Young eco-champion is turning his green dreams into reality

By Gemma Gatticchi
Tuesday, Aug 29, 2023 Interviews

Although only 12 years old, Romario Valentine has completed more than 330 beach clean-ups, removing tonnes of plastic in the process.

Romario is also the author of Protect Our Planet – Take Action With Romario, a book dedicated to guiding kids through environmental issues and recycling. It covers topics such as climate change and carbon credits and includes tips and guides to the things we can do to make a difference, such as recycling and using renewable resources.

We spoke to the little author with big green dreams to find out more.

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m 12 and I come from Durban. It’s a beautiful coastal city and there is sunshine all year round, even in the winter. It has an abundance of nature and wildlife and is a  great place for birding, surfing and hiking.

When did you first become concerned about the environment?

I’ve always cared about nature. When I was 6 years old, I was an orca in a school play. I did research and discovered the damage that pollutants were causing to marine life and seabirds. I found out that it could lead to their extinction and cause an imbalance in the ocean’s ecosystem.

What is your book about?

Protect Our Planet is a colourful book that addresses climate change and other environmental challenges. It covers topics on the ocean, birds and wildlife conservation, solutions to the problem of plastic pollution, how to deal with e-waste, how to become an eco-warrior and includes fun scientific activities and tips.

Romario’s book is published by Penguin. Photo: Supplied

Why was important to write a book like this? 

I created Protect Our Planet to help other children become Earth guardians. I couldn’t find an environmental book that included everything I wanted, so I decided to write my own that was simple and fun. 

I believe kids and teenagers can make a positive impact in their communities if they’re given opportunities. 

Where can people buy your book?

It can be found at most bookstores such as Wordsworth, Exclusive Books and Reader’s Warehouse. It costs just under R200. People overseas can buy it on Amazon or in the United Kingdom at Waterstones, WHSmith and Afrori Books

What are the best ways for children to learn about climate change?

The best way to learn is to do more creative or practical learning. When you see the effects first hand, it impacts you differently. 

What kind of awards have you won?

I’ve been awarded the BirdLife South Africa Owlet, the Marine Conservation Society’s Young Ocean Optimist of the Year and the Action for Nature Eco Hero accolade.

What did you do as the BirdLife SA Owlet laureate?

I helped with the bird conservation of 900 endangered bird species during the Covid lockdown. I helped complete a 30m x 30m aviary for 90 abandoned African grey parrots at Birds of Eden in Plettenberg Bay. It’s the world’s largest free-flight sanctuary for birds. 

This year I sponsored 20 hectares of land for BirdLife SA’s Mouse Free Marion campaign. The project aims to get rid of invasive rodents that affect  seabirds and biodiversity on Marion Island. 

Do you still do beach clean-ups?

I clean the beach at least once a week. To date, I’ve done 330 clean-ups and collected at least 3.7 tonnes of PET bottles like Coke and water bottles.

Romario was just six years old when he took part in his first beach clean-up. Photo: Supplied

What’s the craziest thing you’ve found?

I once found a torso of a doll and a discarded syringe. My parents disposed of the needle because I wasn’t allowed to pick it up.

Which brands have you worked with?

I’ve teamed up with Adidas in its Run for the Oceans campaign, Restonic SA, City Logistics Durban, Treeshake, Tetra Pak SA’s Choose to Recycle Eastern Cape schools campaign and much more.

Who inspires you?

My parents are my biggest influencers. They dedicate a lot of time to educate me about the environment and nature. Most importantly, they support all my projects and ideas and help me overcome any challenges I may face.