Tackling marine plastic pollution: Row For The Ocean take on the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

Marine Pollution, Step Up For The Sea

Three women from Devon are taking on the world’s toughest row – the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge . Brought together by a passion for adventure, rowing, and competition they are taking on the biggest challenge of their lives.  They aim to raise awareness of ocean plastics, protect the UK’s beaches and wildlife, and break a world record in the process.

Meet the crew

We are Row For The Ocean – founded by Ros, Kirsty and Kate. In December 2018, we will be rowing 3000 miles across the Atlantic to raise awareness of the ocean plastics crisis. Through our work with Surfers Against Sewage, we are also working to create a Plastic Free Exeter by 2020.


Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

Who is your chosen charity, and why did you pick them?

Integral to the challenge is our partnership with Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) and their Plastic Free Coastlines Campaign, which we are expanding through a Plastic Free Exeter movement. All money raised will also go directly to their Ocean Schools program which educates the next generation on why plastics are harmful and teaches practical ways to reduce plastic consumption.

Marine plastic pollution

What is it and why do we need to act?

The more we delve into the subject of plastic pollution the more shocking it gets, with new stats, images, and videos coming out everyday. It was for this reason we felt we had to do more. By taking on the Atlantic row, we have a unique platform to inspire action for the cause, as well as provide vital funding for SAS Ocean schools. We want the Row for the Ocean campaign to leave a legacy, involving as many communities as possible and make a tangible difference in our home city of Exeter. That’s why we’re aiming to make Exeter one of the first plastic-free cities in the U.K.

It’s estimated that 50% of plastic is used only once and then thrown away. This ‘single-use’ plastic is what we want to target by reducing the use of plastic coffee cups, utensils, takeaway containers, toothbrushes, straws and plastic bottles to name a few.

When was the first time that you realised marine plastic pollution is an issue? 

Although we were aware of the issue, before undertaking the challenge we never fully realised the full extent of the problem.  One video that always sticks in my mind is taken from the Caribbean Sea, near to where we finish in Antigua.  All you could see was rubbish and plastic, and then they dove underneath and it just got worse.  These aren’t scenes that we see in the UK and I think it’s vital that the public know it’s not simply the bottles washing up on the beach that’s the issue. The problem is the 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the sea – image trying to live amongst that like the marine wildlife have to everyday?

PicMonkey CollageSources: Turtle/Seabird

What is it about marine plastic pollution that most shocks you?

How common, yet invisible, it is.  Even a glass of seawater that appears clear could contains thousands of micro-plastics.

What gives you hope that we can resolve the marine plastic pollution crisis?

There have been points where I’ve wondered whether the problem has gone too far, we’re too entrenched in our use of plastic as an everyday item.  But then you read stories of people developing new ways to clean-up the oceans, or companies making wholesale changes to their products or manufacturing and it brings new hope.  We hope that through this challenge we’ll inspire people to make their own small changes – even if that means simply refusing single-use items.

What advice do you have for people who want to help tackle marine plastic pollution? 

If you live in Exeter, join our newsletter and we’ll keep you up to date on local businesses who are making positive changes or events where you can get involved, such as beach cleans.  Or check out Surfers Against Sewage’s website for a wider spread of beach cleans.  We’ve also teamed up with Less Plastic, a company who will come in and audit your businesses plastic use and give you tangible ways to reduce your plastic use.  The simplest changes? Buy a reusable coffee mug, and refuse the straw!

Rowing an ocean: The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge


How is your preparation going for the row? What do you have to do to prepare for a challenge like this?

As we’re going for a world record for fastest women’s crossing, we’ve undertaken an even bigger challenge, and require a strict training programme.  We’ve just received our training programme from our strength and conditioning coach for the next year – 6 days a week in the gym working on the rowing machine, circuits and weights.  We’re also doing rehab sessions to balance our bodies and protect against injuries during the row, this includes having very strong cores to enable us to keep a strong posture against the waves hitting you from all angles.  When we get our boat we will spend a lot of weekends at sea, rowing along the south-coast and intend on going over to the Scilly Isles at the end of May.

What has been the biggest challenge in the preparation for the row?

