Uniting and activating powerful voices for ocean conservation

From ocean adventurer to change-maker

Suzanne van der Veeken –

We are now 16 days at sea. Six salty sailors and I are navigating our way from Spain to the Americas on a small sailing sloop.

The lack of wind brings opportunity. After weeks of staring at the big blue we’re going to feel its magic from a different perspective. We put a line out for safety – I step over the railing and jump.

I splash into the 4,000-metre-deep water of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of miles from the nearest shore. The feeling of refreshment and freedom is indescribable. With limited water and space, I have not showered or moved much these past weeks. I feel alive, small and on top of the world at the same time. The water is like tea: so warm. What is beneath me? I put on my mask and dive under. There is nothing to see except the butts of my fellow crew and the colour of deep ocean, blue with beams of light shining through.

Driven by my deep sense of curiosity I sail the ocean, freedive into the deep, kite surf the surface, and explore distant shores. My discoveries on, in and underneath the water have taught me about the challenges it is facing.

I’ve sailed the seas in every continent except Antarctica. I have walked on remote beaches on islands hundreds of miles from mainland. I have put on my freedive mermaid fins and explored the bottom of the sea wherever I got the chance. I’ve explored below the surface in Tonga, in the middle of the South Pacific, in the Galapagos, the Mediterranean, South East Asia, East Africa, Australia, and the Caribbean. And everywhere I am confronted by the same man-made problem afflicting the ocean.

In the middle of the Atlantic, far away from civilisation, I’ve seen it drifting. Plastic bags, bottles, straws. Once a fellow crew member thought he caught a fish, but it was a plastic bag. Every water sample that I have taken, every 200 miles, contained tiny pieces of plastic, invisible to the naked eye.

I have watched fish eating plastic pieces, mistaking them for food. I've been dancing with manta rays in a plastic soup, watching them funnel in wrappers instead of plankton, while I unwrap the bags from my fins.

Occasionally I don’t know where to resurface after a free-dive because above me I see nothing but trash. I’ve met local fishermen, from Tonga to Turkey to Tobago, telling me the catch of the day is less than 10 per cent of what it used to be. In two out of three days exploring the Mediterranean Sea last summer, I did not see a single fish.

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