Master Divers Life Contest Blog by Rianne Poesse

We are pleased to present our next Master Divers Life contest blog by contestant Rianne Poesse

Be selfish, clean up some plastic!

……. a positive approach dealing with plastic waste by Rianne Poessé

Not a day goes by upon which we are not reminded about the problems we’re facing when it comes to dealing with plastic waste. Only last week a pilot whale was found, in Thailand, distressed in a canal. Whilst a veterinary team tried to rescue the whale, it died after throwing up 5 plastic bags. An autopsy showed afterwards that the mighty mammal ate over 80 plastic bags, as well as 8kg of other plastic junk.

Dolphin

You know what the first thing is that I do, when I scroll through my Facebook feed and find distressing content like the story about the pilot whale? I click the ‘hide’ post button immediately. It upsets me that much, it keeps me awake at night or literally ruins my day. I feel powerless, heartbroken. That being said, it’s absolutely fundamental, we hear about how plastic is destroying our ocean life and in extent our planet. Because only when we truly realize the consequences of our waste disposal, we realize we have to act. Which we can, in many different ways.

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Perhaps you’ve heard of the four R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. For example: refuse the plastic straw offered with your drink, bring your own shopping bag to the store and don’t buy water in single-use-plastic bottles. Reduce comes down to only buying what’s absolutely necessary and Reuse is for example buying a reusable water bottle. My colleague, Anke, brings her own glass jars to the market to buy nuts, she made her own bee wraps to bring her sandwiches to work and drinks her tea from a regular mug (opposed to using the available disposable cups). Her relative small adjustments have a big impact on the plastic waste. She inspires me. And when it comes down to recycling, Anke even runs a project at work to collect plastic bottle caps for a charity that trains blind guide dogs. The charity sells the plastic caps, gaining money to fund the training of the dogs, making recycling a win-win for nature and humans.

All of the earlier mentioned examples are ways that help reduce plastic waste today, but I doubt it would have saved the pilot whale in Thailand. For years, governments have barely given our (plastic) waste a second thought, but I’m convinced we’ve reached a state of awareness where we can actually undo a lot of the damage that has been caused. The reason for me believing this is for example the recent announcement that Europe is planning to ban a lot of single use plastic items within the next 3-4 years, setting an example for the rest of the world. And the American coffee company Starbucks just committed to spending 10 Million dollars to develop a recyclable and compostable cup. But also on smaller scale movement is happening, for example in the United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May announced the plan to set up ‘plastic free aisles’ in the supermarkets. All the food will be plastic package-free. Most likely inspired by the country wide “plastic attack protests”, where shoppers would remove all plastic packaging and leave it behind in the supermarket. Making a strong statement about how much unnecessary packaging is used for products.

Trolley of rubbish

A shopping trolley filled by “Plastic Attack shoppers” with plastic waste. Source: Bristol Post

Recover

There is a hidden R. One that I miss. One that I am fighting for, every single day. One that needs more attention. Recover! Even today , 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our ocean every year and frankly, we need to get that out of our ocean. Whilst we work so hard on the front side reducing our waste, we need to deal with the mess already there. Have you heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch for example? If you’re like me, easily emotional by the sight of animal suffering, I’d advise against googling on the subject. Basically, the Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of plastic trash floating in the Pacific Ocean figuring 1.6 million square kilometres. That’s France. No wait. France, three times! Organisations like The Ocean Clean Up are working on developing technology to clean up the Garbage patch. On their website they’re saying they’re estimating they can clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years. I believe our world needs more of these initiatives!

Now, does this cover the entire problem? Absolutely not. Everywhere in the world, plastic waste is laying around, in your street, the local park, the beach…. As long as there’s plastic waste we have a job at hand and with that actually also the opportunity to gain Happiness in the process. Winston Churchill formulated it like this: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

When I’m 20m below the surface carefully removing fishing line from fragile coral, I’m literally at my happiest. I feel I’m actually contributing to the wellbeing of the fish, the ocean and the world. And when I’m not diving, I’m still picking up plastic whenever I can, like when I’m out jogging (the trendy plogging). It’s such a small effort, but with impact.

