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Meet Katie Allen of Algalita Marine Research and Education in Long Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katie Allen.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in Long Beach, CA, a place where beaches are covered with things like plastic bottles, bags, wrappers, and straws – all mostly single-use “disposable” items. For years, I’ve watched polluted water flow beneath the bridge at the end of the San Gabriel River, a channel that drains a 713 square mile watershed in Southern California. This bridge is special…it’s where my fascination with plastic waste began – it’s where our plastic trash becomes plastic marine debris.

When I was young, I didn’t realize I could make a career out of protecting our ocean so instead I followed my dreams of becoming a touring musician and in 2006 I landing a job managing artist accounts at Warner Bros Records. Four years into my career, my life was changed after watching Captain Charles Moore’s interview on the David Letterman Show. My desire to join Algalita’s fight against plastic pollution was so strong I left the music industry to pursue a degree in science education and a career in ocean conservation.

I spent five years under the mentorship of Captain Moore as Algalita’s Education Director. During that time, I designed and sustained programs that continue to reach thousands of students and teachers every year. By bridging real-world science with real-time solutions, I transformed the organization’s reach by igniting an international, youth-led movement fueled by youth in 19 countries.

My strong vision for Algalita’s future led me to the helm of the organization. In January 2016, I took on the role of Executive Director, where I provide leadership and oversight to a team of passionate scientists, educators, and ocean conservationists. With over 20 years of experience working to understand and solve the problem, Algalita is a living example of a catalyst for real change. We’re committed to long-term, systemic solutions and just as we were the spark in the beginning, we’re committed to being the spark that leads to the end.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” In the beginning of my career with Algalita I struggled to find confidence in myself as a real change-maker. I was constantly comparing myself to others who classified themselves as “activists.” The word “activist” never set right with me. The word “environmentalist” never set right with me. I had days where I felt like a complete phony because I didn’t see the problem and its solution the same way many of my peers did.

It took a few years of accomplishing goals for me to realize that my perspective is one of a “strategist”, not an “activist”. I’m more confident in myself than ever and I’ve found that arming local and global influencers with the knowledge and resources needed to ignite true change in habits, policy, and beyond takes an incredible amount of dedication and time. Although it may be the most challenging path, I’m committed to solving this problem with calculated, long-term solutions.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We are global leaders in the movement to end plastic pollution. Our organization was the first to expose the severity of the issue after our Founder, Captain Charles Moore, discovered the swirling soup of plastic pollution in the North Pacific – now known by many as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. With over 20 years of experience working to understand and solve the problem, Algalita is a living example of a catalyst for real change. We’re committed to long-term, systemic solutions and just as we were the spark in the beginning, we’re committed to being the spark that leads to the end.

Our programs are built upon four major pillars, which uphold our work to:

  • Monitor and bring attention to plastic accumulation in the open ocean through global expeditions;
  • Empower youth to become change-makers of today while preparing them to take on the challenges of the future;
  • Inspire individuals and communities to adopt plastic-smart habits; and
  • Design and evaluate solutions with industry, policy makers, businesses, and entrepreneurs worldwide while holding each group accountable for their responsibilities, actions, and impacts.

These pillars have empowered us to make great strides toward achieving our mission of leading the world to a plastic pollution free future. Since our inception, we’ve:

  • Developed the world’s first set of research protocols for sampling ocean plastic pollution;
  • Sustained an ongoing Pacific Garbage Patch monitoring program with expeditions launched every 4-5 years;
  • Helped develop a comprehensive statewide action plan to reduce sources of plastic pollution in California;
  • Published over two dozen scientific publications;
  • Co-founded the world’s first NGO addressing plastic pollution (Plastic Pollution Coalition);
  • Co-founded the world’s first plastic industry alliance focused on ocean pollution (Trash Free Seas Alliance);
  • Reached over reached over 2,150 teachers and 275,800 students through our ongoing POPS Program that includes in-class science workshops, teacher training, field research opportunities, peer mentoring, and the world’s first annual Plastic Pollution Youth Summit which has been the catalyst in launching over 146 waste reduction campaigns with schools in the United States, Australia, Bahamas, Hungary, Kenya, Lebanon, and Cambodia; and
  • Became the first group to monitor the impact of the world’s first ocean gyre cleanup system (Algalita expedition to launch in 2019)

Our work has been featured in major media forums including ABC’s “Nightline” and “Good Morning America,” BBC News, CBS, CNN, The Colbert Report, Fox News, “Late Show” with David Letterman, National Geographic, National Public Radio, NBC, The New York Times, Popular Science, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, The Weather Channel, among others.

What were you like growing up?
I have to admit, growing up, I was a bit of an instigator. I wasn’t really satisfied with the status quo in any situation. It always felt like life needed to be unmuted, and I surrounded myself with people capable of doing that: philosophers, musicians, and scientists, anyone with an authentically different personality.

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