As we enter a new year, we have the chance to reflect on defining moments that changed our way of thinking. The Ocean Summit, held during the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Cape Town in Dec, was one such moment for me. The Ocean Summit in Cape Town is one of seven such events around the world organised by the Volvo Ocean Race in 2017 and 2018.
We know about the crisis happening in our oceans and we know that we need to take action now to prevent the inevitable. We’ve seen the pictures and the documentaries that show us the truth. But, I have to say, nothing quite prepared me for what was presented at the summit. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgable on the environment and all things “green”, but I was not aware of the amount of plastic in the ocean, or the sheer enormity of the task ahead and even more alarming is the effect that plastic is having on our health and our well being as the human race.
Plastics and our health:
What the micro-plastics hidden in our water and our food are doing to our general wellbeing scares me. Speaking at the Ocean Summit, Dr Ivone Mirpuri of the Mirpuri Foundation, a world expert in endocrinology – managing the central role that hormones play in regulating the body’s systems, Ivone gave a frightening presentation about the suspected impacts of plasticisers in humans’ bloodstreams: rising infertility, early menstruation and early menopause, obesity and sexual dysfunction are all indicative of the presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals. If there was still any question that plastic pollution is not only bad for the environment, but also for our health, we should now consider that answer finally answered.
But there were positives that came out of the summit too. There are many individuals and organisations who are doing wonderful work to save our oceans both locally and globally.
A Plastic Planet’s Sian Sutherland and Frederikke Magnussen opened their powerful talk with the blunt admission: “We are plastic addicts.” If we understand addiction to be the compulsive use of a substance despite harmful consequences, then it is indeed true that all of us are addicted: addicted to convenience while the planet, and our bodies, carry the burden. Sian and Frederikke are making a serious wave in Europe with their campaign for a plastic-free aisle at regular grocery store – a wave we would love to ride! On that note, Two Oceans Aquarium Environmental Campaigner Hayley McLellan is challenging South Africans to quit their plastic bag addiction. Hayley’s goal with the Aquarium’s Rethink The Bag campaign is to see a plastic shopping bag-free South Africa come to fruition, and this work takes her to schools, grocery-store chains, government and beyond where she delivers powerful presentations on why “our over-use and immediate and hasty disposal of single-use plastic is a serious conversation we need to have.”
A plastic free Volvo Ocean Race:
Besides the two teams in the Volvo Ocean Race whose messaging is specific to raising awareness and stopping the use of single-use plastics, Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Turn the Tide on Plastic/Mirpuri Foundation – other organisations have also recently joined the plastics-race. Bluewater, one of the world leaders in delivering crucial water purification solutions for homes and businesses, will now provide high quality, safe to use, drinking water to visitors at Race Villages in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg and The Hague. The on-demand drinking water is free of contaminants such as micro-plastics, chemicals, pharmaceutical byproducts and toxic metals. The units will remove the need for thousands of single-use plastic bottles that are polluting and impacting upon the health of our oceans.
In December, in partnership with the Race’s Founding Sustainability Partner, 11th Hour Racing, Bluewater delivered clean drinking water for visitors to the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Cape Town. A severe drought meant that the city was unable to meet public demand for drinking water from municipal sources. Bluewater used its advanced water purification technologies to reuse non-potable water to generate pristine water from four water stations able to deliver up to 32,000 litres of water per day avoiding the use of up to 50,000 single-use plastic bottles. The initiative was so successful that Blue Water will now be setting up an office in Cape Town. The mobile sites set up in the V&A Waterfront for the VOR are still there. To run a successful Volvo Ocean Race stopover in a severe drought in high-season in Cape Town is a mammoth task for the stopover organisers, WorldSport. Through various water-saving initiatives, they were able to reduce the VOR stopover water requirement from 991 149 litres to 102 000 liters.
As part of the V&A’s Ocean Festival, WaveScape featured many documentaries on the ocean and I managed to catch Chasing Coral, a thought – provoking documentary highlighting how corals are dying, the threat they are under and what this means for our planet. Scary stuff! But I was pleased to hear that Vestas 11th Hour Racing is using a newly launched sunblock called Aethic onboard which has been developed specifically to be coral-friendly. Hawaii has recently banned the use of non-coral-friendly sunblocks, so people are thinking in the right way.
Plastic use in the Superyacht industry:
Thankfully the Superyacht and yacht charter industry has had to relook the way they dispose of their recyclables and develop ways to minimize the use of single-use plastics both onboard and on shore. Yacht charter company, Y.CO has launched an initiative called #Clearwater, which aims to raise awareness in the industry of single use plastics onboard as well as on shore. They have partnered with S’well, a reusable water bottling company by creating a high quality reusable alternative to plastic bottled water. Since #Clearwater was established, Y.CO has reduced their use of plastic bottle usage by 95% on board and in their offices. Y.CO is also working with Plastic Oceans, screening the documentary, A Plastic Ocean – trailer onboard managed yachts as an educational tool for crew.
A big shout out to the organizations in the yachting and ocean racing communities for raising awareness for this very important cause.
Extracts by Ingrid Sinclair, Two Oceans Aquarium – Ocean Summit report back