Delaney Reynolds, a freshman at the University of Miami, doesn’t go to parties. She sacrifices trips to the beach in favor of working to clean them up. Reynolds does this all in the name of one thing: fighting climate change.
Defending Florida from the effects of climate change is what Reynolds has classified as her lifelong goal since she was 8 years old.
“It’s never really bothered me because schoolwork is my priority number one; and, number two, I know what I’m doing for the environment is so important,” Reynolds said. “In the long run, there are things that are better to focus on for my future and our planet’s future.”
Reynolds is a fourth-generation South Floridian. She remembers cruising the waters of No Name Island, a 1,000-acre island in the Florida Keys with 43 fully solar-powered homes, one of which has been Reynold’s since she was 5 years old.
She said she recalls sitting with her father and eating lunch after a day of catching snapper, when the line went taut and started running. After a wrestling match and her father’s help, she pulled up a baby hammerhead, just one of the diverse species that inhabit the coastal Key waters.
“That’s where my love for sharks really started to blossom, and that’s also where I realized how special a place the Keys are,” Reynolds said. “It has amazing animals in and out of the water, and it’s honestly a magical place.”
She now finds herself at RSMAS, studying marine biology and working in the shark conservation and research labs.
Reynolds also loves theater and music, having played piano for years. But she has dedicated most of her passion to educating with her Sink or Swim project – a non-profit education project for which she gives speeches and presentations and answers questions about the environment.
It all started when she wrote her first children’s book about the Keys at age 8; she has since written two more with the fourth on the way. She has focused on giving informational talks to both children and adults alike, hoping to educate them on what they can do to fight back against climate change. She said during her Q&A sessions after her lectures, children are the ones to ask some of the most compelling questions, including how to convince their parents to put solar panels on their homes or reach out to government officials.
“The adults, I think it gives them hope,” Reynolds said. “I’ve had people cry after seeing me present because they see a child is active in this problem, and it gives them hope in the future that people our age will be able to solve it. Usually, when I give presentations, kids will have more questions than adults.”
Reynolds has seen the effects of climate change first hand. Even during minor storms, her home in the Keys has been threatened by flooding. A marina that used to be near her home before Hurricane Irma was torn down and has become completely inundated in the past. Even on the mainland, Reynolds has videotaped King Tides, the highest tides of year, completely flooding South Florida streets and water bubbling up from the sewer grates.
“The effects are definitely here,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to create laws like the one I worked on in South Miami or install pumps and raise roads like they are in Miami Beach.”
She hopes that with more education, people will learn how to reach out to local government to make changes.
In 2015, Reynolds addressed the Miami-Dade County commission after learning there was just one line out of a 1,000-page budget about climate change, leading to a $300,000 allocation, which has now increased to $1.7 million, Reynolds said. She has worked with South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard to get an ordinance passed to require the maximum number of solar panels to be on the roofs of any new homes. She has fought against Amendment One in 2016, an amendment proposed by FPL that would’ve limited rooftop solar expansion. Her work in South Florida has extended to northern cities, such as St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Orlando.
Her work has also gone national. She opened a campaign speech for Hillary Clinton at Miami Dade College in 2016 – the only environmentally focused campaign held in the college. She’s also worked with former Vice President Al Gore, answering a Q&A session at MTV for his second documentary on climate change, “An Inconvenient Sequel.” Despite her successes, Reynolds said that it has been difficult on both a state and national level to get attention on climate change.
“Climate change in our state is not a priority,” Reynolds said. “Our governor denies it is happening. He has banned terms such as climate change, sea level rise and global warming from being used within our local government. Our state representative denies that it has anything to do with humans. It’s immoral.”
Following the 2016 election, Reynolds said she remembers feeling devastated. She stood outside, wearing her rain boots, watching as the King Tide flooded the entire street. She said she cried, realizing this was her future if she didn’t make a difference.
Reynolds knows there are people who do not believe in climate change but said she is not here for those people. She said she is here for those who want to learn more about what they can do to make a difference.
“I’m a student just like all of them, so the things I’ve done, anyone else can do,” Reynolds said. “I’m not special in any way. I love theater, I love Hamilton, I love sharks, I love being outdoors, I like music. I’m no different than anyone else.”