Steve Green and his partner Monika Hertlová have started an ocean cleaning movement from their unique home base on the Helford River in Cornwall. The base is a 113-year-old, 55-ton former icebreaker; a boat specially designed to move and navigate through ice-covered waters.
The pair launched Clean Ocean Sailing (COS) in 2017, an initiative that unites sailors, surfers, swimmers, and divers who love the ocean so that they can work collaboratively to clear out hard-to-reach marine plastic and trash.
So far, they have coordinated more than 300 volunteers to help clean the ocean. The couple’s icebreaker functions as a mobile basecamp from which teams can disembark in flotillas of smaller boats to access the hard-to-reach parts of Cornwall’s coastline and clear as much litter as possible.
COS also has a “rapid response unit” that allows people to “send [them] a photo or location,” Green explains. “We have about 20 volunteers who are set up and ready to pick up any ‘ghost gear,’ before it gets washed out to sea again on the next tide. We have found fish crates and fishing gear from South Africa, China, South and North America. It’s crazy.”
Since COS began, the group has extracted 250,000 individual pieces of plastic—that’s over 50 tons of waste. Approximately 85 percent of the litter is recycled and repurposed. A portion of what is collected gets melted down and made into smaller pellets at the Ocean Recovery Project in Exeter before being donated back to COS as recycled sea kayaks that can be used to find and collect more litter.
Locals who can’t come on COS expeditions themselves still contribute to the cause by providing the group with goods like groceries. “An awful lot of Cornish people aren’t particularly financially motivated. It’s almost an island attitude: we all lean on each other and look after each other. It is an ideal place for a testing ground for a circular economy,” says Green.
The concept of local volunteers sailing out to reach heavily polluted areas on the coast is spreading. In 2018, Surfers Against Sewage representatives on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, crowdfunded a boat and started embarking on litter collecting missions, too.
Green hopes that people who witness COS’s work will be motivated to join the effort. On top of collecting trash and cleaning the ocean, Green says that COS is about “other people seeing us doing that and perhaps they start to think about not dropping it in the first place—or even better, not buying it. That’s what’s really going to change the world.”