The Ocean Optimist

An Optimistic Future for Marine Litter?

P lastic pollution, marine litter in particular, has been a big focus at the Congress today for Ocean Optimism. There have been workshops, preview screenings and some great announcements.

Today, I received the news from back home that, after supporting the notion in May, the UK government has officially announced plans to ban microbeads from all products by 2017! This comes after months of campaigning by environmentalists, signaling a change in the Government’s approach from a previous commitment to a voluntary phase-out. The US recently became the first country to announce it would ban microbead use in cosmetics, and the European Commission is also developing proposals to ban them in cosmetics across the EU. Plastic bag use in England has dropped by over 85 percent since the introduction of the 5p bag charge in October 2015, being the final country in the UK to adopt the charge. The charge has also triggered donations of more than £29m from retailers towards good causes!

Anyway, back to microbeads…

Whilst microbeads are, of course, an incredibly grave issue for the marine environment, causing widespread problems for all parts of the food chain, what is often overlooked is the huge proportion of  primary microplastic that comes from other sources. We heard today from IUCN the findings that microbeads constitute just 2 percent of primary microplastic, whilst microfibres from laundry constitute 35 percent (more info here)!  Encouragingly, the Ocean Clean Wash campaign, that was initiated earlier in this year by the Plastic Soup Foundation to stop such synthetic microfibre release, revealed today at the Congress their new collaboration with Parley for the Oceans along with a number of other new partners! Their list of supporters is a huge one, including over 100 NGOs, well-known individuals and scientists.

The Honolulu Museum of Art was also in attendance at the Congress today, highlighting local initiatives that are being done to raise awareness of the marine litter issue, with particular emphasis upon the younger generations. The Museum’s One Ounce Project encourages participants, normally local school children, to create sculptures from one ounce of plastic. One ounce represents the amount of disposable plastics an average American uses every three hours! Congress guests were invited to create not-so-traditional leis using one ounce of marine litter collected from Hawaiian beaches, and invited to contribute to Maika’i Tubbs‘s latest installation as part of the Plastic Fantastic? exhibition.


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Disposable plastic and marine litter lei; Plastic Fantastic? marine litter installation of a girl swimming with turtles.

The day ended with a pre-release screening of the critically-acclaimed film, A Plastic Ocean, taking place in the evening. Whilst the sheer extent of the issue was pretty harrowing and overwhelming (I was among many who shed a tear or two), the movie introduced workable technology and policy solutions that can, and will, change things for the better if implemented in time. What was encouraging to see was that communities from both developed and developing countries alike are beginning to recognise the situation and use whatever power and resources they have to generate positive change. The Mumbai Beach Clean, the world’s largest in which over 2.5 million kilos of rubbish have been collected so far, was a community led initiative.  Coastlines, rivers, dump sites and canals are all being transformed by normal people.

Every inch of the beach was covered in litter when we began. We picked up 673 shoes within a radius of just 10 metres. By the end of it, everyone came together with one mission, to protect our environment and make history.
Lewis Pugh, maritime lawyer, campaigner of clean oceans and Patron of the Oceans, speaking to Hindustan Times

Marine litter is one of the ocean’s greatest, and often most overlooked, problems. We are a million miles from saying that we have the issue under control, and it will be a million years until our oceans are devoid of evidence of our throw-away culture. But that’s not to say that we should not act, and act soon. Because it is the small things that we do, and the choices that we make every day, that can make the greatest difference. Communities and governments are waking up to the problem, and younger generations are becoming increasingly aware of the state of our environment; and whilst we are still making small steps in the grand scheme of things, we are indeed moving forward. Be bold, be brave, and be positive. Because successes are happening every day.

Remember, it is the actions of the few, that will become the inspiration for many.


For more information of the movie, and to get notified of updates regarding its worldwide release, check out the Plastic Oceans website here.

Natasha is a marine biologist and lead ocean optimist. She graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2014 with a Master of Research in Marine Ecosystem-based Management. She currently works in central London regarding fisheries policy and is also an active member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.

Natasha Hill

Content Developer, Ocean Optimism

New Beginnings


Today was day of new beginnings. The Congress saw launches of reports and hundreds of people engaging in inspiring, positive initiatives. This was all followed by meeting with some fantastic organisations, whom I hope to write about in future posts!

#NatureforAll is a movement to inspire a new generation of thinkers and doers, encouraging people to connect with nature and take action to support its conservation. The idea is very simple: the more people experience, connect with, and share their love of nature, the more support there will be for its conservation.

The #NatureForAll Pavilion is one of nine thematic pavilions as part of the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, and serves as a creative and attractive central gathering place for delegates. For example, ‘fireside chats’, complete with artificial camp fires, begin each day of the Forum, allowing delegates to share stories and experiences in an informal setting! A ‘wildlife DJ’ whose raps incorporate sounds he has found in nature, provided entertainment during the Official Launch event, and just shows that you can combine your passions and indeed incorporate nature into the most atypical ways!


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Another launch today was of the Panorama platform, a partnership promoting examples of inspiring, replicable solutions across a range of conservation and development topics, to enable cross-sectoral learning and the upscaling of successes. Blue Solutions largely manages the marine and coastal side of things, of which there are currently 114 published solutions online and accessible to all.

