We were invited by the UK magazine Yachting Monthly to submit an entry into the inaugural Brian Black Memorial Award 2021- an international award for maritime journalism which aims to recognise the best writing about issues affecting the marine environment, as explored by sailing boat.
I am delighted to announce that we were one of 4 runner's up for this Award which was announced at the Southampton Boat Show last Friday 10th September.
It will be published in an upcoming issue of Yachting Monthly magazine as well as online and will hopefully spur and encourage other sailors to become involved in "Trash Tuesdays".
SPOTTING A LEOPARD IN THE MED
How a personal crusade against litter had a ripple effect that has given birth to ‘Trash Tuesdays’, an environmental initiative with ever-growing appeal
By Nicholas Hodgson, skipper of LADY ROSLYN
It has been said that homo sapiens has survived to become the dominant species on earth not by spotting the similarities in a landscape, but by spotting the differences. Early man would not have survived on the plains of Africa had he not been able to spot a leopard camouflaged in the grass. Nowadays, perhaps that skill is no longer needed as a survival skill, but our DNA still carries that evolutionary trait.
One afternoon during our 2017 sailing season in Greece, we anchored with two lines ashore in a beautiful cove just north of Russian Bay on the island of Poros. As we sat looking out over the hills and listening to the birds singing in the trees, my eyes were drawn to all the trash caught in the rocks and on the small beach just off our stern. I was bothered that our view was spoiled and that such a beautiful cove was marred by human carelessness and indifference.
I had spotted my ‘leopard’ and a journey began that I had never expected to take.
I popped our SUP into the water, took a few big blue bin bags with me and paddled to shore. Within minutes, I had cleaned up the little cove and filled a couple of the bags with plastic water bottles and bits of white polystyrene (by far the two most prevalent items of trash we find in the Mediterranean), as well as pieces of rope, fishing nets, lids and a plastic flip-flop.
Where it all began, Nic collecting the first bags of plastic trash in Russian Bay, Poros, Greece 2017
When I returned to LADY ROSLYN, our Saba 50 sailing catamaran, I sat down with my wife, Catherine, and we began to discuss how much better the cove looked, how much better I felt about having done something to help the environment and how we should draw attention to the issue of plastic trash washed up on the shores of the areas we were sailing in.
As we continued our voyage out into and across the Cyclades that summer, cleaning coves and anchorages as we went, I began posting pictures and blogposts to our LADY ROSLYN website and Facebook page, and a very simple idea began to take shape.
Cleaning beaches and coves as we travelled across the Cyclades during summer of 2017
- Clean the plastic trash from the coves and beaches where we are anchored and post images to social media.
- Encourage other sailors do the same, so that as a group we are ‘paying it forward’ for one another, and the anchorages we love to visit will be known to be free of trash.
- Understand and accept that individually we will make no lasting positive impact on the marine environment, but collectively only 1 000 sailors picking up one bag of trash and posting about it over a 20-week sailing season would amount to 20 000 bags of plastic trash removed from the marine environment in a season.
This would not be a grand design to clean the oceans of all plastic, but a ‘butterfly effect’ initiative, through which a group of like-minded individuals could make a real impact for themselves, for other sailors and for the environment.
The challenge was, and is, how to promote, encourage, cajole and incentivise sailors and charterers out there to get involved. What is clear to me is that around the Mediterranean coast, governments and local authorities do not and will not, in the foreseeable future, have the ability to clean up the coastlines and bays in which we love to anchor. If we in the sailing community wish to continue to enjoy beautiful surroundings that are not marred by pollution, we will have to do something about it ourselves.
That challenge has occupied the last five years of our sailing lives.
Lady Roslyn under sail in the Evia Channel, Greece. 2019
HARNESSING SOCIAL MEDIA
We started by creating the ‘Trash Tuesdays’ Facebook group, where sailors anywhere in the world can post images of the plastic trash they have collected and the location. They are encouraged to post on a Tuesday so that ‘trash fatigue’ does not set in. If the posts become wallpaper, we believe that people will become inured to the issue.
‘Trash Tuesdays’ has been adopted by the Facebook Med Sailing group, Catamaran Sailing group, Sailing the Lycian Coast of Turkey group and Fountaine Pajot Catamaran group, all of which actively encourage ‘Trash Tuesdays’ posts. Collectively, there currently are 38 360 members of these groups and, while Covid-19 has impacted the postings last year and this season so far, there is a genuine desire to join this movement by members who are sailing.
Involving friends who are sailing with us in our efforts to clear plastic trash from the anchorages.
