The Humble Organisation Removing 10,000,000 Pieces Of Plastic Per Year From Our Beaches
“We’re the canaries in the coal mine.” – Tim Silverwood of Take 3 For The Sea.
While we might not be directly responsible for the Kit Kat wrappers, bottle tops and multi-colored debris lining the high tide mark, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t divert a handful of seconds to reach down, clasp it in our fingers and drop it in the trash on the way out.
It won’t make the eight million tonnes of non-biodegradable garbage dumped into our oceans each year disappear, but every handful helps. Science also suggests you’ll get a hit of altruistic dopamine for your mere efforts.
Why not take it a step further, stir in a little millennialism and take an Instagram of yourself with your oddments? Good deeds get double taps after all.
It’s this type of social media-conservation entanglement that forms the foundations of one of the most successful anti-plastic movements in recent history, Take 3 For The Sea.
With their super-catchy slogan and simple call to action, the organization has blossomed over the years from a community action group to a hashtag that spans the planet and the driving force behind the proper disposal of tonnes of garbage that would’ve otherwise choked out our seafaring friends.
Masterminded by two Australian women on the Central Coast, NSW, Roberta Dixon-Valk and Amanda Marechal recognized the power of small, simple actions in making a massive difference for the natural environment. The pair recruited the help from conservationist slash surfer, Tim Silverwood, who helped amplify an intelligent jingle into a global movement.
Meet Tim Silverwood, Mandy Marechal and Roberta Dixon-Valk, a litter bug’s worst nightmare.
Over the years they’ve been busy educating, hosting countless successful clean-up programs, securing partnerships (including with the WSL’s PURE program) and signing top tier surfers like Adrian Buchan as ambassadors to set a positive example and spread the good word.
With the positive response from the surfing community in taking unified action against oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, what better time to take things one step further, not against a catastrophe that could be, but one that is – Mother Nature’s slow death-by-plastic waste.
Stab picked up the phone with Tim Silverwood to hear more about their cause, the current campaign they’re running and how the typical surfer can help get plastic out of our playground.
Stab: So Tim, firstly, how did you get into conservation? Tell me the story of Take 3 For The Sea’s conception.
Tim Silverwood: Well, I studied conservation and always had a keen interest in it, but it was surfing and developing a love affair with the ocean that really was the catalyst.
Growing up in Australia, when I was younger I used to paddle out and grab bait bags because everything was so pristine it seemed crazy that you’d let this item tarnish that experience. I didn’t know anything about the problem, I didn’t think for a second that a turtle might’ve gone and eaten it, but I picked it up.
In my 20s I was going to Indo and South East Asia and was so shocked at the pollution. Traveling around I was like, “You’re kidding me!” At that point I was all fired up, I wanted to do something, but didn’t quite know where to start.
The real ‘Aha’ moment was when we were camping up north and Rasta showed up with Chris Del Moro and the whole Billabong crew, when he was doing the Transparency Voyage. We sat around the fire that night with all these inspiring activists and I thought, “Fuck that, Tim, you can do this too! There’s nothing holding you back.”
A couple of days later I went to the screening of The Cove at Avoca Cinema and I got up on stage and said, “There’s no excuses, surfers, let’s go clean our beaches and protect our oceans.” It just so happened that Mandy and Roberta, who had the original idea for Take 3 For The Sea – Mandy’s neighbor was in the audience and she made the connection straight away and within a week I was sitting across the table from them.
They shared the idea and I was like, “This is it, I’m all in.” That was 2009. We turn ten in October.
The easiest good deed a person can accomplish – one handful is all you need.
So they had the plan already coming together?
Yeah. They had this little document. Mandy, she had her own story, she’s a surfer, her husband is Rex Marechal (of RMS Surfboards). Roberta’s a Marine Ecologist and a diver.
They birthed the idea and I came in to bring it to life and take it to the mainstream. So I started creating media, films and helped them put the website together. We hit go in 2010.
What were some of the first activities you ran, how did you begin tackling it?
We started with education in schools. We put on the boots and away we went, schools, preschools and we started developing relationships with councils.
The real boost was in 2011 when we got a $50,000 grant from Taronga Zoo. It was the first ever grant that we applied for and that gave us the money to do things properly. It gave us the pat on the back, telling us that this is actually a really good thing and to keep doing it.
That same year I quit my job and sailed out to the garbage patch in the ocean. I spent three weeks out there with scientists studying the problem, then came back and did a TED Talk and from there it was all systems go.
