Sparking a movement whilst all at sea
Ambassador Soraya Abdel-Hadi helps organise and run eXXpedition, an all-female yachting expedition which aims to raise awareness of, and explore solutions to, the devastating environmental and health impacts of single-use plastics and toxic oceans.
A regular writer on social and sustainability issues, we asked Soraya for her thoughts on how this initiative can help with such pressing global issues.
"You don’t need to ask what the one solution to ocean plastic is.
You have your area of action."
The big question is, how can we really impact ocean plastic and other big picture environmental and social challenges?
Everyone I talk to wants a blueprint for how we are going to solve the ocean plastic problem. A simple, step-by-step guide to purge the oceans of this menace. Even more ideal, just one action they can take to make a difference. Switch to a bamboo toothbrush. Only buy food that isn’t wrapped in plastic. Switch traditional plastic with a seaweed-based alternative.
The people who ask for, or suggest, solutions mean well. They’ve seen the infamous turtle-straw video, or heard David Attenborough on Blue Planet II. Maybe they’ve even had experience first hand:
My sister collected over 100 flip flops in 30 minutes in a national park in Costa Rica – they continued to wash up on the beach behind her.
There isn’t one solution
Unfortunately, I always disappoint with my answer. There isn’t one solution, there are many. And from clean-up to product redesign to policy change… we need them all.
It’s not the sexy answer, but it is the truth.
I’ve heard the arguments against telling people this, with the most common being, “If you tell people that they’ll stop taking action at all” Maybe, but it really depends on how you frame it. I’m never saying, “Do everything or don’t bother”. What I’m actually trying to say is, “Pick your battle”.
I advocate making changes where you can and, also, finding out where you can make the biggest impact.
This is why I work for an organisation called eXXpedition, which organises all-women sailing voyages looking at plastics and toxics in the ocean.
eXXpedition voyages existed long before I came on the scene – the first voyage took place in 2014. Multi-disciplinary women with an interest in tackling ocean plastic join sailing trips that we organise all over the world.
Citizen Science & skills sets
During the journey, our crew members carry out citizen science to feed into larger global studies and run outreach events with local communities. Importantly, they also share their experiences and stories with their fellow crew members, and take part in workshops to identify where their own skill set intersects with the problem and current available solutions.
The idea is that you find that sweet spot where you can create the most value. Once you know what that is, you don’t need to ask what the one solution to ocean plastic is. You have your area of action – your own, personalised blueprint of what you are going to do next. You then become part of the complex tapestry of solutions that are driving us towards effective, long-term change.
Vancouver to Seattle
This summer, I joined an eXXpedition trip myself, and sailed as part of eXXpedition North Pacific. We travelled from Vancouver to Seattle, looking at the impact of plastic pollution on remote coastlines. My particular crew included three professional sailors, our mission leader – ocean advocate Emily Penn, two scientists, a PhD candidate, a designer, a film producer, a TV researcher, a TV presenter, an actress, a marketing professional and me.
We had four nationalities on board, who were all facing different challenges in tackling ocean plastic. In a short period of time, together we experienced a spectrum of extreme emotions. From the low of realising we were stood on an uninhabited beach covered in polystyrene, the pieces so tiny we could never hope to clean it all up (we still tried!), to the high of unexpectedly seeing a pod of Orcas playing in the Georgia Strait. We bonded quickly, as you often do on expeditions, and without much prompting starting talking about what was next.
The most unexpected realisation occurred to me partway through our voyage – it was something I could not have predicted or noticed while doing my land-based organisational role for eXXpedition. All the individuals on board already had everything they needed to make a difference when they boarded our boat – they just needed a few things to light the fire:
Hands on experience of ocean plastic.
The opportunity to really look at all the solutions to plastic pollution, and where their skills and experiences could fit.
And, finally, the confidence to believe that they can make a difference, from a boat load of their peers.
We were each others’ essential cheerleaders, always unable to understand how the women in front of us with their diverse experiences, personalities and skills couldn’t see their own potential and brilliance.
Start a movement
It taught me that we need to do more to raise others up. We often suffer from imposter syndrome, and are blind to our strongest parts, the things that make us special and the skills that will allow us to make a difference. There isn’t one blueprint for tackling ocean plastic or any of our big global challenges, but we don’t need one. Instead, we need a focus on how we help people find their place in the broad spectrum of solutions and champion them.
It reminds me of the TED video on How to Start a Movement. The most important person is the first follower.
Look around you – identify someone who wants to make a difference, tell them what they’re good at and, when they start something great (a marketing job in the environmental sector, volunteering at beach cleans, leading a lobbying movement, blogging about conscious consumerism, talking to everyone they meet about waste management), make sure you’re right there to tell them what they’re doing right. I have a feeling it might make all the difference.
A great invocation to action there!
We're committed to spreading and sharing a love of the outdoors to help us all understand our own role in protecting what's special, so we love what eXXpedition are doing.
To hear more about eXXpedition and to apply to join one of 30 upcoming legs of their 2019 round the world adventure, visit their website.
Photography: Nikkey Dawn