Floating plastic ‘islands’ now cover an area equivalent to the continent of Africa. By 2025 there will be one kilogram of plastic for every three kilogram of fish. It’s a nightmarish vision that could become reality unless something changes. Experts say that while the ‘plastic soup’ is worsening, the positive note is that it is getting more attention — and from some of the world’s most influential individuals and companies.
Ever since David de Rothschild crossed the Pacific Ocean on a 60ft catamaran made from 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles, yachting and the state of the world’s plastic have been intertwined. When the young billionaire sailed the Plastiki 8,000 nautical miles from San Francisco to Sydney in 2010, it was to raise awareness about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre of micro-plastic and debris.
Seven years later and ocean plastic is being given renewed attention by the luxury yachting industry. Superyacht companies, including Fraser Yachts, Princess Yachts and Y.CO, have all launched initiatives to reduce ocean plastic in the last fortnight alone.
To a cynic, these programmes might sound like a case of PR ‘greenwash’. To a pessimist, they might seem a drop in the ocean, so to speak. But Doug Woodring, a sustainability veteran who co-founded the Ocean Recovery Alliance, reckons these initiatives could have a substantial impact.
“Superyacht people have a lot of money, and if they use the ocean to enjoy themselves, they could use their vision to protect it,” he reasons. “If boat boys can inspire a few billionaires to make a change, the trickle-down effect could be huge.”
Woodring and his team recently launched a free app called Global Alert, a map of “trash hotspots” in the world’s waters. “If people are on the boats and they see areas of trash on the coastline or reefs, they can geo-tag it with photos on the app to notify charities and stakeholders. They don’t even have to get their hands dirty.”
As for the superyacht groups, Fort Lauderdale-based Fraser Yachts has teamed up with charity Plastic Oceans to tackle plastic contamination through education. The superyacht broker plans to educate crews on board their superyachts to talk to their clients about the importance of reducing plastic usage. Fraser Yachts also plans to ban plastic bottles in its 10 global offices and limit plastic usage in the work that it does.
Fraser is also going to suggest to clients that they allow scientists to have access to their yachts for marine exploration and conservation programmes. This is how Danish superyacht Christianshavn came to be chartered on an expedition through charity Plastic Change. The superyacht is currently being sailed around the remote islands of Midway, which, despite their isolated location, are significantly affected by the global plastic pollution.
Meanwhile, yacht charter and management company Y.CO has partnered with S’well to rid the world of plastic bottles by creating a stylish reusable alternative.
To kickstart its 2017 campaign called ‘Clearwater’, Y.CO will set up onboard screenings of the documentary, A Plastic Ocean, which uncovers the shocking truth beneath the surface of the oceans. Charlie Birkett, CEO and co-founder of Y.CO, reckons that the crew is in a unique position to raise awareness of these issues with owners and charterers. “If crew are standing on the aft deck of a superyacht next to some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world and can talk fluently and passionately about our responsibility to the oceans, that’s a really positive message and a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference.” Captains in the Y.CO fleet will nominate ‘plastic heroes’ each month: inspirational crew members who are leading the charge for environmentally friendly onboard operations.
Birkett believes that while superyachts are not usually associated with sustainability, new technology is enabling owners to build yachts with more efficiency and improved operational costs that are also gentler to the environment. “There’s definitely a trend in yacht design for making yachts somewhat simpler, using a lot of different materials, much more glass, and better technology to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Birkett.
Meanwhile Plymouth-based Princess Yachts has announced a collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society, helping the charity “to support and sustain marine environments” with funding going towards its Eddystone Reef Project near Plymouth in the UK.
“Together with the MCS, Princess is establishing programmes tackling all forms of marine litter, with plastics, naturally, taking on a high profile,” says Kiran Haslam, marketing director of Princess Yachts .
“Princess is fully committed to putting best-practice guidance into our owner’s manuals, getting the Princess team to officially attend beach clean-up operations, and we will kickstart further specific commitments as a company in 2017,” Haslam said.
For more information about Woodring’s Global Alert app, go to www.globalalert.org