In November 2016, a group of 20 adidas employees, Parley Ambassadors, and ocean advocates attended the second expedition series of Parley Ocean School in the Maldives, a unique program that blends ocean activism, learning, and exploration through experiences on, around, and within the marine environment.
With the goal of educating and motivating a new class of ambassadors for the cause, the week-long journey provided a transformative and motivating introduction to the beauty and fragility of the marine environment we are fighting to protect.
Traveling by boat through the atolls, reefs, and islands of the world’s lowest-lying nation, participants learned about the state of the oceans from Parley marine experts, took action through beach cleanups, and brainstormed solutions. The crew also explored the opportunities and necessity of cross-culture collaboration through Parley youth education initiatives, soccer matches, and experiences within the local community.
Examples of advocacy and ambassadorship fuel inspiration. Learning from different ideologies, shifting mindsets, and practical ways for effecting behavioral change, each 'graduate' of Parley Ocean School leaves motivated to lead the change.
Highlights from our November 2016 expedition:
Facing Plastic Pollution
The team journeyed from first understanding the problem of marine plastic pollution to breaking down the issue and exploring the current spectrum of solutions. It starts with a simple question: Why do we use plastic, a material that lasts forever, to make products designed to be used once and then thrown away?
In order to understand how an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste slips through a broken system and into our oceans each year, we confronted this mismatch of material science and product design alongside both the opportunities and shortcomings of current recycling processes.
Understanding the Impacts
Parley Ambassadors Iain Kerr of Ocean Alliance and Kahi Pacarro of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii shared first-hand experiences to illustrate the impacts of marine debris and plastic pollution on seabirds and marine mammals — stories of entanglement, ingestion, and starvation that challenge the emotional disconnect between humanity and the unseen consequences of our lifestyles.
The group also looked at the path of plastics and toxic chemicals from the ocean, into the food chain, and into us human beings. In an alarming reality check, explorer and activist Emily Penn shared her own blood test results; when tested for 35 banned chemicals, she was found to have traces of 29.
A major beach cleanup of Laabadhoo on the first morning was a wake-up call that set the tone for the rest of the trip. From a distance, the Maldivian white sand beaches and surrounding turquoise waters appear postcard-idyllic. A closer look reveals a different story; a plastic tide arrives daily on even the most remote and uninhabited islands. In some areas, the team was literally knee-deep in the problem.
Debris recovered from cleanups was audited and sorted by type: PET bottles, fishing waste, glass, metal, household plastic, and an alarmingly high proportion of shoes (mostly flip flops). About one-third of the intercepted waste was PET, which will be returned to the loop, upcycled, and given a new life as Parley Ocean Plastic.
The next stage of the program focused on solutions. Together the crew mapped out a ‘spectrum of solutions’ running across all levels, from the sources of the problem, the plastic taps, to the oceans. Examining recycling, bioplastics, modular design, incineration, education, taxes and bans, ocean cleanups, extended producer responsibility, circular economy, and the myriad other avenues for change, the exercise highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of working in different parts of the spectrum, and allowed adidas employees to identify new, innovative ways for the company to have a positive impact in each area.
After mapping out solutions, the group broke into teams for the Parley AIR Challenge. Each examined a different mode of impact (e.g., education & communication, product design, logistics and operations), developed an idea and road map for implementation, and presented their strategy to the group.
Inspiring the Future
In tandem with the initiatives of Parley Ocean School Youth Education, the adidas group had the opportunity to help more than 120 local kids on their journey to becoming stewards of the marine environment (their past, present, and future), as Ocean Guardians. Following classroom lectures on the threats of plastic pollution, students headed to the reef for snorkeling and stand-up paddleboarding lessons — a first-time experience for many students, but surely not their last.
Bringing it Home
Every Parley gathering, initiative, event, and expedition is an invitation to be part of the solution. Parley Ocean School is no different. This isn’t just a trip to paradise; as with all great adventures, the real journey occurs inward. The program is designed to foster personal partnerships between the oceans and individuals — the creators, thinkers, and leaders who will walk away from this experience with the skills, motivation, and inspiration to drive solutions.
“For me, after sailing 60,000 miles around the world to some of the most epic places, the Maldives still absolutely blows me away. These untouched remote islands are true wilderness - the only sign of human life being the plastic that washes onto them from afar. It's a privilege to be part of the solution.”
Thank you to our Parley Ambassadors and partners:
Emily Penn / Explorer, Activist
Christian Miller / Photographer, PADI Instructor
Iain Kerr / CEO, Ocean Alliance
Kahi Pacarro / Executive Director, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii
Mike Long / Director of Operations, Parley
Natalya Desana / Operations Manager, Parley
Shaahina Ali / Adventurer, Photojournalist
Learn more in Iain Kerr’s update here.
Read about the 2015 adidas employee expedition here.