The Unlikely Friendship Between A Young Eco-Activist And A Pelican

12 year-old Shalise Leesfield has been cleaning up beaches since she could walk.

Shalise is a young eco-warrior who’s on a mission to save the planet. She recently found out that saving one life could lead to the most productive of friendships.


Last October, Shalise was walking on Lake Cathie beach near Port Macquarie, when she spotted an animal in trouble.

“I burst into tears because there was a cute little pelican with a bobber in the side of her beak and two hooks in the side of her neck,” Shalise told The Project.

Shalise called wildlife volunteers who helped set it free. While the animal was set free another pelican watched on from nearby. The curious pelican swam up to Shalise and has barely left her side since.

Mr. Percival

“He came up to me on the shore and he just started looking at me and he was so little at the time and he still is now, and it’s just amazing how we’ve built this amazing bond,” Sharlise explained.

Sharlise named him after the pelican in the ‘Storm Boy’ movie, of course. Her new friend now goes by Mr. Percival.

Fascinatingly every time Shalise goes to Lake Cathie beach, Mr Percival is there to greet her.

Sharlise’s mum Shannon shared her thoughts on the bird’s trusting nature.

“I don’t know whether they can see kindness in somebody,” Shannon says, “And know that she’s not going to hurt them, she’s here to help. I wonder if there’s a bit of sense that they have.”

The incident last October spurred Shalise into action, helping wildlife well beyond her neighbourhood…by installing bins for used fishing line.

I found the bins and they were completely free, and I knew that the council would love that

Local member of parliament Leslie Williams helped lobby for the bins’ installation. Eventually, they got the green light.

“Shalise is very clever, and I think she realised straight away that you don’t do anything really on your own,” Leslie told The Project.

It’s estimated that up to 70% of debris on the ocean’s surface is fishing gear. Around 600 thousand tons of nylon fishing nets alone are lost or discarded every year worldwide.

Shannon admits we weren’t all as forward thinking as her daughter, “My generation is the generation that was, we were plastic fantastic. And we often talk about wishing we could go back to my grandparents’ generation when there wasn’t plastic and pollution.”

Generational change often starts with baby steps. So perhaps it’s not so fanciful to think that a young girl with a feathered sidekick might help change the face of the earth in all sorts of ways.

“A lot of the time the locals come down and they say: ‘oh, there’s Storm Girl’. All of them are very positive about it and I love that all of the locals are using it. Because yeah, I find that’s what works. If we all work together, that’s how the problem will be solved one day”

You can watch more of Shalise’s story The Project 6.30pm tonight.