Interview by Sam Haddad
Plastic has become a major problem in our oceans. Anyone who’s watched this short video will understand exactly what we mean.
In the past 50 years, our oceans have changed immeasurably. You now can’t dive or surf anywhere without seeing some indication that humans have been there – whether it’s a plastic bag, a drink can or some other form of waste.
There are huge plastic patches floating around the world’s ocean and it’s starting to spread to the most remote places on earth. We need to do something about it.
Tim Nunn, a British surfer, writer and photojournalist, is on a mission to raise awareness about the plastic engulfing our seas through the power of photography.
What does he hope to do? And what can we do to help? We spoke to Tim to find out….
How did the Plastic Project come about?
It all started with a book I did called Numb with good friend Ian Battrick. That was about six years of exploring wilderness Canada, Iceland, Norway and Scotland looking for waves.
It was all about having adventures on a shoe string budget and seeing bits of the planet no one would ever usually go to.
We were going to more and more remote places, and no matter how far off the grid we went, we were still finding plastic and other rubbish washed up on beaches.
Everywhere – from the Canadian wilderness to Greenland – there was plastic all over the place…
It really hit home in eastern Iceland where we found a beach littered with plastic drinks bottles, McDonalds cartons and the like. We were absolutely miles from civilisation and there are no McDonalds in Iceland.
So, with a general interest in the environment, I started looking at this as a side project as I was travelling. The problem just became ridiculous. Everywhere – from wilderness Canada to the sea in Greenland – there was plastic all over the place.
As I toured with my book doing talks, it quickly became apparent that this environmental angle was a good way to engage with people across the board about the plastic problem.
After talking to organisations about plans to tackle the problem already, I realised the only way everyone can understand this problem, water users or not, is to actually see it, and not through the standard boring stats.
As surfers, we are aware of it, but billions of others have no idea. We need to reach them and the rest of the world.
The power of photography and talks paired with the adventure and surfing angle really helps raise awareness. Everyone loves some feral adventure tales, so it’s breaks the ice to get to the serious issues.
Have you been surprised by people’s reaction?
It’s been amazing. The combination of surf, adventure and the environmental angle gets people really into it.
I don’t just mean at that moment either. I’ve got people contacting me now regularly about coming to talk to their friends, groups, universities and schools.
So I’ve been really surprised. I think the mix of the surf angle and the stupidity of some of the adventures helps as well. Not many people are prepared to sleep in tunnels and toilets to get surf.
Which countries have been the most concerned and supportive online?
It’s been universal. When you dig beneath the surface, there are loads of grassroots activists working on this sort of thing.
They have provided research and help, but a lot of it is just me heading out with camera, getting some incredible images and raising awareness.
If we don’t address these problems, our children are going to have an amazing ocean full of rubbish…
What do you hope to achieve with the Plastic Project?
It’s all about raising awareness. I want to create some incredible images of remote parts of Europe, as well as some short films, and just make everyone realise what a massive problem this is.
I go to these remote places to try and inspire people to do the same. The world is an incredible place that is open for all of us to appreciate.
However, the harsh reality is, if we don’t address these problems, our children and their children are going to have is this amazing ocean full of rubbish.
Now it has grown more, we’re going to create a visual map of the coastlines of the North Atlantic with the help of others, culminating at the Royal Geographic Societies’ Explore weekend in November.
What changes can we make to our behaviour to make things better or are we all doomed anyway?
This is the really incredible thing really, we can make changes to directly make a difference.
It’s just little things. Make sure we recycle everything that can be, take a reusable cup to your favourite coffee shop every morning and not buy disposable.
The only way everyone can understand the plastic problem is to actually see it, and not through boring stats..
I realise that plastic is a vital part of our world, but where it can be avoided try not to use it. Even more importantly, tell companies that you won’t buy their products if they come with ridiculous amounts of packaging.
We’re not doomed, but we actually have to stop and think. We have to create the change. Individuals have the most power here.
There shouldn’t be the need for beach cleaning, but organisations like Surfers Against Sewage do an incredible job, not just at this level but also lobbying government for change. But really, it all comes to every individual on Earth to make a serious impact.
How is this an issue that especially affects surfers?
Surfers are on the front line of marine pollution, sewage, oil spills or marine litter. It doesn’t matter what we see it first and have to live with it on a day to day basis, and that is why we are such activists for these sorts of projects.
We could all just continue enjoying the ocean as it is, but I personally hate getting plastic bags tangled in my leash and it happens everywhere.