Sponsorship.  With a target so big this was always going to be one of the hardest parts of the row, getting people involved and businesses interested.  With our Exeter legacy we hope to bring as many local businesses across the Atlantic as possible.  As we get nearer to the start-line our mental health will also play a massive part in the row so we’re working with a sports psychologist to help us deal being at sea for 40-50 days.


Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

What is the most exciting element of your upcoming row?

The unknown! Even with copious amounts of training and preparation, the row itself will always be unexpected in many different ways.  We each know that when we arrive in Antigua we will be changed from those experiences, and that’s a really exciting thought!

How will you document your row?

We’d really like to do a time-lapse of the row and just need to work out the logistics of this.  The race will also be tracked from the Atlantic Campaigns website (this years race can be found here: https://www.taliskerwhiskyatlanticchallenge.com/2017racetracker/).  We’ll also have semi-regular updates from the boat with pictures where data and signal allow.

Getting to the start line


How is the fundraising process going?

It going really well, we recently partnered with Winning Attributes founder Mark Rhodes, a world class sailing coach, who has helped massively in pushing the campaign forward and connecting us with sponsors.  We’re always looking to connect with more interested people and businesses to do get in contact if you think you can help us get to the start-line. To see our current partners and sponsors you can visit our website.


Photo credit: Row For The Ocean

How can people support your campaign to row the Atlantic?

Our target is to raise £60,000 for Surfers Against Sewage, however we are also faced with a baseline cost of £100,000 just to get to the start line.  The boat, on-board equipment, on-shore support, insurance (life and boat) etc. all cost money and, without these, our campaign just isn’t possible.

The good news is that a lot of the costs incurred on the boat and equipment will be recouped on re-sale and all proceeds will go to our great charity, so there won’t be a penny wasted. As a non-profit organisation, all money raised over the £60k will either go to help other SAS schemes, or towards events within the local Exeter area to get communities and schools involved.

The best way to help us get to the start-line as an individual is to join our Blue Mile Club (https://www.rowfortheocean.co.uk/shop).  With this you can buy miles across the Atlantic and even get your name on the boat.  We also want people to sign-up to our Plastic Free Exeter newsletter so that we can hit our 2020 target, and look out for our local events such as the 24hr row we just completed in Exeter.

As a business you have the opportunity to join one of our exclusive partner levels.  Our partnership package can be found here: https://www.rowfortheocean.co.uk/copy-of-official-race-partners-2 but we’d love to come and discuss the challenge in person.

Where can people find you?

The best place to start is our website at www.rowfortheocean.co.uk, we’re also on Twitter and Instagram, @rowfortheocean, and Facebook.  You’re also more than welcome to connect with us individually on LinkedIn – Kirsty Barker, Kate Salmon, and Rosalind West.

Tell your friends and family about this challenge and Plastic Free Exeter. There’s no better way to make an impact than to become an active advocate yourself.


10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea
  1. ‘Conservation optimism is about planning for the future, not just holding the line’ – Elizabeth Bennett. Conservation optimists are focused on making positive change and taking real steps forward for recovery, turning passion into practice.
  1. It’s a powerful movement that’s growing fast, thanks to the drive of hundreds of motivated and inspirational conservationists.
  1. We need to widen who can call themselves a ‘conservationist’. As Heather Koldewey spoke about at the Summit, anyone can be a conservationist. You don’t have to have a science degree – this is for anyone from any discipline, with concern for our environment and the drive to work to protect it for future generations. No lab coat required.
  1. The passion showed by young people is the engine of the movement. School children’s voices have been seen to have strong weight in political decision-making, and the skills and optimism shown by young conservation professionals entering the field will help to drive the movement forward.
  1. There’s a real practical element to the movement. The ‘let’s focus on what works’ attitude is strong, with partnerships and strategy sharing at the heart of the movement.
  1. Conservation optimism isn’t a quick fix – it’s about laying strong foundations and setting up networks of people to support this movement, thereby establishing a new positive approach that will show results on the ground over time.
  1. We need to get cleverer with our communications. There are so many great things happening for the environment all over the world, but as conservationists we all need to do our bit to make sure the news leaves our bubble and reaches the public. This is how we can help encourage ocean-friendly public behaviour changes.
  1. Persistence is key, even if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Conservation optimists can be the drivers of positive attitudes, but even the most optimistic of us will have bad days. It’s about continuing with what we know works, and allowing all the little things to add up to positive change.
  1. There’s interest in setting up other Conservation Optimism Summits around the world. Africa and the Philippines were mentioned as places where future Summits would be well received, and holding these conferences would help to propel the development of the movement.
  1. We need to keep conservation optimism as something that is owned by everyone – it’s a movement, not an organisation or a business. It’s got potential to be taken forward by individuals, groups of people or wider networks who see ways to promote optimism around an issue or a place, and it’s the creativity of optimists who are going to make optimism one of the most powerful tools we’ve got.


