‘Save the Planet!’ we hear much shouting about these days. Humans’ capacity to do anything that will ‘save’ the planet actuated colourful British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to opine in regard to the global warming hypothesis,
“As a species, we human beings have become so blind with conceit and self-love that we genuinely believe that the fate of the planet is in our hands…”
Notwithstanding Boris’s sceptical position on that topic, ‘saving the planet’ is a cause that has taken hold. And he would probably concede that there are immediate hands-on methods of going some way to attaining this goal when it comes to the cleanliness of our oceans and waterways.
Marine ingestion of plastic pollution is a present calamity albeit not as topical as posited temperature increases. But it’s happening everywhere. The Australian Marine Conservation Society estimates that throughout the world, around one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed every year by plastics, either entangled and strangled or choked and starved.
Plastic is ubiquitous, in our creeks, bays, harbours and the sand at the beach. It’s adding up to one gigantic problem. Oceans are becoming a plastic soup and sea life is suffocating on the contents. Millions of tonnes of plastic pollution rides the ocean’s currents and reaches the furthest corners of the water that covers four fifths of the globe. Plastic is even appearing in the Antarctic wilderness.
Plastic never goes away; it just breaks down into smaller pieces. That means that every piece of discarded plastic is still around today. The vast majority of the plastics in the sea come from urban areas. Almost 90% of the marine debris found on Sydney’s beaches is plastic, mostly bottles, caps and straws. Australians buy 600 million litres of bottled water a year and use 10 million plastic bags a day, a staggering 3.9 billion plastic bags a year!
Into this potentially lethal cocktail and witnessed by thousands of tourists and locals alike, is the northern migration of whales along Australia’s east coast, one of Nature’s great annual exoduses. Perils abound from shark nets but groups are swift to act and free animals so obviously entangled. Left unseen are the effects on these great mammals of plastic soup.
A recent example emerged in Norway where experts watched on helplessly as an elephant of the deep, strangling in waste, inched towards an agonising death. Disturbingly, this was a tragedy that could have been prevented.
A post-mortem revealed around 30 plastic bags clogging the stomach of the whale. The haul of foreign objects included sweet wrappers and plastic bread bags. They had blocked its digestive system, according to scientists from the University of Bergen who found no traces of food. The longest of the plastic material removed during the autopsy stretched more than two metres. Items were identified as coming from several countries.
“It wasn't like it [the plastic] was in just a part of the gut; it filled up the whole space,” explained zoologist Terje Lislevand. “The whale has been in pain and distress with this in its stomach,” he offered.
Little has been done to ameliorate the effects of increasingly dirty oceans putting sea life at risk, at least until now. Motivated by considerations such as prevention and abatement, a group of Sydneysiders concerned about the fitness of coastlines, lakes, rivers and streams intend to implement a mass effort to take the junk out of water and away from unsuspecting stomachs. Thanks must be given to Dmitry Greku for his idea to mandate a, “Clean Ocean Day.” His unique plan would involve the community in ridding the waterways of non-degradable garbage utilising a pleasurable medium, namely, stand-up paddle boarding.
Mr Greku, is a professional ocean researcher following in the footsteps of three generations of his family. His grandfather was in charge of the construction of one of the first Antarctic stations between 1955-1957. Dmitry has undertaken two Antarctic scientific expeditions, worked with UNESCO in Paris and with the European Space Agency. He observes confidently that water resources are integral to human survival given the body itself is comprised of 60% water. So from where did this inspiration derive?
“We came to the banks of the Hawksbury River at Windsor one day for a family picnic. It’s a lovely village atmosphere near Sydney. People had faded off from the tiny beach by late afternoon, but not their rubbish, more prolific than Manly of a Sunday.”
They cleaned up the mess and a belief arose that more could be done. Around this time, Dmitry had acquired his first Stand Up Paddle board and plunged into the sport of SUPing. He was hooked from the moment he set foot onto his board.
“As opposed to surfing, you don’t need to be fit or a trained sportsperson to participate. SUPs are for everyone.”
What also makes SUPing unique is the tri-partite, peaceful connectivity engendered between water, the environment and scenery. Unlike aggressive or extreme sports, SUPing is serene and calm, permitting the taking in of stunning coastline views while the sun bathes all in translucent combinations.
Providing universal connectivity across the age and sex spectrum between ocean and participant, it’s the fastest growing sport in the world. But SUPing opened Dmitry’s eyes in more sobering ways.
“I encountered non-degradable flotsam and attached a bag to my shorts. Soon it was filled with trash. The habit became second nature and part of my SUP ‘cruising around’ routine.”
The natural evolution to a cleaning-up idea progressed with the arrival of the SUPAROO boards and then it gelled. If a group of friends and SUP acquaintances got together, a united effort could be made to minimise and hopefully rid Sydney Harbour and waterways of harmful hazards.
“I managed to convince like-minded people to take my small fleet of boards and kayaks on the water with one purpose – collecting rubbish in locations around Sydney.”
Thus was born Clean Ocean Day, an initiative that has captured widespread acclaim.
And SUPAROO Australia, is proud to be the standard-bearer for this effort. It will provide boards, paddles and other necessary accessories with a view to putting hundreds of people on the water for an annual effort to collect as much rubbish as possible.