Panorama makes it far easier to be able to access solutions to conservation problems that may have previously been largely overlooked, and provides a platform to allow practitioners to share their stories of success and best practise. It can be accessed online via




The evening saw the launch of the Protect Planet Report 2016. In 2010, the Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2010-2020 and its 20 associated Aichi Biodiversity Targets.  These are measurable targets that the Parties should strive towards. Examples include:

Some examples of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are:

  • Target 5: At least halve and, where feasible, bring close to zero the rate of loss of natural habitats, including forests by 2020
  • Target 11: By 2020, have at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of marine and coastal areas

The Protected Planet Report 2016 assesses how protected areas contribute to achieving these Aichi Biodiversity Targets, highlighting current research and case studies that show the role protected areas play in conserving the world’s biodiversity and cultural heritage. At present, just under 15% of the world’s terrestrial and inland waters and just over 10% of the coastal and marine areas within national jurisdiction (those normally within 200 nautical miles from a nation’s coast) are protected. With Obama’s recent announcement of the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, we are now even closer to achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 11!


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Ocean Optimism has also made some great connections whilst here today at the Congress, namely Louise Ruddell, founder of the UK-based shark conservation charity, FinFighters, and Anna Oposa, ‘Chief Mermaid’ at Save Philippine Seas. Both are huge supporters of the Ocean Optimism movement, so watch this space – we hope to have more from them very soon!


Natasha is a marine biologist and lead ocean optimist. She graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2014 with a Master of Research in Marine Ecosystem-based Management. She currently works in central London regarding fisheries policy and is also an active member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.

Natasha Hill

Content Developer, Ocean Optimism

The Opening Ceremony


“A“loha!” And so, with the heavy beat of drums, the traditional songs of yesteryear, and the happy hula of Hawaiian dancers, the Opening Ceremony of the IUCN World Conservation Congress began.


Over 9000 delegates from over 190 different nations came together today in Honolulu, Oahu, for the Congress. Held once every four years, it is the first time the United States has hosted the 10-day gathering, and there’s no better place than the Hawaiian Islands to host such a critical gathering: the islands are at the forefront of biodiversity loss and climate change.

And it’s timely too. As what’s being hailed as a meteorological first, two back-to-back hurricanes thundered towards Hawaii this week. Hurricane Madeline has already made herself known to all, roaring winds across the island and causing delays for some delegates flying in for the Congress. The hurricane could also break a second record, by being the first to strike the Big Island since bookkeeping began in 1949. A combination of warmer ocean temperatures and favourable atmospheric conditions are to blame, serving as a stark reminder of the reality of climate change and of what there could be to come.




Dignitaries arrived onto the shores of Waikiki beach by aka boats this morning, greeted by a ceremonial Hawaiian welcome and opening words from Hawai’i Governor David Ige, US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, President of Palau Tommy Remengesau and IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng.


And at the Opening Ceremony itself, all delegates were treated to the fantastic ancient chants of the native Hawaiian people; chants which hold the history, culture and stories of the islands, forming the foundation upon which participants will deliberate the future of our environment.

A major theme at the Ceremony was the celebration of the White House’s announcement of the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Having quadrupled in size, Papahānaumokuākea is now the world’s largest marine reserve. Surrounding the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and spanning 582,578 square miles, the expansion provides critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species, including whales, sea turtles, and the longest-living marine species in the world — black coral, which has been found to live longer than 4,500 years.

With 14.7 per cent of the Earth’s land and 10 per cent of its territorial waters now under protection, the world is on track to meet a major global conservation target, according to a new report by UN Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), launched today at the Congress in Hawaii. But the 2016 Protected Planet report also shows that crucial biodiversity areas are being left out, highlighting the critical need for meaningful dialogue between scientists, conservationists, and government leaders, to move towards more effective management.

This Congress is an opportunity to highlight and discuss, with the world’s brightest minds and change-makers, the most pressing issues facing our planet –  biodiversity loss, wildlife trafficking, climate change – with the view of eliciting change and generating solutions. It is also the time to empower youth and encourage intergenerational collaboration. The imperative of caring for the earth has never been greater, and yet the challenges ahead are bigger than anything we have ever faced before.

Tomorrow (2nd September) the Forum opens, comprising of over 1300 sessions – discussion groups, workshops and presentations. Will the Congress deliver? Will significant, landmark decisions be made this week? And most importantly, will all of this lead to positive solutions for our planet Earth?

Only time will tell, but here’s to hailing a little ocean optimism. For positive thinking can indeed lead to positive change.

I’ll finish with the words of Kamana’opono Crabbe, Ph.D, CEO at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs,

“We now find ourselves at a crossroads, and at a pivotal moment in time. Our planet and its fragile ecosystems have been pushed to the limits of their existence … But let us not despair, because women, men and children with amazingly courageous hearts are taking a stand and making an incredible difference. Let us remember that what was once an oppressed voice, is now the intellectual speech of the landscape”. 


Sources: Image 1, IUCN; Image 2, NASA.

Natasha is a marine biologist and lead ocean optimist. She graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2014 with a Master of Research in Marine Ecosystem-based Management. She currently works in central London regarding fisheries policy and is also an active member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.

Natasha Hill

Content Developer, Ocean Optimism