Planet without a healthy Ocean.

Sea Hugger works to combat marine plastic pollution through Education and Action. We have a Microplastic Education and Removal program and work with many Bay Area schools. We also installed a Seabin in Half Moon Bay harbor that collects microplastic, macroplastic, and marine oil from the marina waters. We wrote a children's book called The Littlest Sea Hugger that helps kids turn climate anxiety into action. Finally, we work with local businesses to become more sustainable, and support conservation laws at the local, State and Federal level.

How did you initially get involved in climate/environmentalism?

In 2015, we were on a family surf trip in Guerrero, Mexico and made friends with some locals who saved their beaches from severe plastic pollution. They had no government-sponsored recycling program, so they created their own. The adults in the region had bigger concerns than the trash, so they started with the kids. They incentivized them by selling the plastic and creating a soccer team.

The program grew and eventually they purchased a compressor, built a recycling center, and created employment and economic opportunities for the community. Not only do they now have healthy beaches, they taught the community to protect their environment and take pride in their home.

Initially, Sea Hugger’s mission was to replicate this successful model and help vulnerable groups safeguard their community from plastic pollution and improve their quality of life. But we quickly realized there were many needs locally and so we created our Microplastic Education and Removal program and several other initiatives here in the Bay Area.

I am a surfer, SUPer, Scuba diver, and life-long beach comber. I call myself a picker-upper and love to travel and have been to many coastal areas around the world. Over the last decade I have seen an increased amount of plastic pollution under the water, on the surface of the water, and adjacent to the water. Eventually I could no longer idly stand by, so I closed down my tech business and started Sea Hugger.

What do you love about your work and/or what are you most passionate about?

I have always wanted to work with the ocean, but I wasn't very good in science. I am a communicator and through Sea Hugger I get to live out my passion using my skills to help the ocean. I also love working with kids and creating life-long conservationists. They are our future!

How can one contribute to a climate solution outside of their career?

My advice is to learn as much as you can, find your voice, and use it. My passion is the ocean so that is the area I focus on. But there are so many more - explore and be open minded, you just might find the creative solutions are looking for you instead of the other way around.

Living person who you admire:

Someone that I recently started to admire is Jen Sincero. She is the author of a series of self-help books called "You are a Bad Ass" that got me out of my complacency and doing something I am passionate about. She did the same thing for herself and now she dedicates her life to helping others do the same thing. Now I am a Bad Ass!

Best piece of advice that you’ve received:

The best piece of advice I have ever received was a saying from my mom, "People are like bananas, you are either green and growing or ripe and rotting." Stay Green!