Protecting Paradise

Video highlights from Protecting Paradise

The makers of a National Geographic documentary made a devastating discovery on the northern fringes of the Great Barrier Reef

This story is sponsored by Corona.

“When you see the amount of plastic up on the Great Barrier Reef, it devastates you to the core,” says Christian Miller, the Australian Director of Parley for the Oceans.

“You imagine a place as paradise with the most pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters but when you get close, you see a huge amount of plastic. It makes you angry with society and yourself,” he says.

Miller was speaking at the recent release of Protecting Paradise, a documentary made by National Geographic in partnership with Corona and Parley for the Oceans, highlighting the problem of plastic pollution on the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

Filmed on and around Cape York the documentary’s aim is to educate the nearly 75 per cent of Australians who underestimate or have no idea about the problem of plastic pollution.

As Miller says, “every second breath we take is generated by the ocean so without the ocean we would not be able to breathe.”

IMAGE CREDIT: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Corona ambassador and one of Australia’s leading science communicators, Laura Wells says she has seen a lot of plastic pollution on remote islands but seeing it on the reef during the documentary shoot was distressing.

“It really drives home the point that we live such convenient consumer lifestyles without thinking about how detrimental our actions are for the future,” she says.

“We walk down the street and not notice the pollution or we think it’s too hard to fix. It’s either a lack of education or lack of empathy for future generations. We need to act now and instead of being all about me, we need to be all about we,” Wells says.

Being more about the “we” brought Parley for the Oceans and Corona together and the documentary is just one facet of a broader global alliance designed to not only raise awareness of our need to clean up the oceans but to also actively do something about it.

Genuine passion

A big part of the partnership is the 100 Islands Protected initiative, which is already bearing fruit with clean-ups reaching over 25 islands around the world.

Miller says Parley has many partnerships around the planet and Corona brings a genuine passion to clean up the environment to the relationship.

“Corona is about having a cold beer on a clean beach and by committing to protect over 100 islands around the world (and it will probably be a lot more), Corona is committing to do something and more importantly, they’re capable of doing something,” he says.

“I have spent my life in the ocean and have been involved in numerous conservation organisations but often these groups struggle because they rely on in-kind donations. Parley has established big partnerships with global brands like Corona, so you can do things on a large scale and commit to long-term projects,” Miller says.

Wells agrees, saying when organisations such as Parley for the Oceans and Corona get together, “we have an amazing reach so we can get the message out there, provide solutions and encourage change in consumers and other businesses.”

IMAGE CREDIT: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Breath of fresh AIR

Part of getting the message out is Parley’s “AIR” strategy which revolves around the words Avoid, Intercept and Redesign.

The Avoid component is all about addressing the plastic problem through education and events such as the documentary. It encourages people to avoid plastic wherever possible, like refusing single-use plastic items.

The second component of the strategy involves Intercepting plastic on the beaches and in communities before it enters the ocean. It’s a short-term fix, but the key is to remove plastic items before they enter the ocean and start breaking down into the micro and nano-plastics that are so harmful to marine life and fragile coral ecosystems.

IMAGE CREDIT: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Finally, Redesigning what we do involves a number of innovative ideas. For starters, Corona have become involved in the manufacture of sunglasses and garments made from recycled plastics – but the real innovation will be designing a new breed of materials to replace plastic itself.

“We need to come up with a new material that’s better than plastic, a smarter solution,” Miller says.

“And we also need to engage with Australians at sporting events, festivals and in the community and encourage people to sign-up to events like Volunteer for the Oceans clean-up events being hosted by Corona and Parley all around Australia.”

Wildlife educator and National Geographic photographer Michaela Skovranova agrees, and believes people must engage with the environment and understand the devastation plastic pollution causes to our oceans.

“We don’t see it in the cities so much because it gets cleaned up every day but up in Cape York, there’s a very small population and the currents are pushing plastic onto the beaches,” she says.

“Every day during the shoot we worked hard to get the plastic off the beaches but we can’t see the micro and nano-plastics already causing damage to marine life. It all so relatable as well because you’re picking up plastic water bottles and toothbrushes – common consumer items making their way into our oceans. Our problem is we don’t realise how our individual actions affect the environment.

“The amount is huge – up on the Great Barrier Reef there’s around a tonne of plastic every square kilometre.”

IMAGE CREDIT: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Although the problem is immense Skovranova says there were numerous highlights on the expedition, such as working closely with a group of conservationists driven by a passion to save our oceans.

“Seeing the results of our work and talking about our achievements was extremely gratifying.

For Wells, she was delighted to find large swathes of healthy reef and marine life although saddened by the rising level of pollution.

“We also had the occasional “Corona moment”, especially after a hard day’s picking up over a 100kg of plastic, where we would come back and share stories about the day, our research findings and our plans for the next day over a cold beer as the sun set.”

As for Protecting Paradise, Wells says it’s part of a broader effort to educate the masses about the importance of having healthy ecosystems if we want to be healthy humans in the future.

Learn more about how you can protect paradise at 100islandsprotected.com and actively play a part in saving our oceans by signing up to Volunteer for the Ocean and participating in a coastal clean-up event near you.

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