Saving ocean treasures from plastic pollution

Clean up at Raja Ampat near Papua New Guinea | Photo courtesy of David Pennington

Clean up at Raja Ampat near Papua New Guinea | Photo courtesy of David Pennington

David Pennington will hit the road from the Mexican border for the Ocean Rescue Run on April 18. The Canadian will run over 2,700 kilometres, reaching Vancouver in about 44 days. This journey begins with a life shift that not only includes Pennington but also Indonesia and its ecological struggles.

Born in Prince George, Pennington moved to Victoria at the age of three. He grew up moving back and forth between Victoria and Surrey. Perhaps this constant movement made him content with the unknown.

“My current lifestyle is still very new to me. Two years ago, I wasn’t feeling satisfied with where I was going in life. I asked myself questions that forced me to do some soul searching: If I were to die tomorrow, would I be happy with what I have accomplished in life? What would I have done differently?” he says.

These questions led him to leave his desk job for a kayak.

The “Amazon of the Sea” invaded by plastic

Pennington decided to visit Indonesia while cycling across Africa. He wanted to kayak and realized there was no better place than Indonesia, which includes over 18,000 islands to do that. It took him six years to make that dream come true.

His plan was to kayak throughout the islands for two months, blogging and supporting local homestays in Raja Ampat, a remote region near Papua New Guinea. Considered the ”Amazon of the Sea” the area suffers from many pollution problems.

“I was aware of the waste issue before, as tourists had brought it up on Internet forums. But while kayaking, I noticed how serious the problem really was and decided to devote my time to it,” he explains.

He hired Ranny, a local guide with similar concerns – together they started Friendly Drifter to focus on the waste issue in Raja Ampat.

Pennington points out that all of Indonesia needs to improve their waste management practices. Like most developing countries, their focus isn’t on waste. But for the moment, Friendly Drifter’s main focus is in Raja Ampat because 75% of all hard coral species in the world exist here. The oceans surrounding Raja Ampat contain more marine bio-diversity than anywhere else on the planet, making this area incredibly important.

“The locals aren’t completely to blame, a lot of plastic ends up on their shores from other areas of Indonesia,” he says.

Locals see the need and want to find a solution. An interview of Friendly Drifter initiated a series of events that resulted in a town clean-up with over 150 volunteers. Pennington wants to bring awareness to this situation in Raja Ampat to North America through the Ocean Rescue Run that will take place in April.

“My aim is to have it completed in 44 days which is just over 60 kilometres per day,” he says.

Along the run, Pennington plans on completing interviews with local press.

“There is more and more media coverage on plastic waste in oceans lately. The more people hear the message, the more they will hopefully think twice about their individual impact,“ he adds.

It only takes one generation

Pollution is a concern that touches everybody but according to Pennington not everybody has the same weapons to make changes.

He feels that Canadians have both the education and resources to deal with pollution problems.

“[But] in Indonesia, we are literally starting from scratch,” says Pennington.

For thousands of years, their culture has used the ocean and waterways as a vessel to dispose of waste.

“They need to be educated on the harmful effects plastic has on the environment. We are literally working against habits formed for many years and for simple convenience. However, it only takes one generation to implement change, that’s why educating children is so important,” he says.

Pennington hopes the run will help fund Friendly Drifter’s large aspirations. The organisation will use the funds to build and operate a waste management facility in Waisa and then construct a barge for collections throughout the surrounding islands.

“We will start a community compost program, educate children, and work with community leaders to spread the message. Once we feel operations are self-sufficient we will move to other areas in Indonesia to replicate and streamline the process. We have already had inquiries to do so,” says Pennington.

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