Our next challenge is to encourage charter companies, marinas and coastal hotels to get involved by promoting plastic trash clean-ups by their charter clients, live-a-boards and guests. It requires some creative thinking using imaginative ways to encourage visitors to an area to pick up trash while they are on holiday.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
While sailing along the Kassandra Peninsula in northern Greece in July of 2019 we berthed for three nights at the beautiful and luxurious Sani Marina and Resort. It is far and away the most luxurious marina we have ever stayed in, and the adjoining hotels, restaurants and facilities are absolutely world-class. It is certainly worth visiting if you are in the area and feel like splurging on a little luxury. (As we were doing a little maintenance on LADY ROSLYN, I did feel a little as though I was the only one with silicone sealer and a spanner in my hand while everyone else was wearing Gucci and Prada.)
Running northwards from the edge of the resort is beautiful Bousoulas beach, a four-kilometre-long stretch of soft white sand. It is easily the longest white sand beach we have seen anywhere in Greece. On one side is the turquoise water of the Aegean and on the other, the beautiful forest and Sani Wetland, which is home to over 200 species of birds, some of which are rare and endangered.
Beautiful Bousoulas Beach, Kassandra Peninsula, Greece
It was such a beautiful day that I decided to go for a run along the beach. Once you are past the beach bar and umbrellas, which are located at the one end of the beach, there is only white sand stretching in front of you as far as the eye can see.
Because the sand at the water’s edge was a bit soft in places, making the going challenging, I found myself zigzagging back and forth across the beach, alternating between the water’s edge and the low dunes, looking for firmness underfoot. That’s when I began noticing plastic bottle caps dotted along my path, scattered like pebbles by Hansel, from the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale Hansel and Gretel.
At the far end of the beach where I stopped to catch my breath, I turned around and saw a bottle cap at my feet. I bent down to pick it up and put it in the back pocket of my running shorts, and that moment was the end of my run and the beginning of my ‘quest’.
I started picking up the caps as I walked. Within metres my pocket was full, so I took off my running cap and started filling it with the caps. I looked up and, knowing that the resort was four kilometres away, wondered how many caps I could pick up on the return leg. I thought to myself, “Imagine if you end up picking up 400 caps along this beach. That would be incredible and horrendous.”
Very soon my running cap and pocket were full and I had nothing else to carry all the caps in, so I took off my running shirt and tied a knot in the arms and neck to make a bag. I transferred all the plastic caps into my new ‘bag’ and put my hat back on.
It took me over two hours to meander back and forth along the beach from water’s edge to the dunes, and the shirt ‘bag’ kept getting fuller.
Nic's running shirt bag filled with bottle caps, at the end of Bousoulas Beach, Greece. 2019
By the time I reached the umbrellas at the end of the beach, my back was breaking from bending over and my heart was aching for the planet. We humans have chosen convenience over our conscience, and huge companies like Coca-Cola have placed profits before the planet.
I thought it amazingly ironic that the 500th cap I picked up was a red Coca-Cola screw-top lid, which I popped into my back pocket to remind myself who needs to be held accountable for this environmental travesty.
With the world facing a diabetes epidemic it is no wonder that Coca-Cola is branching out and aggressively producing and promoting bottled water under the Dasani and other brand names. All the blue caps (which make up far and away the majority of caps found here and in all the other trash pick-ups we do) are from bottled water and many of those are Dasani caps. Coca-Cola is the GIANT elephant in the room. If they are forced or persuaded to do something to find solutions to this mess, all the other smaller producers will also fall in line. It’s no longer good enough to hide behind the mantra that it is “the consumer’s responsibility to dispose of the plastic once purchased”. Of course, consumers must take responsibility for their actions, but the planet can no longer stand the promotion of rampant consumerism and convenience without holding the profitmakers to account.
So, how many plastic bottle caps did I pick up in the end?
668 bottle caps picked up off one beach with the 500th cap being a Coca Cola cap. Bousoulas Beach, Greece. 2019
Let that number sink in. One randomly chosen beautiful beach in a corner of Greece, with one cap lying on it for every five steps taken. Six-hundred-and-sixty-eight times I bent over to pick up a cap. Six-hundred-and-sixty-eight people who chose to throw away a bottle or the cap from that bottle without thinking. Six-hundred-and-sixty-eight pieces of plastic which could easily end up in a bird’s stomach.
But, 668 plastic bottle caps are no longer on that beach.
I do, at least, take heart from knowing that.
WALKING THE TALK?
After leaving Sani Marina we travelled north to Thessaloniki where we left LADY ROSLYN for six weeks to return home. As soon as I arrived there, I forwarded the blogpost and images I had taken on that run to Sani Resort, which borders Bousoulas beach, for their comments.
