Ocean Conservation Panel with Sylvia Earle

Last night I went to an “Ocean Conservation Panel” at the Steppes Travel Beyond Festival in London, all about marine plastics pollution. I got to see one of my absolute all-time idols speak, and find some new ones, as well as get some inspiration to change my behaviour and annoy my friends to change theirs!

The main reason that a friend and I took a three hour round journey, paid out £20 each for a ticket and over £35 for trains to see a one hour panel discussion is because Sylvia Earle was on the panel. If anyone reading this doesn’t know who Sylvia Earle is, firstly, excuse you. Secondly, now is the time to leave this blog post, get on your search engine of choice (it’s gotta be Ecosia, really, they plant trees) and be inspired and amazed.

There’s not much I can say about her really – she was exactly as cool as you might imagine. The entire room hung on her every word, including her fellow panelists. Whether she was talking about her main worry while exploring the deep sea in a submersible being the possibility of entanglement in a lost fishing longline, or expressing her characteristic optimism about the difference we can make if we act now, everyone listened in breathless amazement.

But while I could fangirl about Syvia Earle for several thousand more words, it would be unfair not to mention the rest of the panel.

It was chaired by Natalie Fee, the founder of City to Sea, which aims to stop plastic pollution at source. She’s been listed as one of the most inspiring Bristolians alive! I actually wish she’d had more opportunity to talk about this but she was busy asking the questions and keeping everyone to time, so fair enough.

Jo Ruxton – the founder of Plastic Oceans Foundation and producer of A Plastic Ocean. Jo is definitely one of the most influential people in this field right now – so many people have been motivated to make personal and social changes by her film.  I listened the other day to a Speak Up For Blue interview with Claire Hughes, a PE teacher in Grand Cayman who after watching A Plastic Ocean has led the charge against marine plastics pollution the Caymans and is having a massive impact. It must be beyond rewarding to know something you’ve created is causing such positive and resounding shock waves around the world and genuinely causing people to change their behaviour.

Hanli Prinsoo – champion freediver and founder of I AM WATER. I AM WATER aims to reconnect people with the oceans, because, ultimately, we protect what we love. She has this vast array of amazing experiences, and every time she and Sylvia Earle discussed an expedition they’d been on together I just wanted to say “please please please can I come too?”. I hadn’t heard of Hanli before but definitely came away from last night with a whole new idol. (A little internet searching also tells me she has been a body double for Halle Berry – I’m not all that surprised).

Edward Kosier – despite the fact I come from a biological background and the people I aspire to be like are Sylvia Earle and Hanli Prinsoo, last night the person I learned the most from was Edward Kosier. He is the managing director of NexTek, a consultancy that helps businesses design and recycle plastics. He had specific and excellent ideas about how to reduce plastic pollution, which largely boiled down to creating a closed loop between producers and consumers; and using our power as consumers to demand fully recyclable products. But, while he’s waiting for social change, he’s out there making a real and immediate difference. Soon NexTek will be starting a project called Catch Plastic, where they will go to major factories and ensure they are completely sealed from the sea so no microplastics from production leak into the waterways.

I believe that ultimately change has to come from societal change, but changing hearts and minds is a slow process, so while we’re out there trying to alter entire communities, I’m glad that clever engineers and chemists like Edward Kosier are out there doing good work.

Finally, the panel was ended by the Meek sisters who founded Kids Against Plastic – two pretty inspiring kids who make me wish I’d gotten started sooner! There’s definitely a lot more education these days and I hope that soon using single-use plastics will seem absurd.

Sylvia Earle has been diving a long time and has seen the transformation to a plastic ocean, seen it getting progressively worse. My diving career has essentially only just started, and I hope that when I’m her age I am able to say I have seen it get better.

Some facts from the Steppes Travel Festival Website:

  • More than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in our ocean every year.
  • We are producing 300 million tonnes of plastic every year – half of this is for single use.
  • Annually, over 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide – more than one million per minute.
  • If nothing changes, there will be a tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in the ocean.
  • Over the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than in the previous century.

I’ll be following up soon with my own history with marine plastics pollution, an issue that has been on my radar since I was a kid, and the steps I have been inspired to take since last night.

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