Plastiki expedition leader David de Rothschild talks about the challenges--and opportunities--of running an environmental education campaign from the middle of the Pacific on a boat made out of plastic bottles.
As the Plastiki cruises into Sydney today after a journey of 130 days and 8,000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, the crew might be a bit weathered and worn--as may be the one-of-a-kind sailboat made largely out of two-liter plastic soda bottles--but the crew's spirits are higher than ever.
I had a chance to talk with de expedition leader David de Rothschild aboard The Plastiki via Skype as the boat made one last pit-stop before its final leg to Sydney on Monday. The British adventurer and environmentalist, de Rothschild has made it his current mission to bring attention to the scourge of single-use plastic bottles.
With the job of bringing attention to the plastic bottle issue made a bit more difficult by the fact that the crew was bobbing around in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a boat made of puffed-up plastic soda bottles, I asked de Rothschild about the technical hurdles of running a wired environmental campaign in such a challenging work setting.
"From the very start of the project one of the expedition's biggest concerns was the harsh environment," said de Rothschild.
Relaying one scenario that played itself out several times over the trip, de Rothschild, who was almost constantly writing, communicating, and uploading photos and other content during the trip, explains, "You'll be sitting there writing a blog a memo or a book, all of a sudden a wave will come smash down the side of the boat and these two streams of water will come bursting through the window. And if you're unlucky you get saltwater in your face and your laptop just gets nailed."
"It's like someone punching you in the face with a bucket of water," de Rothschild told me, adding that the constant threat of the ocean looming outside have had an impact on his behavior. "I've become a backup freak," said de Rothschild.
"And the message has just rocketed."
But from the cold and foggy San Francisco Bay to the 100-degree heat and high humidity of the equatorial Line Islands, the team and the equipment stayed operating like a well-oiled communications machine. In terms of the on-board technology's impact on the mission, de Rothschild was adamant. "It's totally changed it, man," he told me with an unmistakable tone of dead-seriousness and awe. "This mission is only possible because of the technology we have on board."
The mission was about taking advantage of the opportunity of having a "disproportional impact" on society and behavior and "sharing the expedition in the most interactive, instantaneous-feedback way."
"We've been able to do live Skype chats with schools all over the world. We've been doing live feeds to massive news agencies from Oprah to Al Jazeera to CNN... And the message has just rocketed," says de Rothschild enthusiastically.
When asked about the true impact of this adventure, de Rothschild says we'll have to wait ten years. "And those kids that have talked to us on the boat, ask them what they do. Ask them what they believe in. Ask them about their values. I guarantee, out of those 15, 20 kids in every classroom, there's maybe two or three who you know have changed paths because of this project who are now marine biologists or ocean scientists or inventors and engineers."
Buoyed by the response, de Rothschild said, "I've been overwhelmed. It sent my benchmark of what's possible through the roof.
"I'm like, anything's possible now."
The Plastiki will be moored at Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour for a month and will be open to visitors on Sunday August 1st.
Photos courtesy of Plastiki, HP