Drowning in Trash – Is There Hope?

Every minute a truckload of plastic waste ends up in the ocean, which amounts to over 8 billion metric tons on a yearly basis. In effect, plastic has been found in 62% of all sea birds and in 100% of sea turtle species. Plastic pollution endangers marine wildlife and throughout the life cycle, have potentially negative consequences for human health as well.

Asian countries are major contributors to the ocean garbage problem, and that’s clearly visible in the everyday life here. There’s very little action on the policy-level to increase recycling and individual awareness or interest for environmental issues is minimal. In the grocery shops products are packed in excessive plastics and often still put into a separate plastic bags, which are anyways treated as free give-a-ways. Plastic spoons are given with purchases of yoghurt and ice cream, straws with any drinks. Packed in plastic of course. These items belong to the top items found in oceans; Ocean Conservancy’s international coastal cleanup operations have collected more than half a million straws and stirrers through their campaigns.

Last week a friend in Finland created a group with the mission to fight micro-plastic waste (here a great article on the topic) and to find feasible solutions and options for better recycling, re-usage and alternative materials. I’ve been following the discussions in the group with great interest as the members are professionals in variety of essential fields – including scientists, business representatives and policy-makers. Their knowledge and passion are bound to be creating lasting impact and I’ve got a surge of energy and ideas just from reading the discussion threads.

Simultaneously, I’ve been observing yet another Asian country literally drowning in trash. This past week I’ve been traveling through Sri Lanka for the first time, and been at awe at the natural beauty of the place. Unfortunately, the other side of the reality is that it’s being destroyed at a devastating speed. Waste in every imaginable form is lying around everywhere, from streets to canals to the world heritage sites and lastly to the beaches and ocean.

Still recovering from the devastating 26-year civil war and with wide-range social issues, I’m not blaming the population in general being rather ignorant and ill-aware of environmental protection. But frankly they have to learn, just as us all have to, if we are to tackle poverty and other developmental topics generally perceived to be higher on the agenda. These issues do go hand in hand. From agricultural production to tourism, the incomes of the developing countries depend on the nature, and they can’t afford piling up endless amounts of trash in oceans and on the lands.

Amidst the depressing sights of endless piles of garbage and sheer ignorance, I did also observe a shimmering of hope as well. One day on the way from Kandy to Habarana, our driver suddenly stopped the car to scold a guy he saw dumping waste to a road-side canal. He was extremely upset and we ended up having an interesting conversation with him about the common behaviour of tossing out garbage to the nature. It creates hope to have people like him speaking up and spreading awareness.

Coincidentally, we spent our last night in a hotel in Negombo that I noticed being very advanced in their green practices. At first my attention was caught by their shampoo and lotion bottles, which were made out of recycled and natural materials and re-filled, not intended at single use only. Then I took a sip of water from the bottle provided, which was made out of glass! The note on the neck said they reuse the bottles as part of their sustainability efforts (just imagine how many plastic water bottles they avoid!). The hotel also informed us that the waste water generated in their hotels is recycled and used in the gardens! Coffee beans and vegetables are sourced from local smallholder farmers that they support for increasing sustainable farming practices.

There is hope. We all do need to do our part, and no individual action should be underestimated. Everything from easy actions as saying no to

 

a straw and using canvas bags to more advanced zero-waste living principles should be welcomed and appreciated. Certainly the biggest impact is created on policy-making and -enforcement levels and by businesses, but in order to change the world for better every step matters. There are people everywhere who care, and we need to use their voices to encourage more action. We need to use our voices, collectively, to make louder noise. Together we can.

 

 

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Chasing Coral – A Film Everyone Needs to See

As an avid scuba diver, I’ve witnessed with my own eyes the destruction underwater, the damage human conduct is causing to the oceans. At one dive trip I felt I saw more plastics than fishes – a scenario that’s predicted to become a reality by 2050. The good news is that corals are highly endurable and prone to survive, if given the tiniest of chance. Which means, we can still change the faith of our oceans, we can still save the underwater world.

