Ocean Sustainability Update

What? It’s been two years since I updated this Blog Page? Where has the time gone? Perhaps it’s because I’m so busy with ocean sustainability work, and life in general. Henry, Shiner and I have been sailing aboard Precious Metal in British Columbia in the Canadian summers, and aboard Rapscullion during the winters in Central America and Mexico. It’s a wonderful life but…

The desperate conditions of our oceans continue to plague me as we sail throughout Panama and Central America. The region’s absolutely spectacular shorelines are smothered with garbage; the village fishermen have to go further and further out to sea to catch less and less, smaller and smaller fish for their family; coral reefs are virtually extinct, and 25% of fish depend on coral reefs for food, shelter, and reproduction; most bays are too filthy to swim; and the weather systems seem to be far more intense.

Our oceans, the heart and lungs of our planet, are seriously sick. Every breath we take, every food we eat is dependent on our oceans. Kate Middleton gets a new hat and it’s headline news; yet, the desperate state of our marine life is still back page news, or not at all. It we don’t address the serious issues facing our oceans, nothing else on the planet will matter.

What seems so obvious to me was that our First World countries (who aren’t actually first in terms of sustainability, but that’s another story) have established an infrastructure, educational systems, and many incentives to address trash. If you live in the First World and don’t manage your trash responsibly, you’re an idiot. Seriously. There’s enough information and resources available now in developed countries to allow every person to attain zero waste of their trash. Yet, developing countries, which represents over 50% of the world population, and line the majority of coastlines throughout the world, don’t even have garbage cans. Nor do they have the education, finances, wherewithal or ability to deal with their trash.

There are no borders when it comes to ocean trash (and atmospheric pollution). A tremendous number of agencies in the world are addressing the existing garbage patches in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans; however, as long as the beaches and coastal villages in developing countries continue to be smothered in trash – this toxic waste enters the oceans with every high tide and rainfall. We need to address the trash entering the oceans at the source!

In 2011, I began speaking at events to whoever would listen: large conferences, boat shows, service clubs, universities, and yacht clubs. My intentions were to find an organization that would help finance and support my then one-person crusade to provide a trash initiative (education and infrastructure) in coastal communities of developing countries. I wrote letters to Foundations throughout the world who are environmentally oriented. I wrote to movie stars and high-powered business people with deep pockets – although they’re often the culprit due to greed, and unnecessary consumption. Also, my book, “What Was I Thinking? Adventures of a Woman Sailing Solo” provides a platform to deliver this important message – with over 3000 copies now sold. Every presentation was thoughtfully prepared for each audience and included research relating to the current desperate state of our oceans, photos, and a suggested model which could easily be implemented in coastal communities of developing countries. Every stone was turned to find this agency partnership. You too would be as passionate if you had witnessed this critical demise of our oceans over the past 30 years.

Then one day, in June 2015, I delivered a presentation to the Arbutus Rotary Club, in Vancouver British Columbia. A vibrant woman in the audience, Joy Johnstone, enthusiastically reacted to my speech, and my passionate pitch finally stuck. Joy and several other members of this Rotary jumped on board and facilitated the first of many projects in Central America, and hopefully the world.

The model isn’t rocket science. Nor is it expensive. Ironically, developing countries are far closer to being sustainable than developed countries. They fix everything instead of buying new. They’re not consumers. They just need trash cans and collection services, education in their schools and community, and a place to dispose of the garbage.

We chose to focus on El Salvador for our first project because it’s close to Canada, small, and I had connections within the country. Joy and her fellow members connected with San Salvador Rotary and put together a plan to systematically apply our template to coastal communities throughout the country. Each beach costs approximately $3,000.00. The educational component in the schools is impressive whereby the children paint the bins, and take great pride as well as ownership of their own trash can. Imagine a village adorned with brightly coloured trash cans decorated with children’s images.

We raise the money through fund raising projects in Vancouver (and my dedicated friends have also contributed) whereby I’m the spokesperson and essentially cheer leader; while Arbutus Rotary handles all of the logistics of managing the events, tax receipts and communication with San Salvador Rotary. Henry and I secretly visited the first two beaches 6 months after the initial projects and both beaches were spotless. I was so elated to discover that our project is a success!

We are continuing with subsequent Rotary Clubs to continue along the Central America coastline and address both Nicaragua and Honduras. I secretly hope that this model will be adopted by an international agency and delivered to all developing countries throughout the world.

Raising money for trash in developing countries is the very last, and least sexy project imaginable for me at this stage of my life. Yet, it’s also the most important. My adorable 4-year-old grandson George nailed it after visiting the Vancouver Aquarium with me last year when he quoted, “We’re all going to die if we don’t look after our oceans!” Kids have a wonderful way of summarizing what’s real. For the sake of my precious grand children, and all of our future generations, I will continue this crusade in the hope that it will one day stick throughout the globe. Apparently, I’ve become very ‘trashy’ in my old age!