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Sustainable Innovation

The times they are a changin'

The times they are a changin'
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A three year project to research and educate on the global problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.

The last time we took our yacht Sula offshore sailing was in 2008. The previous year we had been driving along the south coast of New Zealand, the country we emigrated to in 2002. Bob Dylan was wailing his tuneless charm from the van speakers, claiming, “The times they are a changing”. There was an air of unrest building and the twisted Macrocarpa Pines along the coast were pointing firmly away from the past, and ahead into the unknown.

That day there was a gale blowing in the Southern Ocean, the wind was bitterly cold having been driven all the way from Antarctica - the sky was a deep blue with whispery white clouds and the sea was pounding on the shoreline as if trying to shunt the whole Southern Island further to the north. It was a typical wild spring day with giant foam filled rollers stretching as far as the eye could see.

That day we decided to sell our house – buy a sailing yacht and take our two daughters away for a years sailing adventure up to the South Pacific Islands. It had been one of those simple conversations that turn into something much bigger than expected. A conversation that would shape all our lives for years to come. 

I wouldn’t say it was that trip to the Pacific in particular that created our love affair with the ocean – I think we already had one, but it certainly was a life-changing experience for us all.

Now, almost nine years later my wife Chris and I are heading away again whilst the girls are fully ensconced in University life. Our initial three year voyage, undertaking research and education on the growing problem of plastic pollution in our oceans, is a big part of why we are selling up once again and heading into the unknown. This time however, we are really selling up – selling everything except for a few boxes which we will leave behind in an old car, behind a tin shed, on a friends 10 acre block on the South Island of New Zealand. 

The amount of plastic garbage that is now a feature of ocean pollution is nothing new. It is however becoming a growing global problem and evidence shows without doubt, that plastic is now in the food chain. Micro plastics known as Micro Beads that are found in shower gels and many other household products have a lot to answer for. Designed specifically small enough so they get flushed easily through water processing treatment plants, they are creating oceans of plastic smog, in some places reducing visibility to metres.

Thousands of seabirds and sea creatures die every year from plastic that floats around in huge amounts, circulating the ocean currents in what we now refer to as the five great ocean gyres. Millions of tons of plastic caught in a whirlpool, out of sight, and out of mind from everyday living.

And so, in our humble way, we are attempting to play a small part in generating research, finding solutions and creating opportunities for learning about this ongoing problem. Spending time dragging a trawl round the shores of New Zealand, talking to people in the Pacific Islands and sailing in the remote areas of Patagonia are a few of our goals. We are not experts in the field so we have a lot to learn. Our plans don’t include trying to change the world or create a radical new solution to the problem, it’s just a simple plan to educate people on the choices they can make around sustainable plastic disposal.

We will be following Impact’s New Zealand Ross Greenwood’s journey on In Good Company.