“A huge coordinated event will occur once a year, but for the SUP community every day on the water is a Clean Ocean Day.” He also urges a congruent educative process to inspire human regard for the ocean’s creatures and maintain its purity.
“There are things we can do now that will have immediate benefit. Clean Ocean Day is the focal point.”
The Clean Ocean Day organisation is a ‘Not-For-Profit’ group. Registration fees and gifts will go to the Clean Ocean Day fund that will be used to educate the community on taking care with plastic. Donations are tax deductible.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Australia (AmCham) supports its members participation in Clean Ocean Day. This networking organisation fosters goodwill and co-operation with its members and brings solid businesses together.
General Manager of AmCham, Robert Hossary, says the chamber provides the perfect platform for responsible people in business combining for what he regards as a, “very noble” cause.
“Being a member of AmCham, Dmitry has our full support. Australia, as the National Anthem reminds us, is girt by sea and we should be looking after this magnificent legacy.”
He says that AmChamis not simply about doing business and growing the economy but for fostering interest in a project that amply demonstrates corporate responsibility.
You won’t hear businessman and Rotarian Wayne Ryan cavilling with those sentiments. He has been involved with surfing since 1983. In that capacity he promotes the activity of Christian Surfers, a worldwide movement committed to working amongst young surfers who have struggled with drugs and mental health issues. With encyclopaedic knowledge of surfing beaches both here and abroad as Managing Director of LineUp Australia, Wayne stresses the imperative of a pristine ocean environment.
“Australians love the beach and surf more than any other nation on earth. Imagine what would happen to our tourism industry if we neglect this valuable, natural resource.”
He travels the world and recoils in dismay at countries that regard the ocean as a dump, through inadequate infrastructure to dispose of their refuse. Acknowledging that our love of surf and sea has meant more emphasis on reducing the impact of waste on coastlines, he remains cautious about the future.
“While our beaches and waterways are in reasonable shape, sometimes if you dig a little deeper things aren’t as rosy.”
Wayne cites as proof authorities’ advice proffered after major rain and storm events that people refrain from surfing for at least 24 hours. Axiomatically, when nature strikes, garbage is swept into the seas and rivers. He lauds the efforts at his local beach Dee Why and other places where many volunteers pitch in to gather rubbish.
“All this can be coordinated through Clean Ocean Day and this could see a remarkable effort capable of mirroring the success of Clean Up Australia day.”
As an enthusiastic member of Rotary International at Brookvale and about to take up a voluntary position in the organisation as head of International Aid, he is optimistic that Rotary will be part of the plan to mobilise support for the Clean Ocean Day venture. Bruce Mott, the Managing Director of Sports BC, has weighed in with his backing too suggesting that getting people out on the water to do their bit for the environment is a great idea.
“My company is dedicated to bringing sport, business, charity and the community together. So we are very much aligned with Clean Ocean Day and intend to get behind this terrific movement.” Clean water benefits humans too. Research and anecdotal evidence has shown that people can experience a curative and spiritual solace through association with the ocean and its in-shore affiliates.
A national survey on the mental health and wellbeing of people aged from 16 to 85 provided a startling reminder of the incidence of mental dysfunction. 45% of Australians in this age range would experience a mental disorder at some time in their life and 20% of the population had experienced a common mental affliction in the previous 12 months. The question posed is whether treatment other than psychotropic medication might play a part in restoring mental equilibrium.
Professor Michael Baigent is a psychiatrist with Beyond Blue. He speaks from a personal love of surfing and clinical experience, arguing that ocean sports play a role in assisting recovery from mental illness.
One of not-for-profit organisations uses surfing and saltwater therapy to help people recover from mental health issues. Every week at beaches around the world, they host an early morning surf session where people are encouraged to dress up, surf and share their stories. "What we often say is it's absolutely OK to not be OK. Mental health is such a normal part of life we just need to accept that and talk about it," says their manager.
They envisaged an opportunity to blend surfing into an eight-week program to help people recover from mental health issues utilising his hospital and clinical experience and his work in prisons and institutions. University of NSW research following the pilot program in Bondi demonstrated benefits for participants' lives in four ways.
"It reduced social isolation, increased relationships with friends and family, decreased psychological symptoms and participants acquired new skills."
The process involves a different way of looking at therapy by partnering with the environment.
“We’re seeing the same results as in a therapeutic setting such as a community health centre or hospital. It’s changing the stereotypical boundaries of clinical therapy."
So whether you’re struggling with depression or a keen surfer or want a non-confronting, easy transition to the water of the SUPing type, it’s a therapeutic opportunity to take out the junk in appreciation for what an ocean environment free of plastic soup can give back.
Such is the Clean Ocean Day mission to bind these elements and benefit all who participate. Mr Greku says that Clean Ocean Day is not only a great project because thousands of people and organisations will participate, but also it’s a very powerful educational, awareness and pollution-preventing program.
“We plan to pull out tonnes of plastic objects from the water every year and if we’re able to talk to 10,000 kids at schools annually, we can expect that at least 10,000 plastic bags and bottles with not turn up in the ocean the following year. It will help them to be more responsible leaders of the future. So make an effort for our beautiful ocean, rivers and lakes. We are looking for volunteers, donors/sponsors/partners and in-kind supporters. Please contact Clean Ocean Day if you want to make a difference and benefit in the process or visit http://www.cleanoceanday.com.au/”