Inspiring young people across Europe and around the world, Olivia Mandle – a 15-year-old European Climate Pact Ambassador from Spain – has made it her mission to protect the ocean, fight climate change and safeguard young people’s future.
My world: growing up with nature
Olivia lives with her brother and parents in Barcelona, a city nestled between the beach and a backdrop of dramatic hills and forest. Over long summers spent by the sea, she discovered her love for nature. “I've always had a very deep connection with the sea – I’ve spent hours and hours in the Mediterranean with my family. I love to snorkel and look at the seabed.”
As she was growing up, she started to notice the environment around her changing. “When I was little, I didn’t know about environmental damage and climate change. I wasn’t aware that it existed. But I did know something was happening to the planet because, for example, I realised that not only was there more plastic and rubbish on shores and beaches, but the summers seemed to be getting hotter each year.”
What was going on? Her parents explained the impact that humans are having on the environment, and, since then, Olivia has been striving to learn more about climate change and do what she can to protect the planet. “It’s a global problem that is affecting everyone. We are the ones who have caused climate change, but we are also the ones who have the power and obligation to fix it.”
My action: speaking up for oceans and animals
Following in the footsteps of other young activists such as Greta Thunberg, Olivia began climate action at home. She became vegan, and her whole family decided to cut their use of plastic, reduce their use of energy and stop eating meat at home. On weekends, she would clean up the local forest with her brother by collecting rubbish and disposing of it responsibly.
At 13, fuelled by her desire to protect the oceans, Olivia developed the Jelly Cleaner – a simple, floating filtering device made from everyday materials: two plastic bottles and a pair of tights. When the device is placed in the ocean, water passes through the mesh of the tights, trapping any small pieces of plastic (known as microplastics) inside. “I went down to the sea and tried it. I was amazed when I got back to shore and saw how much microplastic it had picked up. I couldn’t believe it had worked!”
While it does the job of collecting plastic, the biggest impact of using the Jelly Cleaner has been the interest it has sparked. People at Olivia’s local beach are very curious about how it works, and she takes this opportunity to talk about plastic pollution and protecting the environment in general. “It creates a chain of awareness, reminding people that every act, every step – no matter how small – can make a big difference.”
Since then, Olivia has started helping others to make their own Jelly Cleaner. She published a tutorial on how to make the device on her YouTube channel, which more than a dozen schools in Spain followed on World Environmental Education Day 2022. And some of the 577 volunteers who joined the 2022 Mediterranean Beach Clean Up on the Costa Brava, which Olivia helped organise, also used Jelly Cleaners.
Olivia’s interest in the oceans also led her to discover that Spain has more dolphinariums than anywhere else in Europe, housing 102 dolphins, and that living in this environment has a detrimental impact on the animals’ wellbeing. Convinced that dolphins should not be bred in captivity, Olivia decided to ask the Spanish government to ban the practice, launching a petition that currently has more than 140 000 signatures.
Our planet: a young voice leading the call
Last year, Olivia became an Ambassador for the European Climate Pact. She wanted to connect with like-minded people across Europe, especially young people who care about the planet. Her aim is to inspire her generation to reduce their carbon footprint and use their voices to influence others. Over the past two years, she has given numerous presentations on the Jelly Cleaner, climate change and the health of the oceans to schools, universities, and international organisations in Spain and beyond, including UNICEF and Save the Children.
Through her participation in TEDx and other events, Olivia has gained widespread recognition in Spain and already has 7,000 Instagram followers. She was even dubbed a “mini-heroine” in 2020 by conservation organisation the Jane Goodall Institute, through its Roots and Shoots programme (a global youth movement).
Olivia joins the growing number of young people who understand that climate change will impact them directly, and that they might be the last generation who have the power to mitigate its worst effects. “The thing that encourages me to keep fighting is of course thinking about my generation, but also my younger brother – he’s 8 years old. What future is he going to have? And if I have kids, what kind of planet are we going to leave to them?”
Olivia believes the key to taking action is to find a specific issue that resonates with you and be vocal about it. This could be through forming a group at school or following in the footsteps of Olivia’s fellow European Climate Pact Ambassador and university student Maria Serra Olivella, by taking part in youth-led strikes.
What message would Olivia give to these young people? “Any person can start by creating change in their own home, or even at school or at work. And this creates a ripple effect. The future will be ours – it’s in our hands right now. We need to act before it’s too late, for us and for all future generations.”