You have a whole life in the outdoors, you realize you have a sense of responsibility to protect these wild places. — Yvon Choinard, Founder of Patagonia
The sea is our wild place. We spend our lives on land trying to get closer to it – moving from headland to headland to catch a further glimpse of its vastness, hopping on planes just to reach another land that brings us closer to a different part of saltwater, and wishing our biology didn’t limit our ability to spend all our time underwater.
We spend so much time in it, and yet understand so little about it. We build our lives around something so huge, so mysterious, so wild.
The sea has such a huge impact on our daily lives, but we often don’t realise the impact our daily lives have on the sea. The products we buy, the food we consume, the waste we create – everything flows to the sea. We contaminate it with our pesticides and toxins, we disrupt its ecological makeup with our desire for seafood, we pollute it with the products and packaging we use for convenience.
Our wild place needs our protection now more than ever.
And so a group of surfers left their coastal patches and ventured to a faraway beach in tropical north Queensland, Australia. They were saltwater strangers all brought together by Clean Coast Collective on a journey to one of Australia’s most remote beaches.
While they all had individual reasons for taking the journey – to get up close with Cape York’s rare wildlife, to gain inspiration for their next album, or just to seize the opportunity to see a different part of the country – they all wanted to do their part and protect their saltwater playground.
The journey to Chilli Beach, nestled in the rainforests of Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park, took two days bumping down long red dust roads, passing billabongs, termite mounds and bushfires. Crossing rivers and flat plains – real Australian landscapes – until they finally popped out on to the palm-lined stretch of sand.
By day the salty tribe explored the six kilometre white sands, collecting bag after bag of plastics, ropes, foam, and debris. Each bag taken back to camp to be meticulously sorted and recorded for the Australian Marine Debris Database coordinated by Tangaroa Blue. And when the day’s work was done, the group relaxed in the saltwater shallows (away from the resident saltwater crocs), swung in the hammock, balanced along the slack line, or lazed in the communal Lotus Belle tent.
At night the locals came out to play – the incredibly rare Green Tree Python, only found in Cape York and Papua New Guinea, the possum-like Cuscus, and various other snakes large and small.
It was six long hot days in the harshest conditions – no showers, no flushing toilets, and the nearest town a two-hour drive. Away from the distraction of mobiles, laptops and TVs, the group stretched their eyesight out to sea – a rare vista of another piece of saltwater.
They say that you create the strongest bonds with the people you share intense experiences with. Together the tribe removed 3.1 tonnes of marine debris from this wild place – 94,000 individual pieces of trash, 15,000 bottle lids, 2,300 thongs, and 2,000 plastic bottles. Captured on the sand, this debris has now been removed from the sea for good, but with 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the sea each year our wild place stills needs protecting.
Once strangers, these surfers were now tied to one another by that wild place and by the desire to protect its natural beauty. Chilli Beach was etched on their bodies in the tan lines on their skin; it was stuck in their sandy hair; it was stained onto their red dirt clothes. Just like the sea is an endearing aspect of everyday life, that wild place of the north was now forever a part of them. They would share the story to whoever would listen with hopes of keeping it alive and protecting their saltwater sanctuary.
This journey was part of the Trash Tribe project by Clean Coast Collective. A film of the journey will be screening over the Australian summer.