Making conservation an art form, by Tristan Rutherford
Camper & Nicholsons SEA+I Magazine, May 2020
Plastic Pollution Coalition offers good company. Its 1,000 adherents include marine biologist Dr Sylvia Earle, who spent two weeks underwater as a NASA aquanaut, and actor Martin Sheen, who has funded direct action to safeguard whale and dolphin species. The Coalition’s unique force of science and celebrity has helped them sponsor a Senate Bill. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act will discuss recycling management across the United States later in 2020.
Shockingly, this environmental movement all started with a plastic bag.
Coalition co-founder and CEO Dianna Cohen studied art and biology at UCLA in California. After she graduated in 1989, Cohen started creating collages using brown paper bags, then began to add plastic bags. “In the early ‘80s supermarkets started to offer plastic bags instead of paper, saying that you were saving a tree,” Cohen recalls. “But nobody really talked about what the plastic bag was made of.”
Cohen loved the medium. “I asked artist friends to mail more plastic bags to me. I started receiving incredibly colourful versions from different parts of the world. These I cut up and reformed and reassembled to create my own messages.” The durability of plastic gave her an artistic epiphany. “I saw plastic as a kind of celebratory material,” she says in hindsight. Then two things happened at the same time.
“Firstly, collectors who purchased my pieces in the late nineties noticed that some of the bags appeared to be shattering about eight years later,” Cohen explains. “At first I got excited. I imagined that the plastic bags were organic like us, and that my artform had a finite lifespan.” Research told her the opposite. “Basically my plastic art was fissuring and breaking into smaller bits. But it was never going to go away. Plastic is something that earth simply cannot digest.”
Secondly, the 1997 edition of the Transpacific Yacht Race, where fast sailboats sprint downwind from California to Hawaii, competed as normal. Yet one racer, Captain Charles J. Moore, sailed home via one of the Pacific’s most isolated areas - and directly through an ocean of plastic.
Captain Moore had discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre of undegradable debris that’s now three times the size of France. Some 95% is microplastics, tiny shards of discarded lighters, toothbrushes, baby bottles, fishing lines and plastic bags, which marine life ingests with ease. The majority of the 1.5 million albatross on Midway Atoll now host plastic in their gastrointestinal tract. According to UN reports, the amount of plastic in our seas could outweigh fish within 30 years. It became clear to Cohen that our relationship with plastic had to change.
“Fortunately there’s a lot we can do to stop more plastic entering the ocean,” says the campaigner. “There are three R’s - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. To which our Coalition has added a fourth R - to Refuse single-use plastic.” Cohen encourages people to respond to all offerings of single-use plastics with the phrase ‘may I have it in a real glass or on a real plate please?’ “I’ve had very little kids come up to me and say ‘I’ve told my parents we can’t take plastic bags at the store anymore because turtles think they are jellyfish’. That’s a start.” Cohen advises using canvas bags, jute totes or baskets instead. “I'm basically like Little Red Riding Hood,” she jokes, referring to her woven basket. “I buy unpackaged food, or what they call ‘nude food’ in Australia.”
Plastic Pollution Coalition exists to raise consciousness. “Someone who listened to my TED talk was the founder of one of the world’s biggest computer manufacturers,” says Cohen. “After my five minute talk he came up and said ‘I have contacted the people I work with and told them to get rid of our plastic bottled beverages and switch to glass and filtered water options.”
No sailor wants to see more plastic in the sea. “That’s why I’m glad to have seen filtered seawater served on expedition yachts, sailboats and even on cruise ships” says Cohen. “Essentially, if there is a way for owners and staff not to bring a whole bunch of plastic bottled beverages on the boat then please don't.” Dozens of leading businesses have engaged with the Coalition to reduce their plastic footprint. This includes the Volvo Ocean Race, where Coalition members including Sailors For Our Sea helped make the American leg of the tournament plastic free. “Our website has a downloadable toolkit which lists workplace ideas if you own a company or business. And if your product leeches microbeads or microplastics, try to phase those out before the government forces you to.”
As legislation acts to reduce plastic - alongside social media boycotts of alleged polluters - companies that reduce plastic now could be gifted a PR bonus. “If getting rid of plastic is good business then I’m all for it,” says Cohen. Indeed saving the seas can add to superyacht’s caché. The most eagerly anticipated launch in 2021 is 183m eco-yacht REV. Built by Fincantieri to an Espen Oeino design, the luxurious 36-person charter can flip into a scientific research vessel. REV will be part powered by plastic collection trawlers that feed an energy producing incinerator, which helps guarantee a 21,120 nautical mile circumnavigation range without the need for refueling.
Camper & Nicholsons is a proud partner of Mission Blue, the ocean conservation organisation led by Dr Sylvia Earle. Their entire fleet can be chartered in Hope Spots, which are marine zones that pair unrivalled biodiversity with the need for additional protection. Guests will soon be able to view, track and log species as they cruise each Hope Spot using an app. Owners can complement the environmental trend by offering on-board lecturers, glass-bottomed kayaks, binoculars, wildlife spotting guides or further visits to uniquely natural locations.
Several yachts in the Camper & Nicholsons fleet are capable of ecologically conscious cruising. Sequoia is a 26m sailing boat, hand built in Indonesia by her American owner. She remains the only luxury yacht in the 18,000 island archipelago that conforms to US Coast Guard safety standards and the latest Environmental Protection Agency tiers. Best of all, Sequoia combines zero emission cruising with a PADI diving centre in the marine sanctuaries around Raja Ampat and Komodo Island, arguably the finest scuba zones on earth.