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Ocean Plastics and Conservation
Alison Foley - Ten Little Pieces
17th March 2020

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Ocean Plastics and Conservation

By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish with 8 million metric tonnes of rubbish entering the ocean every year – that’s a garbage truck every hour of every minute of every day. With plastic production set to double in the next 10 years, our oceans are in trouble as are we.

For those of us who’ve worked and lived on the sea, called it our home and respected its strength, unpredictability and majesty, it’s particularly heartbreaking to come to terms with the devastating environmental impacts of plastic pollution on waterways across the globe. From the Caribbean, to the South Pacific, the Greek Islands, to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and her mysterious depths, there isn’t a place that plastic can’t be found. Plastic never goes away, it just gets smaller.

I spent 8 years onboard superyachts cruising the world. I was fortunate to see some of the world’s most remote, fragile and beautiful environments, both above and below the water. But over recent years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the damage our consumption habits are wreaking on our waterways, ecosystems and our own health. I intend to use the extraordinary privileges of education, connection, opportunity and commitment to make not just ripples, but the biggest splash I possibly can to contribute to the global wave of change that’s required to save our oceans for my children and for yours.

Each week, we all consume about a credit card’s worth of plastic. We’ve seen a 60% reduction in global biodiversity in the last 35 years, and statistics show us that this is going to get a whole lot worse. What we choose to do matters as to how much worse it’s going to get.
My penny drop moment came about one stunning Summer’s day on Noosa Main Beach with my hot, tired and cranky children whinging for the long promised ice-cream. While I packed up the beach kit, I said to my kids that an ice-cream would cost them ten little pieces of rubbish. To my astonishment, within 20m or so of beach, they returned to me with 3 bags full of cans, bottles, straws, food wrappers and cigarette butts. We washed our hands, and as we got the ice-creams, my son Liam asked for his in a cone because he didn’t want the little plastic spoon that came with the cup.

And so, Ten Little Pieces was born. An empowerment movement for ordinary folks to make a big difference to the places they love by collecting ten little pieces of rubbish, anytime, anywhere, especially with children involved. It’s an easy mantra for children to remember and repeat, developing respectful habits that connect them to the places they play, knowing that every little piece of rubbish we can stop from reaching the ocean is one less that might suffocate a bird or be ingested by a turtle.
This opens conversations around conscious consumerism, environmental stewardship and a rethinking of our concept of waste. From humble beginnings just 2 years ago, Ten Little Pieces has evolved into a 5 Gyres Ambassador, a Community Ally of Clean Up Australia, a member of the United Nations Environment Program – The Global Partnership on Marine Litter and we’ve just been awarded the Sunshine Coast Australia Day Award for Environment & Sustainability.

The beauty and popularity of the Ten Little Pieces philosophy rests in its simplicity…. anytime, anywhere, we can all make a huge difference to the places we love, and this is especially empowering for children.
Through my studies with the United Nations & the University of Netherlands in Marine Litter I was encouraged to apply for and from 10,000 applicants, I was selected.

eXXpedition is a pioneering 2 year ocean sailing mission onboard 74’ S/V TravelEdge to circumnavigate the globe to research, raise awareness of and advocate solutions to the devastating environmental and health impacts of plastics and toxics in our oceans. As our mission director, Emily Penn says “there isn’t one silver bullet solution to plastic pollution, but the beauty of it is that there are hundreds of solutions”.  The mission will be crewed by 300 women scientists, artists, activists, educators, media experts, mothers and changemakers from all over the world, connected by a passion to protect our shared oceans from plastic pollution. Each of the 30 voyages will engage in cutting edge research through documenting and sampling ocean plastics and each landfall will involve local outreach through beach cleans and education activities encouraging networking, environmental awareness and collaboration on solutions-based thinking. I’ll be joining the crew for Leg 11, Tonga to Fiji in May 2020, covering 500 nautical miles through waters and islands afflicted by the debris that’s accumulating in the Southern Pacific Gyre.

I know that this experience will be life changing for me and I’ll return to my role as director of Ten Little Pieces with a focus and clarity on using my skills and knowledge as a catalyst for cultural and societal shifts in consumption patterns and the encouragement of closed loop systems. There’s still hope. And I’m so excited to be part of it.  You can follow the voyage through and through Ten Little Pieces social channels on Facebook and Instagram.

As Maya Angelou once said “do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better”. As crew we have the privilege of working on and playing by the oceans, and I think we have a duty to step up to protect them. But how? I recommend avoiding single use plastic at every opportunity and starting conversations with your crew mates, shipyards and suppliers about reducing your impact and waste. At every port, participate in local clean ups and exercise your power to turn off the tap when it comes to using items that have a life span hundreds of years beyond their usefulness. Every single use plastic item you find an alternative to, from bamboo toothbrushes to using refillable water bottles to starting conversations with your providors and suppliers to reduce unnecessary packaging, all starts a chain reaction of awareness. This is how cultural shift begins, by rethinking our impact and exercising our ability to change.

And if you see plastic and debris in the places you visit, on your dock or beach, please pick it up. Just Ten Little Pieces can make a huge difference to the health of our oceans.




Photo Courtesy:

  • Pablo Pavlovich
  • Tracey McNaughton of LetMeSea Photography
  • Sunshine Coast Daily
  • Alison Foley