Ryan Robertson talks about the Ocean Gybe project, the state of our oceans and the solution to our plastic problem
By the time Vancouver lads Ryan and Bryson Robertson and Hugh Patterson had graduated from the University of Victoria they had developed a love for surfing and sailing. Keen to travel, they decided that a sailboat would the best way to see the world and get to isolated beaches and much coveted surf spots.
“Sailing is a very cool sustainable way to travel,” says Ryan Robertson, "and so we thought, let's sail around the world!"
However, it was more than just adventure that pulled them to distant shores. They had all heard about the Great Pacific Gyre—a swirling, growing Texas-sized mess of plastic garbage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—and, as surfers and sailors, their respect for the ocean gave their trip purpose.
"Let's sail around the world!" (Image: Ocean Gybe)
A circumnavigation in pursuit of plastic pollution
“We knew we wanted to do something other than just going and having a good time," Robertson tells Granville Online. "We started to think, what happens to all that plastic that is not in the North Pacific Ocean?”
In 2007, they began their three-year circumnavigation of the globe, setting sail from La Paz, Mexico, bound for the most remote islands in the world, to explore, surf and conduct a number of garbage studies.
They soon found the answer to their question. All the plastic that isn’t in the great Pacific Garbage Patch ends up on the windward shores of tiny islands all around the world.
All that plastic: Cocos Keeling, Indian Ocean (Image: Ocean Gybe)
Travelling along the plastic migration
“We immersed ourselves in the plastic migration,” Robertson explains, “because the forces, the winds and currents, that drive a sailboat around the world are exactly the same forces that carry all the plastic around the world.”
What they saw along their journey was not pretty.
“It’s way worse than we thought it was.” Robertson admits. “We’d hit some really remote islands, anchor in this paradise, hike over to the other side of the island and honestly, you’d be embarrassed to be a part of the human race.”
(Image: Flickr / Vegabond Shutterbug)
They found that every type of plastic you can imagine had reached the shores of the remote beaches they landed on, however, education about disposal of waste and pollution had not.
“What we found, was that there is a cultural lag, where all these products are reaching these Third World countries way before the education that’s required to dispose of this stuff properly,” says Robertson.
Garbage littering the oceans of Bali (Image: Ocean Gybe)
Ocean Gybe spreads awareness about ocean pollution
Along their travels, whenever they got a chance, they visited communities and schools to raise awareness about pollution of the oceans.
The Ocean Gybe crew are back in Vancouver now and their goal is to tell young people about what they've seen so that future generations can help change the practices of governments and corporations.
“We’ve done heaps and heaps of presentations here in Vancouver, and it’s been the most enjoyable part of the trip. They get it," Robertson says about school students he speaks with, “they’re asking totally engaged questions.”
In May and June, Ryan, Bryson and Hugh will be on the road with their Ocean Gybe School Tour, visiting high schools and junior schools across BC and Alberta.
Presenting at a school in Nicaragua (Image: Ocean Gybe)
Single-use plastic to be stigmatized 'like smoking'
They’re not gallivanting around the globe anymore, but the Ocean Gybe crew are still making waves. They’re currently putting together a documentary of their trip, producing curriculum materials for schools, and talking with policymakers and business leaders.
Despite having seen more pollution than many of us can imagine, Robertson is pragmatic but positive about change.
“It's going to be like smoking," Robertson says. "It's going to be socially unpopular to use single-use plastics. Change is going to happen—it’s just going to take time.”