Cover picture from Anna Oposa’s plenary talk


Step up for the sea in 2017

Step Up For The Sea

We all know that ‘New Year’s resolutions’ don’t always last, so why not step up for the sea and think of these as lifestyle changes for the oceans instead. They’re just ideas and you don’t have to adopt them all, but remember that all the little things add up.

Tackle our plastic overload

  • Say no to straws.
  • Don’t buy plastic bags.
  • Go plastic free.

Awesome map of ways to cut down on plastic use in daily life. Source. 

Spread the word

  • Tell more people about ocean issues and start conversations. Talk to people, post photos, share stories and watch films.
  • Sign petitions for issues you care about, it really can help.

Distance yourself from the ugly side of the beauty industry

  • Check your skincare/beauty products for microbeads and stop using those that do. You can check here.
  • Switch from disposable face wipes to cotton flannels. Read why here.

Great illustration of the links between us and microplastics in the sea. Source – Beat the Microbead


Don’t fall for convenience

  • Don’t buy overpackaged stuff, especially food.
  • Bring your own takeaway cup to coffee shops, it’s cheaper too.
  • Don’t get takeaway lids.

Nope. Source

Change your diet for the sea

  • Choose sustainable fish. Get the Good Fish Guide app and always check that your choice is sustainable before you buy.
  • Eat less meat and fish.
  • Try out the veggie/vegan life.

The totally invaluable Good Fish Guide – download the app here

A few things I’ve learnt about positivity in marine conservation

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea
  1. Positivity is motivating. People need and love a bit of optimism in conservation, and respond well to cheery news. Pointing out the positives helps show that marine conservation is working in some places, which in turn helps to engage more people with the issues and gets them onside with ocean-friendly behaviour. More positivity = more hope = more action = all the little things adding up into further conservation success stories.
  1. Too much negativity is a turn off, people don’t want to be continually made to feel guilty about the environmental problems that we’re facing these days. It’s so easy to get bogged down in conservation horror stories, but much better and more enjoyable to spend that energy focusing on what’s going well. It’s crucial to get the balance right, to make people aware of the issues, but also to provide a positive outlook and make sure that it’s clear how people can do their bit to help further improve the situation.
  1. Positivity can be hard. Doom and gloom conservation news stories are more widespread, and misinformation and fearmongering is the worst for those trying to push the optimistic viewpoint. Keeping sight of the successes can be tricky, but it’s so worth it. It’s all about showing that there are conservation successes happening all over the world, and that they’re happening all the time. You might have to sift through some depressing news stories to find the good stuff, but once you’ve found it, shout about it.
  1. Optimism in conservation is on the rise. More and more people are embracing the positive attitude, and movements like #oceanoptimism are taking off, helping to share conservation success stories and boost hope for our oceans. There’s even going to be a conservation optimism conference next year; that’s good news in itself.

Reasons to be cheerful #3

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

There are a lot of positive people out there who are stepping up for the sea and making changes to protect it. Here are a few reasons to be cheerful about the state of the ocean from the last month.

Ikea goes circular

Our society is pretty wasteful, but Ikea are taking a step towards tackling this by creating a ‘Circular Ikea’. The idea is that new products made of recycled materials will be integrated into their range, and existing products will be able to be repaired and recycled. Everyone loves Ikea so it’s great that they’re flagging up how we’ve reached ‘peak home furnishings’, and they’re a powerhouse in their field so it’s time for other companies to follow on. The more we recycle, the less plastic will find its way into the sea.