Yesterday I watched the award winning film “Chasing Coral“, a truly eye-opening documentary made in collaboration with WWF. The film shows the beauty of the underwater world, and its destruction. In other words, the reality. The team spent 3 years shooting the film, including support from underwater videographers and scientists around the world, and the outcome is stunning. Both in good and bad, as the shooting shows the true beauty of the coral reefs. The film explains their function and importance, and features the reality and feared future that the changing climate is causing.

Coral reefs don’t need to be saved for their beauty, for our recreational purposes. They need to be saved because the life in oceans, and lives of many people depend on them. That’s right, coral reefs are not just important for the marine life. People receive many benefits from coral reefs as well. It’s an ecosystem that protects coastlines from storms and erosion; provide jobs for local communities and are a source of food and even new medicines (yes, in addition to the recreational value which further brings economic benefits to many). Income, food, physical protection, cultural and recreational values – coral reefs are invaluable for so many reasons.

Coral reefs contain the most diverse ecosystem on the planet, and they are vulnerable to human action causing global warming. Ironically, coral reefs are also protecting humans from some of the impacts of global warming, as they protect coastlines from the damaging effects of waves and tropical storms.

I have a new mission for my next dive excursion. I will continue shooting the beautiful scenery and vibrant underwater life, but I will add to that the other side of the reality. I will no longer choose the best angles to feature the beauty, but the best angles to feature the reality. And that reality often includes plastics, bleached corals and little marine life. From now on, I will start showing the underwater world as it is, not as I would wish it to be.

Watch the Chasing Coral film and you’ll understand, too. And care.

 

Diving with Bull Sharks

“Envious to extremes!” “Eek! You are crazy, I will have nightmares for weeks thanks for this”, “You are one lucky scuba-girl!”, “Have you got all your limbs still intact?”

I got a great variety of comments from friends to my recently published video where I went diving with over 30 bull sharks in Fiji. No cage, mind you. It was a totally insane experience, and one very difficult to describe with words. Even the video doesn’t show the awesomeness of the dive but gives a glimpse into the world I just dived into. A world where I can mix and mingle with bull sharks in their own environment.

The reactions to my video were clearly divided by divers / non-divers; divers being green of envy and ready to book their flights to try it out themselves and non-divers thinking I’m insane at best and never wanting to set their foot into an ocean ever again. Sharks divide people, clearly. For some they are fearful, horrid predators, to others amazing, beautiful and gracious creatures that we get to observe underwater, when lucky enough.

I had read about this shark dive opportunity online so I had a faint idea of what to expect, but still the dive with so many bull sharks around me was even better than I could ever have imagined. You have to experience it to get that feeling, be in midst of 30 huge bull sharks to appreciate their awesomeness. We did 2 dives there, and saw probably a hundred different reef, black tip and white tip sharks as well, but the bull sharks were the stars of the day. Honestly, I felt no fear at any time, just enormous gratitude for the experience and breath-taking amazement.

The bull shark dive was organized by Beqa Adventure Divers (the acronym BAD might be cool but not descriptive) in Pacific Harbour, Fiji. When it comes to diving with the sharks, they know what they are doing.

The shark diving is organized in Shark Reef Marine Reserve, established in 2004, as a protected sanctuary for the sharks and to preserve the ecosystem where they live. They collaborate with the villages in the area,traditional “owners” of the reef, who have relinquished their respective fishing rights to the Shark Reef and get compensation from divers instead.

My major concern once first learning about this opportunity, was the fact that the sharks are being fed and hence guaranteed to be seen in such huge numbers. I’ve typically been wary about practices of feeding wild animals for enhanced sighting of them, but I observed or felt no harm being done to these amazing animals by them being fed. They are not caught, harmed by boat engines, touched by people or disturbed in any ways I could imagine even potentially harmful. Instead, it felt these guys truly cared for protection of the animals, of the reef ecosystem – and the villages and local communities who make their living out of the ocean (and us, their clients). They have extensive research material, blog posts and information on their website and collaborate with the government of Fiji.

I can’t express with words how amazing, eye-opening and wonderful this experience was, and I wouldn’t say that if I had any doubts about the activity being safe – both for the sharks and for us the divers. There are many ways to protect our oceans, reefs and their inhabitants – shark diving being an option when organized with benefits of all in mind.

