Fiorella De La O shows off her artwork.
By Darryl E. Owens
Most eight-year-olds dream of playing in the rain.
Fiorella De La O wasn’t playing when she dreamed of saving the Amazon rainforest.
That dream remains, but she first is trying to save her own backyard. Combining her twin passions of conservation and art, the Beacon anthrozoology major has brought her ardent advocacy to the pages of an educational calendar.
De La O, a Beacon freshman, contributed about half of the artwork gracing the 2022 Guardians of the Sea calendar produced by the Salish Sea School. The Anacortes, Wash., conservation program inspires young conservationists by teaching students about the marine life that depends on the local waterways known as the Salish Sea through immersive, place-based education programs. The Salish Sea is “the marine ecosystem that spans the United States-Canada border and includes both Seattle and Vancouver, according to this University of California, Davis article.
In 2020, De La O began participating in the Salish School “guardian of the sea” program. After she completed the summer program, she returned to do community work. That turned into an opportunity to use nature as her muse — creating colorful works that edified and educated about such dry subjects as storm waters.
“’Fia’ has a deeply caring heart and soul for our planet — it shows not just in her demeanor but her passionate art that she seems to never stop creating,” said Amy Eberling, executive director/captain of the Salish Sea School. “There are many organisms in the Salish Sea that are endangered and need the help of those around, like the endangered Southern Resident orcas. Fia immediately became concerned and wanted to shed light on any and all issues in the Salish Sea through her art.”
Unbeknownst to her, the artwork De La O created became the foundation for a free educational calendar the program created for 2021. It was natural that she also would contribute to the 2022 edition.
“I felt pretty amazed that, [the program] really loves my artwork so much,” De La O said. “When you actually look at my artwork, it just gives you like that good feeling or understanding of what I’m trying to draw. And, and I’m trying to support the environment. The environment is important to me. Nature and wildlife is important to me.”
Perhaps her passion to stand as a guardian of the galaxy of flora and fauna in the Amazon rainforest owes to her family heritage. Her roots reach back to an indigenous Quechua people from the central highlands of Peru and westernmost Amazon. Or perhaps it stems from an upbringing in Washington that valued the virtues of Mother Nature.
“It’s just been part of my life. And I like living simple and being outside, observing. And I’ve been doing that ever since I was little, I never really liked being inside,” said De La O, who thrilled at visiting parks, hiking, and going to the beach. “I even learned to climb (trees and rocks) on my own. People thought it was like, you could observe me as a wild girl or spirit animal.”
That splendor she remembers from childhood is losing its luster, she said.
“Because of human changes, global warming, it’s damaging all that,” De La O said. “And I don’t want that to happen for the next century, even for children for the next generation; if, parents or other people support them, they could find solutions or regrow trees, plants, or any species that could help the environment because without it, the earth is gonna die really soon.”
Her impatience with indifference is balanced by her inner spirit, her mother said.
“When she is disheartened by injustice and lack of progress, she falls back on strength and resiliency she has built over a lifetime of self-advocacy and compensating for her learning challenges,” Stacy De La O said. “She keeps positive by using her voice and her artwork for good.”
Eberling said the 2022 calendars were popular as giveaways to educate locals on the Salish Sea’s marine life and ways they could lend support.
“The work is colorful, hopeful, and always sends a beautiful educational message to all of the viewers,” Eberling said.
Down the line, De La O envisions a life after Beacon as a conservation zoologist in the thick of the Amazon rainforest.
For now, she hopes the calendars serve as a call to action.
“I hope for them [calendar viewers] to try to make changes that will respect the environment and other animals around them, and to be more aware and open-minded of what’s going on right now and what we could do to help,” she said.