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Ocean ecology, argonauts and Antarctica! A chat with Alice Forrest

Posted by Erik Sumarkho Spiniello on
Ocean ecology, argonauts and Antarctica! A chat with Alice Forrest

Let’s start by talking a little bit about who you are and how you first got interested in ocean conservation.

The ocean was always fascinating to me, but not in a personal way - I thought dolphins were cool, and loved the beach, but grew up very landlocked and didn’t have a connection to the ocean. In my early 20s I volunteered on a sea turtle project in Greece, and learnt to scuba dive, and then my eyes were opened to this whole magical world. I learnt how intricately all of us are connected to the ocean, even by the air we breathe, and also how hugely we impact it. That even tiny choices I make - what to eat, or drink, or buy - can have knock on effects that can harm sea turtles or coral or even deep sea creatures. So I went back to university & studied conservation biology, then marine biology, and got involved in researching marine plastic pollution. Now I’m more or less completely obsessed with the ocean, and spend my days working as a tour guide in places like Antarctica, or the Ningaloo Reef, teaching people about how amazing it is (and how we can all be better custodians for it). 

Okay, If I ever go to Antartica, could you please be my tour guide... What do you find energizing about working in this field?

Getting other people excited about the ocean, or connected to it in some way, is just the most awesome feeling. I love taking people who are scared of sharks into the water to meet a shark. Or being with someone the first time they see a whale. I find it so energizing to share stoke with people. And also to teach them a little bit so they care about the ocean too. 

That so cool! What is the coolest interaction you’ve seen in the marine world?

Argh there are so many! Some that spring to mind are seeing friends swimming along peacefully next to tiger sharks. Seeing orcas playing together after sharing a meal. Being alongside a manta mating chain, with several huge mantas twirling around each other. Or once, in Antarctica, being sung to by a snoozing Weddell Seal! I feel so so lucky to have this life where I get to spend my days chasing experiences like these. 

Let's get to business. I’m interested in talking about waste and particularly microplastic since you wrote a book about it. What are some interesting insights into the world of microplastics?

The world of microplastics is both terrifying and empowering - we are literally surrounded by the stuff, inside and out, and yet we already have all the solutions we need to tackle the problem. 

We’ve reached a point where our trash is coming back to us in our food, water, even the air we breathe (one study found the average adult consumes about a thousand plastic particles every day). Microplastic (anything smaller than 5mm) is mostly made up of broken pieces of bigger plastic, so it’s the inevitable result of our reliance on throwaway plastics. We use so much plastic, every day (particularly in Australia, we’re probably the biggest users of single use plastics), and now it’s coming back to us in seafood, beer, salt, even sea breezes and mountain rain. 

Sounds pretty depressing, and a little terrifying, but I think ultimately this is a positive story - in the past ten years we’ve started to recognize the enormity of this issue. Legislation is being put into place to ban single use plastics and move towards a more circular economy. We just need to do more, and faster, but we don’t need any magical new technology. We can design better, consume less, and be conscious of our waste. It’s that simple. 

Tackling microplastics has to be done in such a multi-dimensional aspect hey. What are the top two strategies to tackle this seriously synister environmental problem?

  1. Change ourselves - this isn’t an overnight fix where we all become perfect people who never use plastic. It’s about doing what you can to consume less. We all have different lives, circumstances, privilege, but all of us can do something to use less, produce less waste and ultimately have a more positive impact. Whether that’s with a reusable coffee cup, shopping at bulk stores, making your own milk, reusable nappies, shampoo bars, whatever works for you. 
  2. Change society - we have more power than we give ourselves credit for. And everyone has a skill or talent they can use to create a more awesome planet. Supporting legislation that bans plastic, volunteering with organisations, starting a local solutions-focused group, or starting a business that sells belts to fund large scale solutions, there are so many different ways to do this.  

Okay last question, what is your favourite marine creature? 

Today, it’s probably an argonaut (or paper nautilus) - they look like tiny octopus, but live in a beautiful delicate shell which they build themselves. Then they float around in the ocean, propelling themselves by squirting water out of their funnels. They’re super mysterious, and currently my favourite because I’ve recently learnt that they often ride around on top of jellyfish. How awesome. 

But before we go, can you share what is the weirdest thing you’ve recycled? And how :)

My house - my partner Angel and I built a tiny house, and while bits of it are new we tried to make as much as possible from recycled materials. All the doors, windows, floor, bench, stairs, deck, shower… everything we could, we bought second hand or made from pallets, or timber offcuts, or from the tip shop. It feels great to live somewhere that aligns with our values, plus the second hand nature of it adds so much character.

If you want to learn more about microplastics you check out:

 

  

 

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