Volvo Ocean Race - Commitment to Sustainability

This article first appeared in Ahoy Magazine, of the Hong Kong Royal Yacht Club.

Can you think of a sport where the athletes have actually helped research the impact of their sport on the earth? Has Tiger Woods talked about the pesticides used on golf courses…. has David Beckham discussed factory conditions where footballs are manufactured?

The Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) has established a new benchmark on how sporting events can lead an awareness campaign, scientific research and community efforts to clean up our sailing playground: earth’s oceans.

Here are some highlights of what the VOR will accomplish after eight months of racing:

• In partnership with United Nations Environment’s Clean Seas Campaign, the VOR will host Ocean Summits at six different stopovers. At each summit, host governments are expected to announce new initiatives to minimise plastic waste going into the ocean.

• Zero plastic disposable waste goals at the 12 Volvo Ocean Host Cities.

• Sailors on the Volvo Ocean Race teams will gather meteorological and oceanographic data as they race through parts of the globe that are often inaccessible to the world’s climate scientists.

Top 10 Categories of Litter

The Hong Kong VOR Ocean Summit

Because of the Club’s commitment to reduce plastic waste, a number of Club members and staff were invited to attend the Hong Kong Ocean Summit held on 22 January at Volvo Ocean Race Village: Commodore Robert Stoneley, Anthony Day, Koko Mueller and Marcy Trent Long.

The day started with a commitment from Daisy Lo, Assistant Director at Environmental Protection Department, to fund HK$20 million to improve Hong Kong’s plastic recycling facilities. In addition, the Hong Kong Government is awaiting LEGCO approval to implement municipal solid waste charging fees beginning 2019. On the topic of ocean plastic, Government is undertaking a feasibility study to measure microplastics around Hong Kong waters and considering a ban on microbeads. Government has removed plastic water bottles from all of vending machines at government facilities.

Earlier this year, China blocked all imports of solid waste. Currently only plastics #1 and #2 can be sent to China for recycling once they are converted into pellet form. According to Dr. Steve Wong of the China Scrap Plastic Association, this has put tremendous pressure on Hong Kong to seek alternatives for plastic recycling. The options are to ship to other countries or landfill – neither of which is sustainable. “There are 40,000 types of plastic in the world,” stated Wong, “and Hong Kong has no financial incentives to recycle.”

Composition of Marine Litter

On the bright side, Patrick Yeung of WWF and the Aberdeen Harbour Alliance have seen tremendous efforts by the community volunteers and government to clean up the Aberdeen Harbour. WWF is working with local fishermen to replace plastic polystyrene boxes with another type of material that's also lightweight, inexpensive, but won’t break down into microplastic ocean pollution. The #DrinkWithoutWaste initiative – a consortium of NGOs and the beverage industry in Hong Kong – is hiring a consultant to come up with new ideas to minimise plastic water bottle usage in Hong Kong.

Stiv Wilson of The Story of Stuff project – which began with a 20-minute online movie about the way we make, use and throw away all the Stuff in our lives – summed up the importance of the Ocean Summit for all of us: “We don’t live on this earth but instead borrow it from another generation.”

Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme

While the Volvo Ocean Race boats are racing around the world, the sailors and their teams are collecting critical research data – including for first time this year – microplastics. The VOR was able to confirm this month that Antartica waters have microplastics: two plastic particles per cubic meter compared to 115 found near Melbourne, Australia. Let’s see what levels they discover in Southeast Asian waters!

VOR Co-director Yohan Salen highlighted that a large number of people follow sports, but only a small percentage of those read about science. This gives VOR a unique position bring awareness to the science of ocean sustainability alongside the sport of ocean sailing.

The VOR racing yachts send 36 data points back to race control every 10 seconds including temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction. This data will be passed on to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, where it will contribute to more accurate weather forecasts and climate models. Secondly, during the four most isolated legs in the race, all seven yachts will carry scientific drifter buoys equipped with satellite communications equipment to transmit information on ocean composition and currents.

Marcy about to board the M32 with her 11th Hour Racing hosts |  Ahoy

Marcy about to board the M32 with her 11th Hour Racing hosts | Ahoy

Finally, the Turn the Tide on Plastic team, the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team and up to two other boats will carry instruments onboard to test salinity, dissolved CO2 and Chlorophyll-a (algae) directly in the seawater around them. These key metrics for ocean health will be logged in addition to test trials for microplastics in order to create a complete snapshot of the world’s oceans.

Take Action Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club has been a leader in Hong Kong at reducing plastic waste. In 2016, the Club announced the elimination of single-use plastic bags, bottles and straws, and has since been pushing other Hong Kong clubs to follow suit. The Club encourages its members to also take action on the issue of ocean plastic waste: if you haven’t signed up to the Clean Seas pledge – promising to reduce your plastic footprint and to help contribute to reducing ocean plastic pollution – DO IT NOW. You can be sure RHKYC has signed up!

Marcy Trent Long