What can we do about plastic other than picking it up?
At age 7 I had chosen my future career, I was going to be a ‘veterinary surgeon’. A choice driven by a love for, and desire to protect, animals. Before beginning my Veterinary Training at university, I was fortunate enough to scuba dive on the Australian Great Barrier Reef. I was blown away by the peace of the underwater world. Surrounded by multi-coloured corals, fish bigger than me and best of all, turtles. Being underwater in this quiet yet bustling world, with these graceful reptiles unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs, filled me with passion to do everything in my power to stand up for them.
Plastic & Other Problems
In 2019 an opportunity arose for me to work with the Olive Ridley Project, a charity in the Maldives protecting turtles from ghost fishing gear. As you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to be involved.
I spent my first week aboard the ORP research vessel, surveying reefs and learning about turtle ecology and biology. Early on we found and rescued a turtle caught up in plastic. We pulled it from the ocean and took it back to the rescue centre on Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu island. I was horrified to see turtles with amputated flippers and severe neck wounds from entanglement in discarded fishing gear. But that wasn’t even half of the destruction we came across. There were dying coral reefs, bleached by rising sea temperatures; plastic pollution littering the ocean floor; manta rays feeding in currents riddled with tiny pieces of plastic…
I have become somewhat immune to the sight of plastic on my home beaches in Devon, UK, but seeing it here affecting the animals I trained so hard to protect felt devastating. It felt like I had stepped into a war zone. I was confused and overwhelmed about what I could actually do to solve such a massive problem.
The Stand Up For Our Seas Expedition
I believe that this overwhelming feeling is best tackled through action.
The following week I set out alongside passionate ocean advocates – Saazu Saeed, Dhafy Hassan Martin, Claire Petros, to paddle 100km around Baa Atoll to explore and discuss this issue. We paddled for long, hot days, stopping at resorts and local islands. We spoke to businesses and schools about turtles, ghost gear and single use plastic. The response was all we needed to re-stoke our fires and prove that our actions really could make a difference.
School children were stoked to learn about turtles, and how switching to a refillable water bottle was a great first step in stopping single-use plastic at source. With the help of Parley Maldives, we ran a big beach clean on one of the local islands. and the four of us on SUPs cleaned up several harbours. The local businesses, right on the beaches, were increasingly aware of the impacts of their plastic waste on the places they call home, and were trying out more sustainable alternatives.
Perhaps most surprising of all was the response from the resorts. Nearly all of the resorts we visited were keen to reduce their environmental impact. Many of them had already started taking big steps to do so. Taking action partly because protecting their local environment is the right thing to do, but also because their customers now expect it.
Anyone Can Create Change
We can make our own individual changes and run our own beach cleans. But we must also make our voices as consumers heard. It’s time to vote with our wallets and support businesses that are making the right choices for the right reasons. While also explaining compassionately to those who aren’t why we are no longer supporting them, perhaps even offering alternative ways. We need to come together in our communities to help all levels of our society to make the right choices. Whether that be businesses, individuals or governments. We all have a voice, and realising that it’s powerful enough to create change is an important lesson for everyone. It filled me with the hope we can take use this lesson it for good in our own patch too.
To keep up to date on all of Cal Major’s amazing expeditions you can also check out her Instagram account.