'I didn't realise how bad SA's pollution problem was until I toured our coastlines'

Big wave pro surfer Frank Solomon tackles the local, national and planetary shame of ocean pollution in the short web series, Protect Paradise

03 October 2021 - 00:00
South African big wave pro surfer Frank Solomon.
South African big wave pro surfer Frank Solomon.
Image: Supplied

It's no secret that our oceans are in trouble. If you need any reminding, South African big wave pro surfer Frank Solomon is spreading the message far and wide.

One of his recent campaigns in doing just that is Protect Paradise, a short series from Corona Studios that premiered on World Oceans Day, and is still available to watch on YouTube.

In each of the one-minute episodes, Solomon travels along SA's coast as he meets local heroes committed to saving the oceans for future generations.

Starting in Durban, he travelled to Scottburgh, Tshani in the Transkei, East London, Jeffrey's Bay, the Wilderness, Gansbaai and Cape Town, meeting a range of people fighting pollution in our seas and on our beaches.

Solomon spoke to us about some of his biggest concerns when it comes to our oceans — and if he thinks we have any hope of turning our mess around.

In your opinion, what's the biggest contributor of plastic pollution in our oceans?

Plastic bottles. And think how silly that is. You drink this thing for five minutes then it's there for 500 years. It's so crazy. This thing we use for moments in time is there for hundreds of years.

In terms of the series, how did you go about choosing the locations and the local heroes for each episode?

We decided on the route we wanted to do and then we called around and asked people we knew and different locals along the way. There are so many folks doing good stuff, I wish we could have connected with more of them.

According to Solomon, plastic bottles are the biggest contributor of plastic pollution in our oceans.
According to Solomon, plastic bottles are the biggest contributor of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Image: Supplied

You meet a range of people, from marine biologists to a shark specialist and artists. How will you encourage the ordinary person to start making a change where they are, regardless of whether or not they're an expert in the field of marine conservation?

I think it's so easy for people to make a change and it's so obvious. Just get a reusable water bottle. Don't buy a 500ml plastic bottle every time you have some water. Use a reusable coffee cup. Imagine how many people have coffees every day. I'd hate to know — it must be an astonishing amount. Use a reusable bag when you go to the shops. If everyone did that it would make a huge change. You don't have to just use something once and throw it away.

Was there something particularly interesting you learnt while shooting this series that you didn't know before?

I didn't realise how bad the pollution problem was in SA along some of the beaches I hadn't visited before. I didn't realise that we have such a big issue with plastic and marine plastic pollution. We went to a beach in East London and we were asking people, “Why do you just throw it on the ground, there's a rubbish bin right there?” And the response was “We're giving someone a job.” I find that shocking. That's just a lack of education. I don't know why, as South Africans, we have this idea that it's someone else's responsibility to pick it up. People need to be responsible for their waste.

In South Africa people take the oceans for granted. Our oceans are so polluted at the moment. There's so much plastic. When we were in Durban all the beaches were covered with plastic — plastic bottles, plastic bags. When tourists do come back here after the pandemic, is that what is going to be the norm for them? Coming back to polluted beaches? It seems like our government completely ignores nature and the ocean and the environment. The more we highlight the issues that we face, the better.

If you had to pick one of the episodes out of the series in terms of the information that comes across and the expert you spoke to and the things you learnt, what was a highlight for you?

I really liked Alison Towner from Gansbaai [in the Western Cape]. We went whale watching and we went right up close to the whales. She was talking about how fishing nets and plastic affect the big marine mammals like whales and dolphins. Chatting to her was the highlight.

WATCH | Frank Solomon and marine biologist Allison Towner set sail in Gansbaai to learn about the effect that plastic pollution has on our country's beautiful whale population.

Despite all the negativity and dismal information we have, what gives you hope for the future of our planet and our oceans?

To be honest, it's hard to find hope, especially if you look into it like I've been. What is it going to take for people to stop buying plastic bottles? How does that change happen? I don't know. I don't see it happening any time soon. I guess the more you talk about it, the more you spread the message — but unless people make a radical change I don't know what it's going to take for change that's going to have a real impact.

People are worried about Covid now, corruption, all kinds of stuff, but this is so far down the radar of what people really care about.

SENTINEL OCEAN ALLIANCE

In 2018 Frank Solomon founded an NGO called Sentinel Ocean Alliance in Hout Bay in an attempt to address the stark disparities South Africans face — between rich andpoor; advantaged and disadvantaged — through creating opportunities for coastal communities and disadvantaged youngsters.

After launching, they started the Hout Bay Surf Lifesaving Club. Today the club has almost 60 members and eight of its senior lifeguards, who were unable to swim prior to joining, are employed by the City of Cape Town.

In recognition of the work they do, in 2019 the club won the Sports Charity of the Year award from the lifesaving organisation Lifesaving SA.

As part of the work they do, Sentinel Ocean Alliance runs the Hout Bay Surf Lifesaving Club and a swimming programme,
As part of the work they do, Sentinel Ocean Alliance runs the Hout Bay Surf Lifesaving Club and a swimming programme,
Image: Sacha Specker

They also partnered with Waves for Change, a mental health programme that provides therapy through surfing, and in 2020 launched the Parley Ocean School, which runs environmental education programmes for children.

And to ensure that those who’d like to get involved are equipped with the skills to do so, their swimming programme, Turn the Tide, provides basic ocean safety awareness and swimming skills to children from coastal communities.

As Solomon says, the only way we’re really going to make change is by educating young people around the issues we’re facing.

For more information, visit sentineloceanalliance.org.


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