Romario Valentine

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Summary: An environmentalist and the author of Protect Our Planet, Take Action With Romario, 12-year-old Romario Valentine manages ocean clean-ups, recycling campaigns, art, tree-planting, publications, and fund-raising in South Africa. Last year, in support of the Mouse Free Marion Project led by BirdLife South Africa, Valentine launched the Romario’s Seabird Christmas Gift to raise awareness and funding for bird conservation and restoration of Marion, a seabird habitat under threat from invasive mice. Often forgoing holidays, Valentine devotes most of his time to his environmental campaigns, including preparing for interviews with journalists. He maintains that despite the challenges he has faced, his mission continues to be the protection of the planet and the leaving of a legacy.

Profile: It was a school play that inspired Romario Valentine’s urge to protect the environment, and that urge hasn’t let up. From a very tender age, Valentine has committed to the conservation of birds and the restoration of their habitat—at a time when some of the most endangered species of seabirds face extinction.

“When I was 6 years old,” recalls 12-year-old Valentine, “I was an orca in a school play, and, after doing research on the damage pollutants caused to them and other marine life, I got inspired to do something about it by cleaning the beach once a week.”

Since then, Valentine has never looked back.

Hailing from Durban, South Africa, Valentine launched three campaigns on BackABuddy, a fund-raising platform, to promote environmental awareness, clean the beaches, and partner with like-minded organisations to protect the planet. Since 2022, he has been raising funds for the Mouse-Free Marion Project in an attempt to save endangered bird species. The Marion Island is a jewel of South Africa's natural heritage, home to an array of incredible seabirds. But the birds are facing extinction from killer mice who eat the birds’ eggs and chicks. Last year, Valentine launched Romario’s Seabird Christmas Gift to raise awareness and funding for bird conservation and the restoration of Marion.

The campaign was a success; Valentine surpassed his target of R50,000. “With the support of donors,” he says, “I managed to sponsor 55 hectares of land. Bait will be dropped from a helicopter to eradicate invasive mice, which are eating seabirds alive.”

With over 1,500 followers on Twitter and over 8,500 followers on Instagram, Valentine raises awareness on environmental justice: “I paint endangered birds to raise awareness, including fund-raising for their conservation. I've contributed more than R100,000 towards bird conservation in South Africa and helped complete a 30m x 30m aviary for abandoned African Grey parrots at Birds of Eden, Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape,” says Valentine. He has also managed over 500 beach clean-ups and planted hundreds of trees around the world.

Recently, Valentine teamed up with Tetra Pak SA “Choose to Recycle” to promote a culture of recycling among young people. “The campaign,” says Valentine, “involved 22 schools from Eastern Cape, where it resulted in 273,482 milk cartons collected for recycling. Which is incredible!”

Valentine is convinced that his campaigns have made an impact: “My awareness campaigns reach far and wide, including team-ups with organisations from overseas, too. A lot of people who had never considered environmental action now live more sustainably, especially after reading my book, Protect our Planet, with their children, listening to my speeches, or reading articles about my environmental activities.”

His work has not been without challenges. When children are on holiday, enjoying their festive season, Valentine is cleaning up the beaches or raising funds for important environmental projects. And on the beaches, he faces the risk of not only long hours in the sun but also contaminated water and harmful items found in the sand, for example, needles, broken bottles, and pieces of wires. He needs to be sure to have the appropriate equipment to stay hydrated and to keep safe.

Despite these challenges, Valentine is determined to continue his work: “No, I wouldn't quit, because I believe it is my mission to protect our planet and leave a legacy for future generations to come.”

And that is coming from someone who has yet to become a teenager.