Ocean Plastics Awareness Day

22/07/2015

Blog by Rob Thompson

The Ocean Plastics Awareness Day was a ground-breaking initiative, which is sure to have put Cornwall at the forefront of Marine Conservation in the UK. Hosted by Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society, it gave organisations the opportunity to commit to exploring pilot schemes which stem the flow of plastics into the ocean and reuse those removed from the sea. The event launched the Statement of Intent, signed by all participants, as a pledge to explore ways in which we can develop circular economy projects. The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit, has focused upon similar conversations about marine plastic waste and the circular economy, at a global level.

We were really excited to have been invited to join Surfers Against Sewage in their tent and grateful to them for giving us the occasion to speak on behalf of the diving community. Their team are always a joy to work with and are keen to represent the full spectrum of water users. They did this by encouraging the individual groups to display their own unique and fascinating interpretation of the marine debris problem and gave them the opportunity to share their experiences and ideas with Their Royal Highnesses. As divers, we see a different perspective than most; predominantly others see what has been washed ashore, whereas we see what is trapped underwater. Our display consisted of the most commonly found objects from our debris dives and the various methods we use for retrieving them. To add authenticity our three attendees, Lizi Dave and myself, were wearing full dive kit. Standing around in full kit for nearly two hours is not to be recommended. However, it had the desired effect and drew a lot of attention, including that of Charles and Camilla.

HRH The Prince of Wales has long taken an interest in the health of the marine environment and the need to address waste. He was a keen diver and President of the British Sub Aqua Club for four decades, before passing it down to his son, The Duke of Cambridge, HRH Prince William. The Duke previously stated in an interview, “Scuba diving really has opened my eyes not only to many extraordinary sights, but also to the responsibilities that we have as guardians of the underwater world. Which is why, as BSAC’s new President, I hope to continue my father’s legacy of striving to preserve and protect our precious marine heritage and environment for future generations.” As you can imagine, it was a great honour to represent the diving communities’ interest in the marine litter crisis to Their Royal Highnesses. The Prince of Wales commented on how he had seen the debris problems himself first-hand, whilst diving and was pleased to see that we were doing our bit to help resolve the problem.

Shortly after HRH Prince Charles had passed on his way and we were left feeling overwhelmed at the great honor that had just been bestowed upon us, we were offered the privilege of an audience with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. HRH seemed equally as enthused and intrigued by our work. Especially at the fact that we are an organisation made up purely of volunteers and that, although from various backgrounds, our common interest had bound us together. I mentioned how our work is only a small part of the global effort by divers, operating through initiatives such as Project Aware’s Dive Against Debris programme. We discussed how they gather data from us and use it for their global campaigns. The Duchess was curious as to how we became established; I recalled how, after I organised my first Dive Against Debris event, it received so much enthusiasm from its participants, that it gathered its own momentum and evolved from there.

Dive Against Debris Volunteers’ UK mission is to bring to the public eye the huge quantities of plastics that sink, ensuring they are no longer out of sight and mind. Both in the sea and washed ashore, marine debris poses more than just an unsightly picture, it is a real threat to marine life. The figures are astounding; 8 million tons of plastic enter the sea every year, as a result 100,000 sea creatures and a million sea birds die annually, either by entanglement or ingestion. When you see the incredible amount of plastics being collected by such a large number of dedicated beach clean volunteers, it makes you shudder to think that this is just the tip of the iceberg; 70% sinks and is hidden underneath.

Dive Against Debris, surveys, catalogues and removes marine debris from under the sea. As is probably clear from the figures, what we can do alone is never going to be enough to resolve the issue. With a problem as diverse as the marine debris crisis, a multifaceted approach must be adopted. Which is why events like this are so vitally important; by pulling together an array of interested parties, a massive step forward was taken in creating such an approach. To have Their Royal Highnesses attending, was more than any of us could have wished for. As you would expect on such an occasion, energies were high, however this was not purely down to the Royal visit. It was also due to being surrounded by so many likeminded others who, being in their own niche, have been travelling upon parallel paths for too long. I can honestly say, it was a real privilege to be surrounded by such diverse and inspiring company. Personally, I have been left feeling optimistic as to what may come as a result of the Ocean Plastics Awareness Day.

Pictures © Surfers Against Sewage