It can be easy to remain ignorant to the state of our oceans. If anything, most people come into contact with the ocean at the beach and gain no real perspective on the vast expanses of water that cover the majority of our planet. But that doesn’t change the fact that our oceans are under serious threat from garbage.
It is estimated that 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are currently wreaking havoc on the world’s oceans. And while each of us may like to shed the blame onto cargo ships or corporate polluters illegally dumping waste into the ocean, we can’t excuse the fact that 80 percent of marine pollution is land-based. That means the majority of plastic water bottles, shopping bags, oil, and pesticides that end up in the ocean stem primarily from the everyday citizen. How can we be contributing such a great deal to this growing problem and yet not ever see the major mess we’re contributing to?
Again, the view that most people get of the oceans is what little they can observe from the shore. But the ocean has gained a valuable ally in the world’s longest professional racing event.
On September 8, 1973, the first Whitebread Round the World Race began when 17 yachts representing 7 different countries left Portsmouth, England. There were stops in Cape Town, Sydney and Rio de Janiero before a return to Portsmouth in the 27,000 nautical mile race.
What started out as a sporting event has become a valuable platform on which the world can witness and discuss the growing dangers our oceans face in pollution. Now flying under the new name Volvo Ocean Race, the most recent event held over a 9-month period between 2014 and 2015 bore valuable witness to the damage we are doing to marine environments.
Where They Went
The Volvo Ocean Race has changed considerably since its early days in the 70s. For one, several more legs have been added to the race, each tallying more ports for the racers to visit. The most recent race saw nine legs with the race beginning and ending in Europe. Ports included: Cape Town in South Africa, Sanya in China, Auckland in New Zealand, Itajai in Brazil, Newport in the United States (Rhode Island), Lisbon in Portugal, Lorient in France, The Hague in the Netherlands, and Gothenburg in Sweden. In total, the race was over 38,000 nautical miles. Over the course of this harrowing journey, the sailors were exposed to a harsh reality that is threatening marine ecosystems all over the world.
What They Saw
The Volvo Ocean Race sailors have been candid in sharing what exactly they witnessed during their time on the ocean. They have described floating debris including Styrofoam, plastic bottles, wood, and even shoes! Sailors have also described the smell of polluted water that was brown in color and let off strong odors. Ocean pollution was observed all over the planet, but what was the worst place on the globe for this nasty business?
The Malacca Strait, between Malaysia and Sumatra, had garbage so thick, one sailor even claimed one might be able to “walk across the stretch of water on the trash.”
The threat of collision with larger pieces of debris was an immediate fear, however, crews have also shared their concerns over the long-term threats this pollution poses to the health of the ocean. Ian Walker, skipper for one of the crews, shared: “One thing that sailing around the world does is it makes you realize just how small our planet is. If we can sail all the way across the widest ocean in two to three weeks in our small boats, that means the ocean isn’t that big and we need to protect our seas.”
Spreading the Message
The images that Volvo racers observed along their route could have been useless had they not been shared with the world. But the race organizers made a conscious decision to ensure the world would not remain ignorant to the current state of our marine environment.
First, the Volvo Ocean Race partnered with the World Wildlife Fund in order to offer the organization a new platform on which to spread awareness around marine habitat conservation. Together, they also included the Swedish government as well as the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization- Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC) in conversation in order to utilize each group’s individual audiences with the goal of engaging a larger number of people in talks about marine environments.
Next, the Volvo Ocean Race extended their efforts beyond the partnerships they’d formed with non-profits and regional governing bodies. They organized seminars and discussions in each port they visited, allowing sailors to share their observations from the water. These events also allowed for a variety of guests to engage in important discussions around the issue of ocean pollution. Attendees to these events included educators, businesses, scientists, national and local government, and non-profit groups. By bringing a diverse number of stakeholders to the table, the Volvo Ocean Race’s organizers were effectively able to eliminate the differences that separate each of these groups, instead allowing them to learn about and discuss a uniting topic that touches all of them.
Finally, perhaps one of the most useful outreaches the Volvo Ocean Race has done, involves its inclusion of people like you in its message. Crewmembers have been conscious of documenting their journey on the internet where the masses can access it, and sharing their call to the action. Below is a short message the crews left for the public, asking for awareness and help in addressing ocean pollution.
There are many things you can do every single day to reduce the amount of plastic you produce. Remember, plastic never just “goes away,” so always opt for reusables over disposable and look out for hidden plastics like microbeads and microfibers that can sneak into your personal care products and clothing. Check out this article to learn more.
Lead Image Source: Bengt Nyman/Flickr