Leave only Footprints – Part II

May 14, 2019
What can we as individuals … boat & yacht owners, crew, and other yachting industry professionals … do?

“People are such slobs!”

This what an older gentleman exclaimed this morning, rolling his eyes, as we were both walking our dogs at the park by the local boat ramp and picking up whatever trash we came across. 

It is disheartening to see the amount of trash and plastic, in particular in and near the water we all enjoy. It took me just 10 minutes to fill up a large garbage bag with plastic picked up on the beach of a protected nature reserve we like to anchor by. Some of it floats in from the ocean, some of it gets left behind by inconsiderate visitors. But, if we could all make an effort, no matter how small, it would add up to a big difference collectively!

My blog last week, Leave only Footprints – Part I, looked at what some of the yachting industry leaders are doing. This week, I will highlight what can be done at the individual level to illustrate what a difference we can all make.

One nice example of what yacht owners and crew are doing is M/Y Ace and Garçon’s Environmental Committee. “Following the success of their mass cleanup in December of last year, M/Y Ace captain Vladimir Celar and his crew, who have formed the Ace Garçon Environmental Committee, have several other environmental projects planned for the future, demonstrating just how easy it is to make a difference to the oceans and the environment that is vital to our industry.” [1] The M/Y Ace owner “…gave the go-ahead for the committee to participate in these environmental projects and supports the team’s notion of: Get involved. Recycle. Save the Oceans.

 One example of what the Committee does includes organizing a large mangrove cleanup in Thailand, in collaboration with a local village head who also mobilized his resources, “…resulting in a turnout of about 80 locals, including 30 children. At least 500 bags of plastics and rubbish were carted away in four truckloads to be recycled.”

One very important point highlighted by the initiative is that it does not require a big budget to make a difference!  “… Almost no budget is needed to reduce the use of plastic, do a beach or dive site cleanup or further educate the crew or local communities. We discussed this with the owner and asked for only a few hours a month for the crew to spend on a good cause with a very small budget. It is incredible what a group of crew with a couple of tenders and usual onboard equipment can do to make a change.

 The massive mangrove and beach cleanup we did in Thailand with the local community cost almost nothing. We spent about €1,000 of donated money on educational books, coloring books, pens made out of recycled newspapers and reusable water bottles. Without donations, the project would cost almost nothing.

 Our current project’s budget is about the cost of one day of mooring fees for a yacht, and that was to purchase and install the Seabin on the back of Garçon. It is the first portable Seabin that will remove plastics from the sea all over the world. This is already in action and proving to be an amazing project.”

Ace Garcon Environmental Committee

Another example of two yachts teaming up to clean up is that of M/Y Gigi and Axis. Their owner, Carl Allen, a Texan who sold his plastic bag business (somewhat ironic?), Heritage Bag Company, has built up a personal fleet, including Gigi and Axis. He now spends as much as 50% of his time onboard, cares deeply about the environment and has a mantra of reduce, reuse, and recycle.

While Gigi is all about the luxury experience, Axis specifically serves the owners to help them achieve three of their major goals: adventure, exploration and environmental protection. As Superyacht Times argues, this owner “… is a model for today’s superyacht owner: this combination of bringing together his personal enjoyment of yachting with exploration and research is an increasingly common one and a club in which the modern owner is increasingly likely to find themselves. As pleasurable as diving, fishing, treasure hunting, and exploring are for this particular owner, it is all imbued with a sense of wider purpose to which Allen is extremely dedicated.” [2]

Says Allen, “Because I come from the plastics industry, I am very concerned about pollution in the oceans and it’s been an opportunity for us to give back. We’ve partnered up with a couple of charitable organizations in The Bahamas to study pollution and to teach the kids about it. The thing about The Bahamas is because it’s in the Gulfstream, most of the trash there doesn’t come from the local area but from other countries. We’re trying to identify where it comes from, what kind of plastic it is and then we’re cleaning up a lot of the beaches. It’s really a triple effect because we’re educating, we’re cleaning up and we’re recycling.”

Allen also challenges habits onboard the yachts in his fleet, and encourages the crew to operate the yachts in an environmentally friendly way. For example, by using improved technology such as water filters as a replacement for the use of bottled water on board. “We have three captains that work for us and I’ve challenged all of them to reduce, reuse, and recycle. I always say to people: we’re yachters, we’re on the water all the time, so if you see stuff in the water, pick it up! If you see a plastic bag or you see a six-pack holder or even a bottle, eventually that’s going to break down into plastic dust. So not only are you cleaning up something that’s ugly to look at but you’re taking plastic dust out of the problem. We’ve found more than one sea turtle, and they’ve found sperm whales and blue whales that have died because they ingest plastic film and it clogs their digestive system.”

Another big project for Mr. Allen is the sustainable redevelopment of Walker Cay in the Bahamas, destroyed by hurricanes and long closed to the public. “I’ve made a commitment to the Prime Minister that we’re going to make Walker’s an example of what the future of The Bahamas could look like. We’re looking to replace diesel with liquid natural gas along with renewable power that will reduce emissions. We are talking about putting in an aerobic digester to compact trash into small cubes, so with our ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ approach and the digester, we will be able to achieve our goal of zero waste coming off the island.”

YachtAid Global (YAG) [3] is an organization that provides humanitarian aid, conservation, and disaster response leadership through global programs, logistics management and consultation for superyachts which want to contribute to the world around them. In particular, the organization facilitates volunteering by yachts and crew as they work on humanitarian and conservation initiatives in the communities they visit. One example was Operation Beagle, a yachting community initiative which brought together yachts, government agencies and companies to help them deliver clean water access and reusable water bottles to every single school in the Galapagos. The community teamed up with M/Y DragonFly, M/Y Nomadess and M/Y ArcticP to bring clean water access, school supplies, and reusable metal water bottles to Galapagos schools.

While these initiatives all involved the owners and crew of larger yachts, it is important to realize that we all can make a difference, regardless of boat or yacht size, or even if you don’t own a boat or yacht at all, but work with and/or care about the ocean and the environment (as we all should).

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reform

Some small changes we can all make include: refusing single-use plastics (including take-out and meal delivery cutlery, plastic straws and stirrers, and single use plastic grocery and fruit and vegetable bags when provisioning), using recyclable coffee pods, using environmentally friendly cleaning products (for both the exterior and interior), applying environmentally and reef friendly sun creams, using water filters that make boat water safe for drinking and using refillable water bottles, refusing the use of party balloons and balloon strings, and picking up trash in places visited … on the water, and also on beaches and river shores.

If you think that making small changes doesn’t amount to much, consider my “back of the envelope calculation” below of the impact of some changes I have personally implemented by using reusable shopping bags for groceries, reusable mesh bags for fruit and vegetables, refillable water bottles, reusable coffee pods, and refusing plastic straws at bars and restaurants. For our household of two adults, two dogs and two bunnies:

Now imagine we all make a similar effort!

“It is estimated that by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.”
“The plastic that finds its way into the oceans inevitably will pose a risk of ingestion by sea birds, fish, marine mammals, etc. It’s not uncommon to see articles of sea life found dead with significant amounts of plastic in their stomach.” [4] Not only does this ruin our enjoyment and livelihoods on and around the water, we will also ingest this plastic when consuming fish. Change starts at the level of each individual. What changes can you make to help our oceans and the environment?

Follow my journey @yachtambassador