5p plastic bags success

It looks like the plastic bag charge is working for the sea. Some estimates have been made and scaled up, and it looks like, if we carry on using bags at the same rate as we did in the first six months after the 5p charge came in in England, then usage will have dropped by 83% from the 2014 figure of 7.64 billion plastic bags. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all saw reductions of between 70-80% in bag usage in the first year after the charge was brought in. So good news, everyone keep doing what you’re doing – it’s going well.

Talking about polystyrene

People are making noise about needing to ban polystyrene because of the impact it has on the ocean. It takes hundreds of years to decompose, leaks carcinogenic chemicals into water bodies and can cause choking and starvation in marine life. Wales was the first country in the UK to charge for plastic bags, and this move was driven by the consumers. Now environmentally conscious shoppers are concerned about the amount of single use polystyrene and they’re calling for a ban for polystyrene fast food containers. Looking at the success of the plastic bag charge, this one is definitely worth pursuing.

The next UNESCO World Heritage Sites might include the deep sea

At the moment the deep oceans are barely protected. To be honest, we don’t even know much about what’s down there to protect. However, there’s talk that the next UNESCO World Heritage Sites may include deep ocean habitats. This would be a massive deal. It would mean the importance of the deep sea and high seas is being recognised, but it would also be a positive step towards the protection of deep sea species and important breeding grounds from damaging human activities.

RePlast – building blocks from ocean plastic

Once plastic has found its way into the ocean it’s notoriously difficult to remove, but some people are finding a way. Gregor Gomory created RePlast, building blocks made of compressed marine plastic that don’t need any glue. The plan is to use them as an alternative building material for low-cost housing. They help to reuse existing plastic, they’ve got a low carbon footprint and they’re a good incentive to chase marine plastic and extract it. Good for people and good for the sea.

Reasons to be cheerful #2

Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of negative news about the ocean, and so here are some cheerier things to think about that have been in the news recently. It’s not all bad.

Microbeads are going to be banned in the UK

There was talk a while ago about the government working with the cosmetics industry to phase out microbead use voluntarily, but now the UK will be following the US and banning them completely. This is such great news for the ocean because toiletries are often full of tiny plastic microbeads that are used as an exfoliant. They’re too small to be filtered out by waste water treatment works so they just go straight out to sea where they’re eaten by marine life. Banning microbeads is a simple(ish) way of cutting down on our marine plastic pollution as it’s a problem many people don’t even know about.

Numbers of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are creeping up

Since the rapid increase in the number of very large MPAs at the end of last year, the pace has slowed down but new MPAs are still springing up which is great news for ocean health. In the last couple of months both Cambodia and Malta have taken steps to protect their marine environment: Cambodia has designated its first MPA to protect vulnerable marine species and habitats and Malta has designated eight Special Protection Areas (to protect birds).

Edible 6 pack rings

This is a great idea by Saltwater Brewery in Florida. They have piloted edible and biodegradable 6 pack rings made from barley and wheat left over from beer production. Huge numbers of 6 pack rings end up in the sea and marine life gets tangled in them. These ocean-friendly 6 pack rings can be eaten by marine life, and if not eaten they’ll totally biodegrade rather than drift for hundreds of years as plastic would. Hopefully this can set an example to the industry and cut down on future plastic use. Watch a video about it here.

Protection for deep sea species in the North-East Atlantic

It has recently been agreed that there will be a ban on fishing below 800 metres deep in the North-East Atlantic which is great news for conservationists (and the fish). Deep sea ecosystems are really fragile because they grow so slowly that if they are wiped out by fishing gear they can take many hundreds of years to grow back. However, some conservationists argue that these negotiations have taken a long time to agree on and that protection like this is needed far more widely than just the North-East Atlantic.

#oceanoptimism is on the rise

The power of positivity as a fuel for change is being more widely recognised. Articles like this one talk about how too much negativity can turn people off from important conservation issues as people feel overwhelmed, guilty or think that it’s too late to do anything. Pointing out the good news is so important to try to keep a balance, and to motivate people to stay engaged with the issues and step up for the sea where they can.