Big wave surfer Frank Solomon hits the road and meets with the changemakers
In November 2018, Corona x Parley kicked off our South Africa Coastal Cleanup tour, a journey of direct action and storytelling stretching from Durban to Cape Town. Along the way, between cleanups and events, pro surfer Frank Solomon and a team of filmmakers from Eyeforce met with NGOs, marine biologists, shark specialists and local experts who work tirelessly to defend the oceans, the living ecosystem allowing for our existence.
As Frank travels through South Africa, the diverse stories of individuals taking action and combining talent and passion with purpose come together to highlight an important truth: there is no one right way to protect the marine environment, redesign industries and change mindsets. Everyone and every story has a unique role to play in shaping the future of our planet.
Below, Frank reflects on his journey and lessons from the people he met along the way.
Episode 1: River Interception
Day one I met up with Cameron Service from The Litterboom Project, an initiative that focuses on a litter catchment system to collect rubbish along major rivers in Durban. The Litterboom Project was developed in answer to drastic increases in marine plastic pollution by targeting river systems, where most of the trash entering the oceans originates. Since launching in 2017, the project has prevented more than 14,000 kg (30,864 lb) of plastic from reaching the ocean through the hard work of a small team.
Cameron has set up a system that’s so simple yet highly effective. When we first met up, he was doing it part time and paying for most of it himself with the help of a couple of companies. The first day, I asked for the instagram handle — he said he didn't have one. My advice was to start one immediately (he listened: @the_litterboom_project). For me, the fact that he had not done that yet, that he was doing this work purely to make a difference, was really inspiring.
Since then, Cameron’s asked me to be a director of the organization and I was able to link him up with Parley, which is really exciting for the project. We hope to roll out the program across all river systems in South Africa, as most of the plastic in the ocean and along our coastlines comes from these big river systems. This is a great example of how one person can make a huge impact on his or her environment. I think that we all have our part to play, however small we may think it is in the bigger picture.
Episode 2: Shark Heaven
The trip down the coast continues and I link up with former competitive South African pool swimmer Sarah Ferguson, an environmental activist on a mission to highlight the issue of marine plastic pollution with her organization Breathe Ocean Conservation (@breatheocean1).
In March 2019, Sarah set a world record by becoming the first person to swim around the entire perimeter of Easter Island as part of the global campaign Swim Against Plastic. She swam 39.46 miles (63.5 kilometers) continuously over a duration of 19 hours and 8 minutes, finishing ahead of schedule in a swim expected to take approximately 24 hours to complete.
Sarah and I went swimming with sharks on the south coast of Durban at a place called Aliwal Shoal. It was an amazing morning spent with these incredible animals. To see a reef so full of life like that makes you want to do everything you can to try and protect it — especially at a time when 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans every year.
Episode 3: Paradise Beach
Trading sharks for cattle, we parked the bus and kicked off our shoes in Mdumbi. To get a better feel for the environment behind the atmosphere of the location, conversations were exchanged over Coronas and a sustainably-sourced meal with two of the shareholders, Johan and Sibongile.
For a community that is so closely connected with the natural world around them, the state of the environment is critical to their way of life. Whether it be for commercial or subsistence based needs, the ocean provides bounty for us all, as long as it is respected and protected.
Even here in this remote place plastic infiltrates the seemingly pristine landscape, littering the shore and surrounding communities.
Episode 4: A World of Contrast
Corona Coastal Cleanup Tour hit the road toward East London and the next destination, Nahoon Point Nature Reserve. On arrival I met up with Dean Knox (@nahoondean), the founder of Jonginenge Eco-Adventure, on a trek through the dunes, before paddling out at Eastern Beach in the heart of East London.
Eastern beach is one of the most polluted I have seen on our coastline. It was heartbreaking to see all the people just throwing their rubbish on the beach. It’s when you see places like this that the problem almost seems insurmountable.
But people like Dean give you hope that we can make a difference. In areas like these, I think it’s all about educating people on the effects that plastic has on the environment, as most people really just don't know.
Episode 5: JBay Locals
In Jeffery’s Bay I met up with the legend Hugh Thompson (@hugh_thompson101) to chat about the future of greener surfboards and the stoke of surfing in general. As surfers I think we have a huge role to play in the protection of our oceans, we need to be the protectors as we are on the front lines on a daily basis.
Surfboards are highly toxic and so is their manufacture. In chatting with Hugh, it was great to pick his brain about producing greener surfboards. We are still a fair way from it, but change is slowly happening and I think it’s a great step forward.
More than surfboards, though, there are between 17 and 35 million surfers in the world. If every single one of us stood up against the destruction of the oceans, we would be a force to be reckoned with.
Episode 6: A Bird’s Eye View
“If the oceans die, then all life is under threat. This has occurred before, we haven’t quite got there yet, but we’re probably four or five years away from achieving the same level of carbon dioxide that destroyed 94% of all life the last time it occurred. The ocean is part of the cycle of life, it cleans our atmosphere, it produces our food. The sulfites that come from plankton produce our rain. We can’t survive on this planet without the ocean, it is our home and we need to clean it up” - Jay Van Deventer
Jay is an incredible guy who lives 100 percent off the grid. He grows his own food using solar power for his entire home and it was incredible to spend the day with him in his beautiful spot in the wilderness. If more of us could live like Jay, we would have a different world.
Episode 7: Gansbaai - For The Love of Whales
In Gansbaai I met up with Alison Townter (@alisontowner), a world-renowned marine biologist and white shark scientist from Marine Dynamics. Although Gansbaai is the great white capital of the world, it wasn’t sharks we were after. We were looking for something much bigger — we were after whales.
Every year, over 100,000 marine mammals die from ingesting or becoming entangled in fishing nets, ropes, lines and other plastic debris. Reports show that most entanglements are due to active fishing gear that is still in use, rather than abandoned or lost gear, as is commonly believed. In addition to surface injuries caused by entangling debris, whales can suffer from extreme energy exertion needed to travel with the burden of debris dragging behind them, and these effects can sometimes be lethal. Researchers around the world are currently investigating new fishing technologies to prevent entanglements, including rope-less traps. These measures are especially needed as the animals cope with the impacts of overfishing and climate change.
Alison is so passionate about the ocean and about protecting it. We had an incredible morning following a pod of whales right next to our boat. Hearing her stories of what plastic pollution does to these incredible animals was heartbreaking.
Episode 8: The Mother City
I arrived back in the mother city, Cape Town. Here I met up with Thirza Schaap (@thirzaschaap), a Dutch artist and photographer who has been living in Cape Town for the past six years.
Thirza was initially drawn to Cape Town due to its beautiful landscapes and breathtaking beaches. She now runs an NGO called ‘Plastic Ocean’, where she collects plastic from the Cape’s beaches from which she produces beautiful works of art. The art is used to create awareness and promote a sense of marine stewardship regarding marine plastic pollution. She explains: ‘’’Plastic Ocean’ is an art project, which I started to create awareness around pollution to try and prevent (or at least reduce) the use of plastic. In making artistic sculptures out of the objects I find, I try to evoke an emotional response from my audience by creating a contradiction. A clash between initial aesthetic attraction and after a second look: repulsion and the realisation of the tragedy trash causes. Our beaches are covered in plastic confetti and there really is nothing to celebrate.’’
While the reality of our plastic planet is not something to celebrate, the actions of those fighting to reverse the trends are. This trip, and these films, are reminders of what we are capable of when we answer the threats with action.