A Conversation with Fionn Ferreira

As a Staff Writer for the American Conservation Coalition, I strive to highlight individuals and amplify ideas that are truly making a positive difference in the environmental stewardship movement and climate action space. It is in this spirit that I approached my recent conversation with Fionn Ferreira — a vibrant, youthful teenager from West Cork, Ireland who won the Grand Prize Award at Google’s 2019 Science Fair in Mountain View, California. 

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Inspired by his childhood experiences in the great outdoors, Fionn conjured up a new scientific method to address one of the greatest challenges facing the world’s environment today: plastic pollution. His science project, aimed at curtailing plastic pollution in the earth’s oceans and critical water-dependent systems, introduced the idea of utilizing magnetic-based liquids, such as ferrofluid, to attract plastic materials on water surfaces — with the liquid acting as a glue-like paste which causes plastic materials to stick together. In turn, this process eases the ability for magnetic-based systems to remove plastic pollution from water surfaces. When implemented into practice, Fionn’s methodology had a proven success rate of 87 percent — legitimizing the viability of his project. 

His science project was, by all accounts, an astounding success. 

When originally submitting his science project for consideration, Fionn had only sought to gain new friendships and sense of community from like-minded individuals in the scientific community — never for once thinking that he could be the one to win and take home the grand prize.

When we spoke, I asked him how he felt when he was announced the winner. He said he was left in the state of disbelief, but has now gained an appreciation for the honor, and is excited for the opportunities to come given his success in the Science Fair. He once again highlighted his childhood in Ireland, crediting his success to the culture of environmental consciousness deep in the Irish character. When I asked him his thoughts on climate change and the role global youth populations should be playing to combat environmental degradation, Fionn noted the need for youth populations to not look afar to find problems to fix, but to look within — starting with one’s own actions and of those around you (family, friends, loved ones, etc.).

It is true that we can all do better when it comes to protecting the planet, and that is what Fionn is asking you to consider. He would also like if youth populations pledged to do one good for environment every single day. Whether it be spearheading a beach clean up effort, or choosing to bypass the use of single-use plastic bags when purchasing items at a local pharmacy or neighborhood grocery, any little act to benefit the environment can and will do some good for our one shared earth in the long run — it is up to us, and only us, to decide if we want to be part of the solution or continue on a path of inaction and apathy towards the environmental challenges of our time. 

For Fionn, inaction is not an option. 

Soon he will be enrolling in college to pursue his passion in environmental science, a pursuit I know will lead him to even more success  in the future. If anyone has proven that age is just that — a number — it would be Fionn. May his recent win inspire you to act on behalf of the environment and to do so even when critics claim you are too young to make a difference.