Nina Gomes is no average environmentalist. With bright pink goggles and just 4 years old, she picks trash with her father from the water along the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.

“She is already a mini-defender of the ocean,” her father said. With Nina in tow, Gomes sets out on a paddleboard into the picturesque but polluted waters of Rio’s Guanabara Bay, where she grabs plastic bottles and bags and puts them in a mesh net.

Asked why she collects waste from the sea, she says: “Because (otherwise) fish and turtles die.”

Eleven million tons of plastic are discarded into the ocean every year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Plastic debris can be deadly to seabirds and marine life, with hundreds and thousands of marine mammals dying each year by consuming or being trapped in plastic waste.

Gomes, who made a film in 2017 about the underwater world of Guanabara Bay, was inspired by the birth of his daughter to start Instituto Mar Urbano, a Rio-based group dedicated to fighting marine disasters.

Studies by Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation found that there were upwards of 400 distinct species of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals that live within or in the periphery of Guanabara Bay. Thousands of Rio residents also rely on the bay to support their livelihoods through fishing. More than 10 million people live in the areas surrounding the bay.

Gomes hopes that Nina’s example will serve to inspire love and empathy and also help break public apathy that surrounds environmental protection in Brazil.

“Kids who are raised only within concrete will not become defenders of nature, of the ocean,” Gomes said.

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