Volvo Race leaders call for action on ocean rubbish

NEWPORT, Rhode Island, USA – Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad and Team Alvimedica skipper Charlie Enright have been invited to address a United Nations (UN) convention later this year focusing on the growing problem of rubbish in the oceans. The invitation was extended to them by a UN delegate attending the Volvo Group’s Ocean Summit on Marine Debris here on Friday, where Frostad and Enright were speakers.

Ambassador Eden Charles, of Trinidad and Tobago, said Enright and Frostad would be ideal witnesses to the UN on the increasing rise of rubbish to be found in the oceans around the world. “Our challenge is not only to bring this issue to the attention of the world’s nations, but to get regulations to clean up the oceans implemented by all of them,” said the Ambassador. “To hear a current sailor speak on this issue with first-hand knowledge, plus the Race’s head, will be a very strong message indeed to our convention in New York.”

Both Frostad and Enright, 30, who is the youngest skipper in the Volvo Ocean Race, said they would be delighted to address the convention, which is likely to take place in November this year and represents some 170 nations.

Delegates and media at Friday’s packed summit heard from a list of speakers who represent all sides of the issue, including academia, national and local government, pressure groups, philanthropic agencies, and the corporate world.

“Marine debris is negatively affecting the oceans and oceanic life, and it’s clear that we all have a responsibility to help institute changes,” said Henry Sténson, executive vice president of Corporate Communications and Sustainability Affairs for the Volvo Group, who welcomed delegates to the three-and-a-half hour discussions.

Enright gave some graphic examples of how choked up with rubbish some of the areas the 2014-15 race has visited have become. Describing the Malacca Strait, which divides the Indonesian island of Sumatra from Malaysia, he commented: “It was just disgusting – you almost felt like you could walk across that stretch of water on the trash there at one stage.”

He said that the Strait was by no means the only example of such a littering of all kind of debris in the oceans.

The Rhode Islander said he believed young, round-the-world sailors like himself could play a vital role as witnesses to the issue since they sailed through waters rarely, if ever, seen by others.

Delegates also heard from the influential Rhode Island Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, who speaks regularly on marine conservancy and other environmental topics at national government level in the USA and who has also helped introduce new legislation to conserve coastal areas.

“Debris is a serious problem for marine ecosystems and coastal economies,” Senator Whitehouse said. “In Rhode Island, I’ve seen first-hand how it can foul our coastline and hamper economic development and recreation. The Volvo Ocean Racers have seen how far offshore this pollution reaches. I’ve also seen how partnerships between government, private industry and motivated citizens can deal with this problem.”

Gina Raimondo, Governor of Rhode Island, spoke on how the state was committed to cleaning its own coasts while Wendy Schmidt, a leading environmental philanthropist who is president of the The Schmidt Family Foundation, commented on how private foundations are helping tackle the problem with well targeted investment.

The event was hosted by Professor Dennis Nixon, a leading Rhode Island-based academic based in the state university.

After hearing the warning from delegate, Dr Sandra Whitehouse, senior policy advisor for Ocean Conservancy, that, left unchecked, there could be one tonne of plastic in the oceans for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, he suggested a 15-year deadline to reverse the trend.

“The sailors have given us a call to action and we ignore it at our peril,” he said.

Summit attendees also heard from Bjӧrn Lyrvall, Ambassador of Sweden to the USA; Catherine Novelli, Under-Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, USA State Department; Dr. Lisa Svensson, Sweden’s Ambassador for Ocean, Seas and Freshwater; Kersti Strandqvist, senior vice president for Sustainability, SCA, a leading global hygiene and forest products company; and Daniel Wild, Head of Sustainability Investing Research and Development, RobecoSAM, an international investment company with a specific focus on sustainability investments.

JPK August 2023
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