With the full moon high in the sky, reflecting a path of light on the emerald waters at Mon Repos, near Bundaberg north of Brisbane, it's a humbling experience to watch several dozen baby turtles scurrying down the beach toward the natural beacon soon after hatching.
The Pacific Ocean into which the turtles are heading will pose many natural threats. Indeed, an incredibly small number of these turtles will survive to maturity and manage to return to the same beach - literally decades later - to lay another batch of eggs.
And that figure is only due to the dangers posed by the natural ecosystem. Imagine the danger being increased many times by humanity's interference, including dumping countless tonnes of rubbish into the oceans every year.
This is what Contiki Storytellers Australia and Surfrider Foundation are trying to prevent.
Contiki took a group of young representatives, tied to the sea emotionally as much as naturally, on a journey to Eastern Australia in November 2015. Included in the entourage was New Zealand songwriter and YouTuber, Jamie McDell, who has long been an advocate for defending the world's oceans.
Along with Australian pro-surfer sibling duo Ellie-Jean Coffey and Jackson Coffey, Japanese pro surfer Masato Yukawa, American photographer Pete Halvorsen and Hawaiian Instagrammer Chelsea Yamase, over ten days Jamie saw first hand how the gleaming coastlines of Australia - and indeed the oceans of the world - are at risk, as animals increasingly become entangled in and ingest plastics and other human-generated waste.
She gave Element an insight into what she took away from the experience, and how other New Zealanders can help.
How did you become involved with Contiki Storytellers Australia?
I was lucky enough to have been invited on the 2014 Contiki Storytellers journey to Costa Rica. That year's focus was around protecting the leatherback sea turtles and their breeding process. I was delighted when the Contiki team contacted me about the Australia trip! Anyone who's followed my music career or who has been part of my journey online would have seen the love I have for the outdoors and have heard me sing or talk about some of the issues our environment faces. The mix of the Australian surf culture and the focus on how humans effect our environment fit my personality pretty perfectly. So once again I was off to tell a story!
As a Storyteller, what have you been involved in to increase public awareness of plastic pollution? Both while you were on the trip and in New Zealand
My way of storytelling is usually through song, imagery and online conversation. I grew up either on and around the ocean so I experienced first hand the effects our society has on our ecosystem. There were simple things I started to notice over the years, less fish in our old fishing spots, small or no crayfish at our local dive spots, dirtier water and more debris at secluded beaches we used to visit. These were things I began to document through my songwriting. A particular example being a song I wrote for our decreasing population of Maui's dolphins called 'Without A Voice' that I posted to YouTube (see below). The song got peoples attention and eventually led to me performing it at an Auckland Council meeting asking for more protection of the species. It was that song that made me realise what social media could help me do and my online content became more focused around inspiring young people to get outdoors and figure out for themselves why it is important for us to look after our land and sea. I've always believed it's more helpful to give people a reason to care rather than just telling them they should.
Have you had any particular experiences that have shown you how much of a problem plastic pollution is?
I have seen many things that show how much humans have an effect on our environment but it really was a particular clean up on this trip to Australia that tugged on my heartstrings. We travelled out of a town called Yeppoon to a secluded beach, far from civilisation, to clean up plastic debris. Firstly the amount of plastic washed up on that beach was a shock to the system, there were about thirty of us picking up rubbish that day and we couldn't have picked it all up. What really stuck with me though was the fact that this debris was washed up here from the ocean, not from crowds of people irresponsibly disposing of their rubbish on the beach, but straight from the sea. We picked up all sorts of everyday items; toothbrushes, shoes, lighters... you name a plastic object and it was most likely washed up there. Ever since, those objects have been stuck on my brain and driven my decisions when purchasing household items. Bamboo toothbrushes are a thing by the way.
Do you think New Zealand faces similar threats from plastic as identified in the Storytellers video?
I think the entire world faces the same threats from plastic pollution. Some experiencing these threats more and faster than others right now but the fact is all of our oceans connect up. What we do here effects what happens there and the other way around. One of the most important things to come to terms with is the fact that just because you can't see it doesn't mean its not there. I believe the advantage we have as New Zealanders is that we are surrounded by water that is so accessible to us, therefore can easily develop an appreciation and love for the sea and hopefully that need to protect it for whatever reason works for you. The New Zealanders I've been lucky to work with are also some of the most innovative and creative people I've ever met, so combined with that natural love for our environment I'm excited to see what we can pioneer here locally and eventually go on to lead more communities in the right direction - towards a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle.
Do you know of relevant sustainable initiatives in New Zealand that people might like to get involved in?
We have some awesome groups doing incredible things here in New Zealand. The name that most people would've heard of is Sustainable Coastlines. These guys are constantly organising beach clean ups, planting trees and educating the community on ways to look after the land we love. I will actually be joining Contiki and Sustainable Coastlines for a beach clean up toward the end of February. I was also involved with a group of young adventurers who called their project 'The Plastic Bottle Kayak' (read Element's story here). We built kayaks out of plastic bottles and paddled them through the Abel Tasman to inspire creative thinking when it comes to recycling. There's still a lot of space for bright ideas and projects but also some really simple things we can all do at home to reduce our use of plastic. Contiki.com/storytellers is a great place for tips! As a young person yourself, trying to make your way in the world, it's a big deal that you're devoting your time and passion to this cause.
Why do you do it?
What it all comes down to for me is actually kind of selfish really, I just want to surf in clear water, dive with healthy marine life and protect what's given my life so much joy.