Straight talking about oceans of plastic

Volvo Ocean Racer and Kiwi sailor Bianca Cook visited Manly Sailing Club on Whangaparaoa Peninsula last month to take part in a beach clean-up, talk about marine pollution and answer questions about her recent race experiences.

About 50 people turned up to the club for the event, on September 14. The clean up group did not need long to fill their bags with rubbish. Within about 30 minutes, there was a large pile, including beer bottles, cans, straws, plastic bags, lolly sticks and wrappers, cigarette butts, fishing nets and a plethora of smaller pieces of plastic, known as secondary microplastics, that have been broken down from larger pieces. The largest thing found on the beach was a safety cone barrier bar.

With the light fading, hungry volunteers enjoyed a sausage sizzle before heading into the clubrooms for a question and answer session with Bianca about her time aboard the Volvo Ocean 65 yacht Turn The Tide On Plastic, that came sixth in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Bianca described the overall race as incessant. “It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” she said. “It was like a relentless fire hose in your face. It doesn’t matter how much gear you’ve got on, you’re always wet.”

Bianca, who became the first Kiwi woman to race as part of a mixed crew in the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race, was then asked a number of sailing questions. These ranged from race preparation to the experience of sailing through the enormous waves of the Southern Ocean, to her favourite dehydrated food.

A question about safety on board led to a discussion about John Fisher, a British sailor on Scallywag, who was lost overboard in the Southern Ocean during the race.

Bianca also spoke with alarm about the debris floating in our oceans. When asked about the biggest piece of rubbish she saw out there during the race, Bianca described the time that the yacht hit a wheelie bin.

During the race, her yacht collected oceanographic data (using filters) as part of an exercise to track and analyse the existence of microplastic in some of the most remote parts of the world’s oceans. “A total of 66 out of the 68 samples we collected contained microplastics,” Bianca said.

Asked about the role that a community such as the Hibiscus Coast can play to reduce marine pollution, Bianca said that the real message is sustainability.

“We need to stop the use of single-use plastics such as plastic bags, straws and water bottles and move towards more sustainable services and products,” she said.