A positive attitude will lead to positive outcomes.

I truly believe I can make a difference and fortunately I’m not the only one who’s convinced they can make a difference. There are literally thousands of organisations out there fighting a war against plastic. In the dive industry this will mostly consists out of education (i.e. PADI environmental courses) and beach/ocean clean ups. Master Divers for example organizes weekly events to remove trash from the local beaches and also has a full time eco instructor in their team to educate and work with the local government and businesses. Everywhere over the world clean ups are organised and people invited to join. Usually it takes just a few hours or your time and you get to be outdoors, with likeminded people doing something good for the world. It’s rewarding to clean up. I personally think going to a clean-up event for example, is actually a great first date. I mean come on if he/she is not into it, do you even want to date them?

The point is, literally everywhere around the world there are these individuals and organisations that believe they can make a difference and get to work. They inspire people around them and invite them to join in their quest. Remember me telling you about my colleague Anke? She’s the perfect example. This kind of positive thinking combined with positive action can only lead to one outcome…. success.

Cleanup

October 2017, Boonsun wreck, Thailand.
PADI dive against debris dive with buddy Johnny

Focus on the solutions.

First of all I think it is of the utmost importance that the people and organisations that inspire get all the attention we could possibly give them. They deserve at least the same amount as the dead pilot whale, ideally even more. We need to learn about their ways. Also we need to get informed when there’s a clean-up event nearby. We will much easier help out if we know there’s an initiative nearby, but often we simply don’t know about it. It’s all about real people and real action.

Also, as a side note, have you ever thought about what you’re actually gaining yourself when you’re helping out? First of all, a sense of accomplishment and second of all a moderate healthy work out in a social setting. A few years ago I wrote my thesis on happiness economics, inspired by the Blue Zone Project, where the conclusion of my research was that the biggest challenges our economy faces today, is the mental state of people (depression/ mental health problems). People are often lonely and without a purpose, stressed out and as a side step also obese. Now imagine what cleaning up a beach with likeminded people can have for impact on the challenges we currently face in our society? So please be selfish, go clean up a beach.

Is the above solution too simple? I don’t think so. Usually the simplest solutions are the most effective. Our challenge is making sure people know about the local initiatives. Because, you’d much quicker help out an event relatively nearby you than at an event you’ve to spent an hour travelling to. So next time you see a great clean up event, a recycle initiative or have ideas how to reduce our plastic waste… share it on Facebook, Twitter… tell you colleagues. Spread the word. We need to start focussing on the solutions, because frankly … we have a huge problem to solve.

Setting up my own foundation

Behind the scenes I’ve been working hard in developing a platform (phone app and website) where clean-up organisations (and dive shops) connect with volunteers nearby. Making it easier for organisations to reach out to local people and making it easier for people who want to make a difference to find organised events. Right now there are so many great initiatives out there and even more willing volunteers, but often they don’t find each other. With my Business Administration background and modest IT skills, this is the perfect way for me to make a difference from behind my computer.

App

Name of the app will be announced once it’s finished and available in the Google Play and Apple store.

But if you think I’m the type of girl that wants to spend her days behind the computer, you’re absolutely wrong. I want to be out there on the beach and in the ocean. Educating and especially inspiring people to do the right thing. I believe the best way I can do this is by taking the next step and become a dive instructor. Whilst at the same time building my platform on the side, creating the biggest network of volunteers the ocean has ever seen.

Remember I mentioned in my introduction I felt powerless reading about the pilot whale’s fate? I do when it comes down to that specific poor pilot whale. But I do know I can make a difference for other whales and all the other amazing animals in our ocean and on our planet. I’m not powerless at all. I can make a difference and I absolutely will make a difference!

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