PHOTO: Liliana Sandberg, who will graduate from Brentwood High School this spring, said she wants to student marine biology in college and pursue a career in the field. / Photo submitted
By JOHN McBRYDE
Whenever Brentwood High School senior Liliana Sandberg goes to the beach, she gets riled.
Looking out at the ocean across what was once a pristine spread of sand, all she can notice are the countless pieces of plastic that have washed ashore.
“I love the ocean more than anything else in the universe,” she said, “and to see what’s happening to it when I go on the beach and there’s … just plastic everywhere that’s been thrown in the ocean and carried around in ocean currents and on beaches, that makes me really angry.”
To make an immediate difference, she’ll grab her brother and the two of them will at least pick up as many bottles and bags and other straws as they can in a given area.
But Sandberg recently had the opportunity to make an impact in another way, and through it she got some recognition she never really anticipated.
An organization called Wattpad teamed up with National Geographic to sponsor a writing contest called Planet-or-Plastic, whereby entries could be fiction or nonfiction and had to be no more than 500 words. The theme of the essays centered on the pollution of the oceans by single-use plastics.
Sandberg was one of nearly 6,000 people who entered their essay back in the fall, and in early January she found out hers — a fiction piece titled “Ouroboros” — was among the top 10 finalists. The winning essay has yet to be named.
“I was not expecting it at all,” Sandberg said. … “I noticed there were other entries that were much more successful than mine. They had millions of reads while mine only had like 100… They seemed leagues better than mine — at least that’s what I thought. But when I got a notification from National Geographic saying that my story had been selected as one of the top 10, I just looked at my screen and I had to read it like five times because I just wasn’t believing what I’m seeing.
“I was actually in the parking lot of the place where I go for tutoring, and once it finally sank in, I just started shouting and people were looking and wondering what this girl was so happy about.”
After she graduates from high school this spring, Sandberg said she wants to take her passion for protecting the oceans to another level.
“My plans are to go to college to study marine biology, and I’d like to pursue a career in that,” she said. “But I would also like to continue writing.”