Plastics Pollution-choking the oceans

We have spent 8 months so far on Southern Star, literally living our five year dream to own one of these gorgeous boats which allows us to safely and comfortably travel, explore and if we choose, stay in beautiful places, interesting towns and remote locations. We have travelled 2500 nautical miles through the Bahamas, and up the US east coast through Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and now Virginia. Ultimately we plan to take our boat back through the Caribbean, transit the Panama Canal, and set a south-west heading back to NZ.

On our travels so far we have seen beautiful coastlines and oceans full of life. We have also walked on deserted islands to tropical beaches which are strewn with plastic rubbish, and have seen plastic trash floating in the middle of an otherwise empty ocean. This has shocked and distressed us and we have become increasingly aware of the impact of plastic on the ocean, coastlines, waterways, and ultimately on our food chain.

When we visited the Exuma Land and Sea Park in the Bahamas we saw the skeleton of a whale that had died from ingesting plastics. An earlier blog post talks about this, and it became a catalyst for our odyssey to spread the message about plastic pollution. We recently learned that every piece of plastic ever produced still remains on the planet in some form, eventually as “microplastics” which are small pieces and therefore most harmful to bird and fish life.

We have started to research the issue, and talk to others in the boating world about the problem and their experiences. Our NZ flag and Auckland home port often starts these discussions. NZ is still a “bucket list” destination for many land and boat based people we meet on our travels, and they all talk about the images of a beautiful, clean, green and unpolluted country.

But NZ and other paradise locations won’t remain so if the problem of plastic oceans is not solved. We don’t consider ourselves tree huggers but we are passionate about the ocean and about preserving pristine and idyllic coastlines and waterways.

However there is some good news out there. More and more regions are promoting beach clean up days. Many countries are establishing national parks and no take zones and providing education to raise awareness of plastic and other pollutants on the environment. And the most inspirational of all is Boyan Slat who heads up and who with his team has designed technology to start cleaning the oceans. This system of floating garbage trucks works with ocean currents to collect plastic trash. It is currently being trialled in the Pacific and they predict they will have removed half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the next five years. Amazing.

But we still need to stop putting plastic into the ocean and this means using less of it. Other than picking up rubbish when we see it, we can’t clean up the ocean – we support Boyan in his efforts to do so. But we can raise awareness to stop people buying products wrapped in plastic, and ensuring any plastic is disposed of correctly.

A recent shopping trip to Costco produced a box full of cardboard, plastic wrapping and Styrofoam packing. We transferred all items to reusable containers on the boat, and put the rubbish out to be recycled. Sadly we are finding few marinas offer this facility, although our current marina does have recycling. It has become one of our criteria for selecting marinas as we travel through the US.

So this has become our new dream as we live our new life. As we travel through both populated areas and remote locations we want to have the ability to continue to post pictures, videos and to raise awareness – to keep the issue in our minds and hopefully those who follow our adventures. We are so fortunate to be living this dream life, and we know we have many followers on Facebook and our blog. Some are friends and family wanting to stay in touch, others are people we don’t know, for whom our lifestyle might be an escape, an inspiration, or just plain crazy. But this gives us an avenue to help spread the message and we feel an increasing obligation and desire to do that.

To do this, we need to invest in better communications on Southern Star. We found even in the Bahamas that getting regular access to internet was challenging. It will be more so as we move south, and enter the Pacific. We need satellite communications to enable us to continue to communicate what we are seeing, and this is expensive.

Before I left NZ, I worked for a great company called AMP. It is one of the biggest insurance companies in Australasia. The NZ business runs an annual programme which offers financial scholarships for New Zealanders to follow their dreams. I was lucky enough to be involved in the awards celebration each year which was a truly inspirational evening, listening to the incredible things that ordinary kiwis want to do, or are already doing.

So I have applied to AMP for one of their Scholarships this year, and if I am lucky enough to be successful, this will be used to equip Southern Star to communicate from anywhere on the planet, and to hopefully show that while the problem is huge, there are also still places out there that remain untouched.

Our new dream: paradise needs protecting.



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