I started hosting events all around the country, just speaking, speaking, speaking, trying to get people fired up. That was about the time that we started to build a bit of a social media presence.
It took a long time to get those first numbers on the board, but fast forward to now and we’re at about 250,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram. It’s huge.
Selling the plastic-free dream to the next gen.
How global is Take 3? Do you have activities taking place internationally, or is it more Australian-centric at this stage?
In terms of our following, yes. We tried to go global early on and it was really challenging, diluting the messaging and finding it hard to support people, so we made the call to focus on our Australian national operation.
What is impressive though is our Take 3 hashtag (#take3forthesea), with 93,000 applications on Instagram. By running modeling on our social impact we found some incredible insights; 129 countries have used the hashtag, and if you stack up all the social and environmental impact from digital it’s almost over 10,000,000 pieces of rubbish being removed every year.
We like to push this message that small action makes a big impact when multiplied and that’s no truer than Take 3 For The Sea. Our brand awareness is astronomical.
Last year getting our first ever partnership with the World Surf League was huge, getting ambassadors like Ace Buchan and getting in with the surf community is another example of how we’re really taking this small action, that started on the Central Coast of NSW, truly taking it global.
As surfers, how responsible are we and how can we best help the cause?
We’re massively responsible. Think about some of the wins we’ve had, sewage in Bondi Beach, forestry mills in Tasmania, we’re the ones that can make the greatest change, because we’re the ones with our backs against the wall when things go wrong. We’re the canaries in the coal mine. We protect our waves when they’re threatened.
I’ve been a little surprised that we’re not more organized when it comes to action. I think this latest Fight For The Bight campaign is a bit of an anomaly. I think it’s really great the surfing community has gotten onboard, being led by such key figures in the industry like Sean Doherty, but we could do so much more.
The key idea is that our backs are against the wall, like when we see that modeling in the Great Australian Bight we freak out ‘cos we think, “Holy shit, we can’t go there and surf,” and when it comes to plastic, yeah we go to Indo, travel around and see the problem, but we still go and surf perfect waves.
I don’t think we fully value how threatening and damaging it is to our oceans. We’ve gotta do more.
I think the World Surf League developing their PURE program, key surfers stepping it up and being much greater advocates for protecting our oceans, I think we’re seeing a real significant change there. We hope that it’s the same for Take 3.
Let’s get every surfer in the world doing their Take 3 For The Sea, let’s use people participating in that action for them to go an influence their local municipality to be proactive in preventing pollution. The time is now.
“I feel a great responsibility as a surfer to be a custodian of something that’s given me so much,” Adrian Buchan tells Stab. “I helped get them a platform at WSL with PURE so that’s been great for the growth of Take 3. Continuing to push that partnership, I want to live my life in a more sustainable way and pass that onto my kids.”
Are you seeing a change in attitudes toward plastics and pollution?
Yes, for sure. We started this ten years ago and it was really hard to get people to care, even know about the problem. Fast forward to now, War On Waste, Blue Planet, you’ve got celebrities talking about it – it’s mainstream.
We’re getting there, but what the challenge is now is using that broad-scale awareness to actually change the system, because our lives are increasingly plasticized. We’re living in a disposable society.
The problem is so much more. It’s consumption, it’s the way we manage waste, it’s the way we think recycling is the answer, pop it in the yellow bin and you’ve got a clear conscience – that’s not the case, do you know what happens next? What about where it came from in the first place?
Take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, waterway or… anywhere and you have made a difference.
You guys have got a big project happening right now? The Take 3 Challenge?
Yeah, we’ve been planning this for a while. We just realized that there’s an incredible movement of people around the world who do Take 3 For The Sea, but there’s also many that don’t, so what better way to get people involved than to do one of these challenges where you Take 3 For The Sea, you share it on socials and you tag three other people.
We launched it only two weeks ago and we’ve already had a reach of over four million people globally. We’ve had ambassadors like Ace Buchan sharing it, we’ve had WSL do their challenge. Our aim is pretty big, we want to move one million pieces of rubbish with this one campaign. We need more people to do it.
We’ll be running our partnership with World Surf League again, that’ll be coming up at Snapper. Stoked to be doing that again. We’ve got a new office on the Central Coast at Long Jetty, which will host workshops and people can stop by and meet the team. We’ll have an open day on the 23rd of March.
We’re always keen to run more activities and have people donate and support us on this big mission we’ve set for ourselves.
We know how big the problem is now, we just have to radically move toward solutions.
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