Over 500 people who care about the planet descended on Charleston, SC on March 30, 2017 for a unique conference called Breaking Down Plastic. This special one-day event was hosted by the South Carolina Aquarium, 5 Gyres Institute, and the Lonely Whale Foundation. I was in attendance, probably as the youngest person there besides a guest speaker’s toddler! There were attendees from all walks of life and people with various levels of experience with plastic pollution. Attendees represented local, national, and international interests among corporations, governments, non-profits, and schools and colleges, and included politicians, scientists, executives, and consumers eager to engage in addressing the global crisis of plastic pollution.
There were so many enlightening speakers talking about a number of different aspects of plastic pollution, such as the cost of plastic pollution, the effect of plastic on human health, how plastic fishing equipment is impacting the earth’s sea creatures, and how corporations are engaging in innovative and economical sustainable practices. The discussions built awareness, shared best practices and provided new information to motivate action. A common (and daunting) statistic heard throughout the conference was that by 2050, scientists predict there will be more plastic, by weight, than fish in our oceans.
The conference hosts utilized artistry and creativity during the event. As soon as I walked in to the conference, I couldn’t help but be impressed by two large sculptures made of plastic debris, one shaped like a sea turtle and the other a huge jellyfish. There was also an artist who would illustrate the key points of each presentation on a large mural as the speakers were presenting, which was a very creative way to summarize the event and was a big hit among the attendees I spoke to.
I met so many amazing and influential people that are doing incredible things to protect our oceans. I felt humbled to be among this group, and also inspired to continue my efforts to bring awareness to the issue of plastic pollution. For example, I met the Mayor of Charleston, executives from Surfrider and Aardvark Straws, several young volunteers from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and an executive from Cox Enterprises. I also met Adrian Grenier, an actor, filmmaker, and social good advocate who co-founded the Lonely Whale Foundation. The Lonely Whale Foundation is dedicated to bringing people closer to the world’s oceans through education and awareness, inspiring empathy and action for ocean health and the wellbeing of marine wildlife. I had an opportunity to sit down with Adrian after the conference session:
What inspired you to create The Lonely Whale Foundation?
I heard the story of the loneliest whale in the world who speaks at another frequency from other whales, which is like speaking another language. This Lonely Whale has been calling out his whole life, looking for connection. Knowing that whales are very social creatures, just like humans, this story sparked empathy in me, empathy for a species completely different from myself. It made me realize we can use stories to help build empathy, connection, to places and creatures that are different from ourselves or that don’t relate to our everyday experience. I realized this character, the Lonely Whale, could inspire empathy in people around the world. His message is really about connection and communication, so at the Lonely Whale Foundation we use his lessons to help bring people together and help them better understand the natural world.
Why did you choose plastic pollution awareness as a cause?
We are looking for achievable ways that people can participate that aren’t daunting. We are focusing on single use plastic straws because it's something that everyone encounters nearly every day and is arguably unnecessary; people can give them up. If people are struggling to do something because they feel overwhelmed, giving up plastic straws is one simple way they can participate in creating a healthy #strawlessocean.
How do you want to influence the next generation?
The Lonely Whale is a great hero for the younger generation because he has a unique voice, and I hope he inspires the next generation to speak up and speak loudly and embrace their unique perspective. While the whale doesn’t speak the same language, he has very important things to say. Whales, after all, are the keepers of wisdom. They have survived the Ice Age and other events throughout history, and we should pay attention to what they have to say because they’ve been there and know how to survive. If we want to survive, we should listen to our environment, we should listen to the whales.
5 Gyres Institute and I will also be involved in a related conference in May called the Blue Vision Summit. I’ll be a guest speaker at a panel discussion at the Summit in Washington D.C. This is a biennial event since 2004 that draws hundreds of ocean leaders to develop strategies for protecting our oceans and to meet with elected officials to make our voice heard.
For more information, please visit www.hannah4change.org, www.5gyres.org, www.lonelywhale.org, and bluefront.org.
Hannah Testa, Young Eco-Warrior, and Environmental/ Animal Activist