Tag Archives: volunteer stories

Guest Blog #1 Koh Tao by Ayesha Cantrell, Master Divers

Clean ups really make me mad, not doing them but the fact that they have to be done.  It amazes me that the human race has come so far but we still don’t seem to be able to dispose of our litter and waste properly.

I’m one of the owners of Master Divers  which is a dive centre located on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand.  It’s a small island that sees a lot of visitors and it angers me that some just don’t take care.  After all people visit because it’s beautiful: so why leave your rubbish on the beach where you have been lounging all day?  Who do you think is going to pick it up? Clearly this is not everyone but it only takes a small percentage.  Don’t they realize their rubbish is likely to end up in the ocean destroying the marine life that you have come here to snorkel and dive with ?

A particular example of this would be a small cove on Koh Tao called Laem Thien. This little bay once played host to a resort which has since been abandoned.  The road is overgrown but it makes a great hike and it’s often visited by members of our team.  The resort is like a ghost town and spooky but great fun.  Visitors hike there too and we have noticed on our visits that the resort has accumulated a lot of plastic bottles  and other general rubbish which apparently visitors to the bay have left.  I’m not sure who they thought would take them away or why, as the bottles were empty, it was such a hassle to carry them back.  We have made this cove our pet project now and regularly go to clean it up.    On our last trip we collected, amongst many other things, 7 large rubbish bags full of just plastic bottles alone. We have now sited large bins and notices so atleast the rubbish is safe from reaching the ocean.

This nicely brings me to the next topic that makes my blood boil, single use plastic! The relationship to its consumption and any clean up you will have participated in is direct.  If not, spend 30 min with 2 hands clearing up and you’ll almost certainly see what I mean. Thailand has yet to lay down any rules regarding plastic bags so the amount consumed is immense add to that the fact that tap water isn’t safe to drink and you have a plastic mountain. As we all know plastic bags are extremely dangerous to marine life and plastic in general is infected our day to lives at an alarming rate.  So while I certainly do agree we need to keep our environment tidy and waste free, if we limited our waste to start with we wouldn’t be feeding the cycle.   And you know what – this isn’t difficult to do !

Personally the team have looked at their lives and minimized as much single use plastic as they can. In our house we use large returnable and refillable drinking water containers, refill our toiletries bottles, use a mineral stick deodorant and carry re-usable cloth shopping bags for groceries etc… We’ve implemented similar measures in our dive centre too.  Free water refills are available and divers are encouraged to use our re-usable take-away pots when going out for take-away.  We provide re-usable beakers for those who pop out to get a refreshing fruit shake from the nearby vendors too. We sell branded cloth bags with a no plastic message and we use them in the day-to-day dive centre tasks too.  We think carefully about each purchase and don’t buy, for example, single service coffee sachets.  We lobby suppliers where possible; our t-shirt supply doesn’t individually wrap in plastic anymore which was a huge win!

Education on the issue is key.  We explain the issue to every guest; we have also created a t-shirt to help spread the message too.  We have filmed a short video and are currently very involved with an island wide project to limit the use of plastic straws; as more bars and restaurants get involved more want to be involved.

Check out the video here,  “>at2bui-tGLU

As I said, it didn’t take much thought or cost a lot either but the impact it’s had on the waste produced is incalculable.

So please don’t just take 30 mins with 2 hands to clean your environment, take 30 mins and think about how to limit your contribution to this cycle too and help to stop feeding the plastic mountain!

Ayesha Cantrell

Master Divers, Koh Tao

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Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture tsunami cleanup

As our departure date has been put back to 2nd of June some of the expedition team decided to head north towards Fukushima and give some time volunteering at tsunami cleanup.

Furnished with a handy volunteer guide in Japanese, Marcus our expedition leader from 5 Gyres, secured our insurance cards, some safety gear and booked our bus tickets.

Akira from the Japanese broadcaster NHK was invaluable with information and advice, he even came to the rescue when yours truly left his audio recorder on a railway platform and managed to return it before our bus left Yokohoma!

The area most needing assistance is near Minamisoma, Fukushima prefecture, which until April has been part of the exclusion zone around the failed nuclear reactor.

This area is surreal, like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, devoid of people. Smashed infrastructure, houses and vehicles mark the landscape, reminders of the power of the sea. Mr Suzuki, who helped look after us during the cleanup said the cars with number plates still attached indicated their owners were still unaccounted for.

It is a snapshot of what the Japanese coastline looked like shortly after the tsunami hit, with nature slowly taking over.  Now this area has been opened again the survivors who chose to return  are now slowly rebuilding their homes and cleaning up their properties.

Our arrival at the volunteer center initially caused some confusion amongst the administration who were not set up to cater for international volunteers. Fortunately they were impressed to see we already had our insurance cards and were able to find some English speakers among the Japanese volunteers to help out.We were assigned to clear a drainage ditch around Kazuko Sakaida’s house which just escaped being destroyed by the Tsunami. Kazuko saw the wave approaching, flooding her fields and almost reaching her door.  She has been unable to return here until recently, being kept away due to high radiation levels.
Kazuko bought us snacks and drinks in appreciation of our efforts.

Marcus from 5 Gyres is also an accomplished sculptor, with work in the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. Kazuko agreed to let him cast her hand as part of an ongoing project on plastic pollution. With bemusement she knelt on her hardwood floor waiting for the cast to set. Kazuko was fascinated with the detail in the resulting positive of her hand.

The Japanese people possess an incredible resilience, this is apparent in the survivors and volunteers still working on rebuilding after the tsunami and nuclear disaster. It was an honour for us to be accepted by these people and to feel their warmth and appreciation . Working side by side with Mr Suzuki and the other Japanese volunteers was a great experience, one I will carry for a long time to come.

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Celebrating our volunteers: Let’s hear it for the mermaids

Check out Sarah Mermaid’s story:

Sarah Mermaid is a Two Hands Project participant based in Sydney, Australia.

She also holds sustainable workshops for kids and adults where they reuse plastic found on the beach – turning them into works of art!

These straws have been used for approximately 10 minutes – they have another 300-400 years to live! Let’s make some cool mermaid art!

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