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Boating to Save Oceans

Boating to Save Oceans

Ian Thomson is known for setting the world record in the fastest solo circumnavigation of Australia. His motivation for sailing came first from his love of windsurfing. He owned his first boat to run windsurfing and kitesurfing tours. In his work running sailing and diving charters in the Whitsundays, he kept finding dead turtles. He took them in for autopsy to find the reason. “One was found to have a plastic bag stuck perfectly in its stomach and inside the bag were 12 cigarette butts, a plastic bottle cap and half of a coke can, along with sea grass and corals. To look into the eye of a dead sea turtle is heart breaking. To find out it was because of what we call a convenient item, made me mad.”

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One night, while watching the movie Waterworld, Ian had an epiphany. “The thought came that I could sail around Australia and raise awareness of the issue of plastic bags.  I formed Save Our Seas Ocean Racing and did what I do best—sailed to make a difference.  I’m not a scientist so sailing was the best medium.” The rest, as they say, is history.

He achieved his goal not without adverse challenges. But setting the record was not his main goal. “On completing the mission, it gave me a sense of achievement like no other.  The world record didn’t mean that much to me but the profile it created set me up to develop Ocean Crusaders and visit schools, educating our youth of the issues our oceans are facing.”

Education of the youth is his primary advocacy. “I feel that teaching our youth is the best way to change our future. I have a vision of children shopping with their parents and at the checkout tugging at their parent’s leg saying, ‘Don’t use plastic bags. They kill turtles!’ There are a lot of ‘clean-up’ organisations out there but I strongly believe that prevention is better than a cure.  This is what we teach.  Change your habits and you can make a difference.  Every bag you say no to counts. It could save a turtle’s life.”

Ian and Annika created the Plastics of the Pacific campaign to address the growing problem of accumulating plastic in the Pacific Ocean. The world’s oceans have five massive gyres—networks of currents that circulate around the world—and one of which is the Southern Pacific Gyre, the one closest to Australia.

“In the 2008 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, while on board Rudy Weber’s Too Impetuous, we let go of a message in a bottle,” Ian recalls. “Two and half years later, that bottle was found at Easter time on Lady Elliot Island.  The boat was racing in the Brisbane to Gladstone at the time.  Amazing coincidence! But if you understand the ocean currents, then you will question how it got there.  The East Coast current is south-bound.  There is no way possible it could just go up the coast.  It would have done a full lap of the South Pacific.”

For Ian and Annika, both skippers and divers, the experience with the message in the bottle, brought about many questions about how plastics are disposed of in first world-countries such as Australia, and how plastics are being used and disposed of on island states that do not have recycling facilities. “Educating remote communities is essential so they know the impact it will have on their very existence.  After all, the people on islands rely on seafood a lot.”

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They conduct their campaigns through education programs that they have made from documenting their travels on their recently acquired boat, a 2001 Dufour GS43. “This boat is perfect for what we need.  It is big enough for all the gear, can still take guests and will hopefully be easy to sell when we get her back to Australia next year.  If we can’t sell it we will live on it. It doesn’t bother us either way.  We chose this particular boat because of the layout.  The fourth convertible cabin is perfect to store gear in and the twin helms allow us to access swim platform easily.”

Ian and Annika are starting their entry into the Pacific Ocean through South America, having purchased their boat in Croatia. They have come a long way from racing yachts to living a life exclusively devoted to the ocean. And their message is clear: “Clean oceans make us all winners!”

 

 

By Roselle Tenefrancia

 

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