Facing up to one of the great global challenges

I first learnt there was something very wrong with how the world deals with plastic in 2008, when I was 17 years old. I was telling my Tae Kwon Do instructor that I was applying to study oceanography at university, and he said, “Oh interesting, so you’ll be talking about the plastic island.” And I said, “Er…what?”

“There’s an enormous pile of plastic sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the currents keep it there, it’s the size of a country”.

And I thought…no, surely not! That’s ridiculous. How could anyone let that happen? Why wouldn’t anyone have told me in the 17 years I’ve been on this planet? But I dutifully googled it, and lo and behold, the Great Pacific Garbage patch was very real. And it wasn’t just the Pacific; huge amounts of plastic were floating in the middle of every ocean.

So I included it in my application, and went on to study ocean science at university. And that sense of confusion about how environmental problems in the ocean can get so big has never really left me. The scale of the marine plastic pollution problem is overwhelming, and it can be distressing how issues that affect our oceans can easily become tragedies of the commons.

Nobody is solely responsible for the problems in our oceans, it costs a great deal to fix any problems that do arise, and everybody suffers if nobody stops the problems from happening. The way I’ve learnt to deal with this difficult reality is to focus on the flip side. Because when people do choose to confront these difficult challenges, either individually or together, I personally think this shows humanity at it’s best.

And I think the Aldabra Clean Up Project is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when people do decide to face up to one of these great global problems. This expedition was organised by a handful of people on two continents, and in under a year has managed to organise the trip and raise over £200 000 (≈SCR 3.5 million).

This is one of the most ambitious and impressive projects I have ever encountered (April’s FAQ blog is only the tip of the iceberg of thought/planning/logistics that has gone into this). I truly think this project has the potential to do great things, not just on Aldabra, but around the world.

I just feel so lucky to be a part of this – I think every part of the project is just…kind of beautiful, really. I am so excited to visit Aldabra, as it will be incredible to see a well-protected ecosystem. I’ve studied and worked in environmental sciences for 10 years, and this is the first time I’ll get to see a marine ecosystem this wild and healthy. It’s a dream come true for me to see a place like this.

But honestly, I’m pretty much just as excited to be able to pick up the plastic. I loved visiting sewage treatment works to collect samples during my masters degree, because I knew how much waste treatment facilities were doing to protect the environment.

Overall, it feels amazing to be part of an international team, tackling an international problem, and actually doing something useful to protect a valuable ecosystem from an anthropogenic threat. It’s been complicated to find the resources to do this expedition, but I think at the end our team will feel proud of what we’ve achieved.

My teammate recently gave a speech where she said she hoped that this expedition would show that even small people can do big things. I couldn’t agree more ☺

– Josie Mahony

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