JCU graduates Lucy Graham and Mathilde Gordon have gone more than the extra mile for Plastic Free July – they’re kayaking 2,100 kilometres to promote awareness of marine debris and inspire people to live without single-use plastic.
It’s a bold undertaking for anyone, but these two young women have travelled from tropical Queensland to Alaska, to spend around three months kayaking from Juneau to Canada’s Vancouver Island. On their journey south they’ve been sung to sleep by whales, entertained by sea lions, and beaten to the perfect camp site by a bear.
“I know what connecting with nature can teach people about the environment, ourselves and the true responsibility we have, and I hope we can inspire others by taking on this challenge,” Lucy said.
While studying at James Cook University in Cairns – Lucy studied sustainability, and Mathilde ecology and zoology – they explored the reef and rainforest, volunteered with local tree-planting groups and helped Tangaroa Blue clean up local beaches.
“With Tangaroa Blue, we collected marine debris along the beaches of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, sorted and categorised the rubbish, and analysed the data,” Mathilde said. “Looking for ways to live without single-use plastic was a no-brainer after we had analysed what was floating in the ocean we love.”
They began living free of single-use plastic in 2016 and are continuing to do so while on their travels.
The expeditioners have given talks at schools and are being tracked on their travels by schools in Australia and Canada. Along the way they are taking part in clean-ups and giving presentations on living without single-use plastic.
They are also raising money for Tangaroa Blue and Living Oceans, as well as asking supporters to make their own plastic-free pledges.
“Some people have pledged to give up straws and bottled water, to shop more at bulk stores, to use waxed wraps instead of plastic, to take their own containers to takeaway stores – we hope that if they keep up those new habits for the three months we’re paddling, they will be able to stick with them forever,” Mathilde said.
Now just past halfway on their journey, Lucy and Mathilde have raised more than $15,000 which will be shared between Tangaroa Blue and Living Oceans. Their goal is to raise $20,000 by the time they reach the southern tip of Vancouver Island in early August.
“People say we’re crazy or brave, but I wish it was more normal for people to do what we’re doing,” Lucy told The Northern View in Prince Rupert, British Colombia. “We love the Great Barrier Reef like it’s a part of us. We’re passionate about protecting its future. We want to make a difference and so we’re doing it.”
Tropical Australian waters are a great deal warmer than Alaska’s, but they’re not without hazards including sharks, crocodiles and killer jellyfish. “Before we set off we spent a lot of time learning about the local waters and, of course, bears,” Lucy said. “We’ve been learning about the different conditions here, but it’s worth remembering that our oceans are interconnected, which means that all of the world's oceans face similar threats.”
For more information visit PassageAdventures.org or look for Passage Adventures: Paddling for a Cleaner Ocean on Facebook.