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60 days without seeing ocean life-only plastic

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This year the Plastic Free July campaign, an international initiative aimed at mobilising citizens to say ‘no’ to single use plastics, has more virtue than ever before for South African conservationist and extreme adventurer Braam Malherbe, who is on a mission to mobilise young and old to take up the change and “Do One Thing” (#DOTchallenge).

Malherbe, who has completed numerous world-first adventures (including running the entire 4, 200km length of the Great Wall of China, and representing SA in the Scott/Amundsen Centenary race to the South Pole), has been a conservation activist for over 45 years, starting in his youth when he raised funds for an Environmental Impact Assessment for Langebaan Lagoon. Since then, he has devoted his life to nature. He is a SANParks Honorary Ranger, helped establish and was CEO of the Table Mountain National Park’s Volunteer Firefighting Unit, started the MyPlanet Rhino Fund, raised millions for conservation, personally trained rangers in anti-poaching tactics and today still gives his time to teach young at-risk learners about our fragile and finite planet Earth, as part of the Scouts International initiative. Through his extreme adventures he draws attention to the indomitable human spirit and the preciousness of our environment, which is brought to life through his DOT Challenge campaign.

A personal account

Just over 1 year ago, on 9 May 2017, he completed his most recent world first: rowing a boat, unassisted, for 8 100km from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro with his rowing partner Wayne Robertson; all in the name of ocean conservation and the DOT (Do One Thing) challenge. “We were on the ocean for 92 gruelling days and for over 60 of those days we saw no life at all, not a fish, turtle, bird or whale. All we saw, occasionally, was plastic. When we finally did see an animal, it was dead. The turtle washed up against our little boat and when we cut it open it was full of plastic.”

Why all the fuss about plastic?

It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, than fish. This is not only unsightly, but poses real life threats to humans and animals alike since plastic is entering our food chain, thanks to its resistance to degeneration. Plastic breaks up into tiny pieces (miroplastics) but is designed to never break down. Looking exactly like plankton, these tiny plastic specs end up being eaten by animals such as wales, turtles and fish, and in turn by humans. Over a million seabirds are killed each year due to plastic pollution and with over 51 trillion pieces of microplastics in the sea it’s inevitable that plastic (and the chemicals that it produces) also ends up in our own food chain.

What can you do?

Braam Malherbe invented the DOT Challenge specifically to help mobilise people in a practical and impactful way. “Our planet is just a DOT in the universe and we are just DOT’s on the planet, but if each person steps up to Do One Thing, collectively we can be a force for good for mother nature.” He challenges all South Africans, young and old, individuals, families and companies, to take up the DOT Challenge and say ‘no’ to single use plastics during July – indeed, forever. The main plastic-culprits to avoid include thin shopping bags, straws, cups, take-away coffee lids, ear buds, sandwich bags, and plastic wrap.

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