They have one of the most comprehensive sustainability reports of any corporation I have ever seen, and they take environmental responsibility very seriously. Our blogpost was given to their Sustainability Board, and they responded promptly with a call to action and an undertaking to ensure that the full length of the Bousoulas beach would be scanned regularly for trash, not just the beach area near to their umbrellas and beach bar.
On our journey south from Thessaloniki in September of that year, we stopped at Sani Marina for the night so that I could once again run the beach to see how it looked. I left LADY ROSLYN armed with a backpack, large plastic bin bag, water bottle and my phone.
I am really happy to say that the beach was MUCH cleaner than when I had run it that July. Clearly, Sani had kept their promise because I could see the tracks of a quadbike along the length of the beach, and I could see that the plastic trash I had not been able to pick up last time was no longer there.
I still managed to fill most of a bin bag with plastic trash, but if you consider that I effectively scanned eight kilometres of beach, only one bag of plastic is very heartening, and a corporate call to action can work.
THE BEAUTY OF THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Serendipity has followed us along the way and each interaction with others has helped promote ‘Trash Tuesdays’.
We were fortunate to be interviewed by one of the editors of this magazine for the December 2019 issue. ‘Trash Tuesdays’ was featured in the Fountaine Pajot magazine, which is sent to yacht owners and charter companies around the world, and we were their poster child for #WorldOceanDay last year. Tenrag, a large British charter company, approached us to ask if they could become involved and now features a ‘Trash Tuesdays’ tab on the homepage of their website and actively encourage their clients to get involved.
Yesterday, as we sat in a remote anchorage in the Kekova Roads, a very beautiful part of the coastline of southern Turkey, I took a WhatsApp call from an app developer in Perth, Western Australia. Stephen, the developer, wanted to get our input on how to integrate trash pick-up location pins and information onto their sail voyage logging app, Nebo. They have many American clients wishing to get involved in cleaning trash along the east coast of the USA and he had just read our last ‘Trash Tuesdays’ post from Gemiler Adasi in Turkey.
THE INDICATOR COVE
In July of 2018 we had anchored in a very beautiful cove just off Gemiler Adasi, near to the famous beach of Olu Deniz, along the Lycian or Turquoise Coast of Turkey.
Four of our good friends were on board. After anchoring and setting the two stern lines ashore, we could not help but notice all the plastic trash caught in the cove. We set off on SUPs and it took four of us well over an hour to collect a number of trash bags full of plastic.
Cleaning the cove near Gemiler Adasi with friends. 2018
Catherine and I returned there four weeks ago in July 2021. While preparing to anchor, I wondered how we might find this special little cove, which often attracts turtles to its turquoise waters.
The beautiful cove near Gemiler Adasi. Cleared of plastic again. 2021
The wind and wave action channels and funnels all sorts of debris into this cove, and I remembered thinking in 2018 that the wind was doing us a favour by concentrating all the trash in one small area. I would call it an ‘indicator’ cove in that the amount of plastic that concentrates there can tell us just how well or poorly a coastline is doing plastic-trashwise.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that after three years away it took me, working on my own, 45 minutes to collect what filled only one full bag of plastic trash. The cove is now once again completely plastic trash-free.
While there were the usual culprits of Coca-Cola bottles and caps and multiple empty plastic water bottles, the concern for me is the huge increase in microplastic scum on the water. The white polystyrene fish crates, thin plastic bags and sheet plastic break down easily under the sun’s UV rays. They then become brittle and reduce in size to individual pieces that are hard to collect and float on or just below the surface for marine species to eat.
How to capture those items will be food for thought for me this season.
Microplastic scum and small polystyrene balls broken from larger pieces
SHARING THE LOVE
Just as the small cove at Gemiler Adasi gives me hope that bays and beaches that are cleaned can remain relatively clear of plastic for an extended period, so is the fact that many of the anchorages we have stopped at during the last six years of cruising in the Mediterranean have been found to be completely clear of plastic trash. This is good news.
However, we cannot be complacent. Yachting is becoming ever more popular and I believe that the shock of Covid has prompted many people to act on their dreams of sailing to distant shores.
It is very easy to become immune or despondent when we see all the trash ashore, but I believe that if we all make an effort to clean the anchorages we stop at, we make the stay more pleasant for ourselves while ‘paying it forward’ for others who will visit there after us.
It’s a virtuous circle: what benefits me benefits my fellow man, benefits the marine environment.
Next time you anchor in a beautiful cove see if you can spot the ‘leopard’ in the grass.