I would like to encourage people to learn more about the oceans, about sharks and what their preservation means for us all. Set your foot in the ocean, don’t be afraid. I dived among 30 bull sharks and yes, still got all my limbs intact. And several cool videos and memories to last a lifetime!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t love wasting food. Do you?

Do you waste food? I do sometimes but have become quite good at eating all I take and using all I buy. Mostly probably because I don’t cook so there’s next to nothing to waste from an empty fridge.

Food wastage and lost are huge problems globally. About a third of all the food produced globally, is lost or wasted. Technically, we produce enough food for no one to go hungry in the world. The figurative fact doesn’t comfort any of those 800 million people who don’t have enough food to lead a healthy life. Or to live at all.

I currently live in the wealthy city-state Singapore, which despite its small geographical size is one of the world’s top food secure countries. With the extremely limited agricultural ability, Singapore heavily relies on imports for food. Yet out of it’s annual imports, in 2014 it wasted 13 % of it. According to the statistics form the National Environment Agency, Singaporeans waste 788,600 tonnes of food, which equals to the weight of 108 full load double-decker buses.

Attitude change of consumers – normal people like you and me – is essential to tackle the issue. I recently saw the below disturbing video by Ministry of Funny, giving light to the controversy of food wasting. People on the streets got really mad about the comedian throwing away food and tried to stop him – yet at home, behind closed doors, they do the exactly same thing. All the time. Maybe the food is not intentionally wasted – but it should be intentionally addressed.

Eating every you take and buy won’t directly benefit any of the hundreds of million hungry people. But it is an easy action contributing to more efficient and reliant food distribution chain development and over time supporting to reduction of food waste. Being conscious of ones own choices and demanding grocery markets and food stalls to improve their practices as well will have direct positive impact. Reducing your own food waste is the least you can do.

Why I’m Vegetarian

I was just reading an excellent article by Marc Gunther on the meat eating (bad) habits where he was wondering why the environmental NGOs are doing nothing about it. There’s next to nothing lobbying against eating meat by the environmentalists, although meat production, especially beef, is disastrous for the planet.

Meat eating keeps the meat production alive. Beef, pork and chicken take up huge areas which otherwise could be used for growing plants for increased food production. The animals are fed with soy that is most often not produced sustainably and that causes destruction of valuable rainforests. Etc.

Then there are the animal rights to account for as well – a person must be emotionally disturbed if they don’t get disturbed by the sight of how live animals are transported and treated  and stored in most places. Had I not been vegetarian already, by the time I saw live chicken been dragged from their feet, tied to each other, next to a hot motorbike engine in chaotic traffic in Vietnam, well that sight would have been enough.

Yet, my story is different. I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years. I know it’s possible to live healthy and happy without eating meat. I’ve never been preaching about being vegetarian nor tried to convert my family and friends. I’m also not about to start but I can prove how easy and doable it is. Even in vegetarian unfriendly places like the Philippines. For a sample’s sake, my story could be shared as well.

I’m vegetarian out of no noble reasons. I’m aware of the positive “side effects” of being a vegetarian but these had nothing to do with my decision to stop eating meat at the age of 14. No. I was a school girl in Finland in the mid-nineties, when vegetarian was something rare or even unheard of. But then one girl in my school did have ethical thinking and wanted to stop eating meat. The cafeteria, which must offer a free school lunch for all the students, had no choice but to prepare her a separate meal every day. When I saw her walking past the long lunch queue, walking into the kitchen and getting her special meal, something inside me lit up. I don’t need to queue either!

I became a vegetarian out of my despise for queuing.

I’ve remained a vegetarian for all these years out of a habit. Of course I’ve embraced all the positive impacts too, increasingly so in the years I’ve been living in the developing countries. There’s no way back. For me being vegetarian is an easy habit which brings positive impact to the planet. I’m not perfect, I eat milk and egg products. I travel by plane and sometimes use the a/c at home. There are other sins too but no need to reveal everything?

Point is, being vegetarian is easy and it’s common. It’s also not the only way forward. Reducing meat consumption is a great first step. Considering own consumer behaviour and how the food has been produced, could follow. Nowadays vegetarian food is extremely tasty and the variety of options incredible. Try it yourself, if you don’t believe me. The only problem might be, that the queues for vegetarian food stalls are getting longer and longer.