China’s first pro surfer, Darci Liu Dan is no stranger to bikini shots, but we wanted to do something far more innovative. The concept was Sports Illustrated-like beach poses. The catch? Darci was to be seen surrounded by found trash.
Hello, to all those dreaming of a tropical holiday, it’s 2017 and this is what an un-manicured beach looks like.
We’re all guilty of projecting only the best image onto social media and I am no exception. For years, I’ve travelled, posting only pictures of beautiful beaches on my instagram, when really every beach, every swim, every dive site I've been to in the last 10 years has featured rubbish.
Darci Liu with found fishing nets. It’s estimated one tenth of all fishing gear is left underwater, trapping countless whales, seals, turtles, birds and fish, bringing many to their deaths.
But no one wants to talk about it. More recently, I had a friend visit me who asked if we could go to a “less trashed” beach. I found myself frustrated as it was a perfect example of the problem - turning a blind eye.
I’d been living across from a popular tourist beach in Malaysia, where I’d often go for a sunset walk after work. Every day tourists flocked, enjoying a smoothie or a snack from the market as they took selfie after selfie. And every night they left so much of their garbage all over the beach. Often my housemate and I would conduct little beach clean-ups, you wouldn’t even need to bring a bag because there were so many plastic bags discarded and ready to use! As if that wasn’t enough, every so often the tides would change, bringing trash from the nearby islands and boats to drift onto the shore, coating the sand in refuse.
All this trash was found within 30 feet, largely right there as you see it.
Beyond surfing, Darci is a PADI Divemaster and ocean ambassador. When we first met her, it wasn’t long before we were deep into conversations about marine conservation, sharing our aspirations and our criticisms. Having both expressed that we wanted to do more, and get more creative with it - the idea came not long thereafter. To collaborate with her was an honor, this shoot being the first of many for her with this idea - which she is featuring on her new Instagram account, @Takeaway_from_the_Sea. After the shoot, we cleaned up much of the rubbish shown.
We also shared how we’d been fed up going to all these beautiful places, seeing tourist angle out the trash in their selfies but doing nothing about it. I told her about how in 2015, when I first visited Bali, Indonesia, I was shocked to see beaches with trash every square meter and sides of the roads that looked like landfills. And how, when I expressed this, too often a fellow traveller would respond, “Oh but it's so much worse in … (insert other country here).”
But instead of shaking our heads at developing countries (which would be quite hypocritical as the U.S. is the world’s biggest producer of waste), I want to start a dialogue about solutions with these images.
I believe a huge part of the problem is that we are all hoping someone else will fix it for us. It’s easier to think, "Oh it's very bad in Indonesia, and what a shame!” or “The government should ban plastic bags!” or “Someone should design an efficient ocean cleaner!" and so on.
No matter where I go, locals and expats alike say the government is corrupt, money comes in, and very little help is made to the people. Meanwhile, as in the case of Bali, Indonesia, many Australians set up business there, obviously knowing how to cater to a Western market and do well. I couldn’t help but wonder, why don’t they sponsor rubbish services in their area? It would cost about as much as a latte and smashed avo on toast.
I believe the only way forward is to make better choices and use any privilege we may have to help others. As a graphic designer, I was able to earn enough to travel and volunteer in marine conservation, but a successful business women, for example, might have the power to influence more recycling at work - or donate to a legit charity.
If people in business only care about money, then we must show them what we care about with our dollars by choosing businesses that support the community and sustainable efforts. While we’re waiting for the government to incorporate good ideas, we can create solutions that target the issues that are important to us.
To me, the ocean is important. Why? Well, it makes the majority of the air we breathe and also it’s really, really magical. Just watch Blue Planet 2.
What’s important to you?
Here’s a few lists of actions to reduce waste, help the sea and be a more mindful traveller. If you’re reading this, there’s a high chance you’re already an eco-babe, likely bringing your own bag and water bottle so feel free to skip ahead to the second list.
3 basics in reducing waste:
- Bring your own
- Shopping bag
- Reusable water bottle
- Container for take away & cutlery
- Metal straw or just say no thanks to straws!
- Shop at fresh markets and buy grains etc in bulk
- Invest in high-quality products that will last
3 others ways to help the sea:
- Ask where your seafood is coming from
A lot of seafood is unsustainable, shrimp farming alone has said to have caused the removal of half the world’s mangroves, which provide vital coastline protection and nurseries for marine life. Monterey Bay Aquarium has made a cool app to make checking this even easier for you.
- Minimize your carbon footprint
There are many ways to do this, do what you can: reduce car use, meat eating, turn off lights, shop locally when possible.
- Enjoy it!
When's the last time you went for a swim or watched the sunset from the beach? Connecting with nature will help you continue to care for it.
3 Eco-Travel Pro Tips
- Always bring your reusable water bottle and container (perfect for markets!)
- Invest in a natural sunscreen (chemicals in conventional sunscreen harm coral).
- Learn how to say “No plastic please” in the local language and have your reusable bag ready (polite phrases are always appreciated too!).
I am a PADI dive instructor, marine conservationist and world traveler, meaning I've travelled for years, volunteering for various organizations an attempt to save the seas, and I can teach anyone how to breathe underwater. But I wasn't always this way … I once was an artist living in New York and while I did my best to compost and buy locally, as news of ecological threats trickled in, I wanted to do more. As freelance graphic designer who could sustain myself mostly anywhere - I knew I had an incredible privilege to do more.