A Personal View on Three Years Working for Plastic Oceans International
I think I have rewritten this blog two, three, four times in the last three days now. After being in quarantine for about three months now it seems a long time ago I was out there making a difference, at some deserted beach looking for plastic, or in front of a group of people explaining to them why I think the circular economy could be a great solution for ocean plastic pollution.
I needed to go back into my mind and heart, and remember the feeling of my feet in the Pacific Ocean, connect with it and write the blog again. Now I remember again how far we had come with our work before the pandemic started and what we have done the last three years with Plastic Oceans International. So I wanted to go back to basics, connect with what brought me here, to the passion for the ocean I feel, the questions I ask myself and to others, and how I work on solutions.
Bimini Biologial Field Station
I have been a fan of sharks my entire life, not to become a marine biologist, but a big fan to such a degree that in 2003 I went to volunteer at the Bimini Sharklab. I fulfilled a lifelong dream to work there, grabbing this opportunity just after leaving University and before I would get caught up in society. Nobody was worried about plastics back then, it was all about studying sharks, conservation, and saving their habitat.
I moved to Chile a few years later, to start a new life in a country with over 6000 km of coastline. Coming from the Netherlands, a country with only 350 km of coastline but with ´water´ embedded in our history and our culture, it has been surprising how different the relation is with the ocean over here. In 2017, 13 years after Bimini I came back to the ocean but with a slightly different and even bigger mission: stopping plastic pollution.
But unlike me, for many people the ocean is as far away as the moon. That reality check comes for instance when we do workshops with underprivileged children, in Santiago, which is only 110 km away from the ocean. These kids tell us they have never seen the pacific ocean. They probably do not know what a seagull sounds like, or how waves crash, how the ocean water feels on their bare feet, or how to protect their face when the wind blows sand in it. I wish they could have the same opportunities I had, to know the ocean and make it my life´s work to protect it.
Reflections and Introspection
People who live in coastal communities, who see the fishermen coming in every morning with their latest catch, do they question where those fish really came from? Or in the supermarket, think about where the milk comes from, does it really come from that happy cow printed on the box? Take this great campaign from Fashion Revolution: #whomademyclothes? Probably not many people ask that question when they can buy a shirt for $2. By the way, I would add to that campaign #howweremyclothesmade?, and #wheredomyclothesgo?
We trust that brands take care of social and environmental aspects of their products, but we know they won’t if we don’t ask them about it. So are all these brands bad or evil, I don’t think so, I think we all have been ignoring the footprint of our lifestyle and our decisions for a long time and we are recently waking up.
Using Creativity to Inspire and Empowering People
Studying leisure management at the NHTV in Breda, Netherlands, I was taught how to create memorable experiences, using techniques like Imagineering and “experience management.” I had to adapt my experience in education, arts and culture to a new field: the ocean and inspiring people to question themselves and inspire them to change behaviour. I had to be smart and use my professional background to bring the ocean, plastic pollution, different solutions to people, and inspire them to make a change. Like I have.
Boy that really has paid off, for the last three years I have been working with an amazing team of professionals in Chile and around the world. With Plastic Oceans I have partnered with great organizations and passionate human beings, and translated all of that into community programs, educational programs, clean ups, legislation, and during the pandemic Instagram live chats. It works!
Bringing this Connection to Life, Together with Others
I just wanted to use an example for you to understand what I mean by generating experiences. Instead of just only stating the facts about plastic pollution and the oceans, and informing people, we went another way. In 2019 we collaborated in the “Cronometro” art exhibition of Plastic Oceans International Ambassador, Denise Lira-Ratinoff. We had a group of kids visiting the exhibition and they were blown away by the sounds of the whales that Denise played within the tunnel made of plastic bottles. It was a beautiful moment, an experience. Denise brought the ocean, its pollution, and whales to the city center for an entire month! The kids said that they would never ever use plastics again.
Empowering People, with Emotions
I always ask myself “How can we create an emotional connection with the ocean without being near one?” It has to be such a strong connection that it will create this need to protect it, to fight for it. Creating an impact is the first step, creating change is another.
I want people to go out there and tell everyone that we need to stop and change. To make children and adults alike want to take action and do something. Not only take action about plastic, but also to understand our interconnectedness and dependence on the planet. I might ask a lot, I don’t expect people to go onto a stage, fearless, and tell others that they have to change, like I decided to do a few years back. But I invite people to join me and my team on that same stage, on social media, in the classroom or during a workshop, to stand next to us and feel they can do it, one little step at a time and together.
You might think I am a dreamer, but I know we can, I have seen it with my own eyes and I have shared it with many people for the last three years! Pandemic or no pandemic, I won’t stop, I hope you want to join me and our amazing global team, to make a difference together, for the ocean.