PADI Course Director Renee Street has organised an initiative to raise awareness and garner support for ocean conservation. Her plan is to walk around Gili Air in Indonesia for 24 hours straight, using each hour to highlight a different conservation issue. She explains;
We caught up with Renee to learn more about her plans, her motivations for arranging “The Ocean Walk” and what she hopes to achieve on June 6th.
Hi Renee, Thanks for getting in touch to let us know about your initiative to raise awareness for ocean conservation issues. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got to this point.
I am Renee Street, a PADI Course Director living in Gili Air, a small island in Indonesia. I am not a marine biologist. I’m not a professional environmentalist. I don’t work in marine conservation. I’m just one person who can no longer stay quiet. I am sad, I am frustrated, and I can’t help but believe that many people don’t really understand all that is happening to our blue planet.
How and why did you first get into scuba diving?
I was always a water baby. I loved to jump into rivers, lakes, swimming pools, and, whenever possible, the ocean. I did a year of university in Athens, Greece and a PADI instructor came to the school to see if anyone wanted to get certified; I couldn’t pass that up. Twenty-eight years later, I still vividly remember the first time I took a breath underwater. I was sitting on the bottom of the dive shop swimming pool, with 4 others in my class…I could see and I could breathe and I was hooked! I never wanted to leave.
Why is saving the ocean important to you?
The ocean is a magical place, full of fantastical creatures and landscapes. And it’s real… not a Hollywood creation. For me, it has always been about happiness. Whether it was joyfully playing in the surf as a child on family vacations, or going scuba diving as an adult. It can be peaceful, serene, and a place of quiet meditation. It can be a place of wonder and discovery looking for small, but bizarre creatures. Or it can be intense and adrenaline-pumping on a drift dive watching huge fish continuously pass by.
The ocean is my office and a place where I have watched people overcome fears and struggle through failures only to come out with genuine triumph on their faces at the end. It is life-giving, transformative, and awe-inspiring. But, in the end, personal reasons aside, why save the ocean? Because we should. It’s about respecting life. There is SO MUCH life in the ocean, from huge whales to microscopic organisms; the ocean is full of beautiful, strange, wondrous LIFE. Our species must rediscover a respect for all life and stop taking it for granted. And considering what the ocean does for our planet (storing carbon, regulating temperatures and climate, and providing the oxygen we breathe) ALL life ultimately needs a healthy ocean.
What made you decide to arrange this awareness event?
In thousands of dives over 28 years, I have seen first-hand the deterioration of oceanic ecosystems. Lately, I have begun to feel helpless and overwhelmed. It has become too painful for me to sit back and watch. I can no longer remain passive while the ocean drowns around me. Now it’s my time to act.
“Local Action. Global Impact.” is the PADI AWARE Foundation’s new slogan, and you really embody that ethos. What is “The Ocean Walk” all about?
I am going to walk for 24 hours around this island to raise awareness for the issues facing our ocean. There are so many ways that we are causing harm. Over the 24 hours of my walk I plan to highlight 24 of them. Some of the issues are well known: plastic pollution and shark conservation. Others are less understood: ocean acidification, ocean dead zones, and more. It’s no longer about any one species… it’s about saving the ecosystem that all of these species, including humans, depend upon for life. It’s about saving the ocean itself.
“The Ocean Walk” is on 6 June; a lead-in to World Ocean’s Day. My hope is that some (or all) of these 24 topics will resonate with you and you will join The Ocean Walk by supporting organizations doing great work for oceans. Walking for 24 hours is a huge task. But the beauty of walking is that each step is small and simple, but in 30 minutes, or an hour, when you look back, you see that you’ve really covered some ground. In a few hours, you realize how far you have come. With one step at a time, we can make a difference.
I am doing this to inspire others to make brave changes that are urgently needed. Then I hope they encourage others to do the same. Step by step, we can make change happen. In a year or a few years, when we all look back, I hope we can celebrate how far we have come! I trust that once people understand what we are doing to our oceans they will take action. And I genuinely believe that change will happen. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be walking in circles for 24 hours. This is my mission. Join me.
What did you learn in preparing for your ocean walk?
I’ve certainly learned, in great detail, about what we are doing to the ocean. This can be overwhelming and incredibly sad. When focusing on such heavy and depressing topics it’s important to talk to others and to find little pockets of joy. I’ve learned that people respond to passion and enthusiasm and want to support it; that’s beautiful to see. I am very lucky to have such a supportive community around me! I’ve also learned that it’s not so easy to get your voice out there. The internet is an amazing tool that allows us to reach people across the planet, but there is so much out there that it’s easy for your voice to be drowned out. I need all the help I can get in spreading the message; especially when it’s about a topic as important as the ocean!
How can people follow along with you and hear about the causes you are highlighting?
The twenty-four issues are all listed on the website now (theoceanwalk.com). Many of these will already be familiar to divers but some are really less well known. On the day of the walk, each topic will have its own page discussing the issue, how to help, and, where possible, success stories. I hope people will learn things about each issue and be inspired to spread the word and take action. In the meantime, people can follow The Ocean Walk on both Facebook and Instagram, where I am posting daily insights about these 24 issues, organizations that are making a difference, and interesting facts about the ocean and its inhabitants. A collection of informative documentaries are here on my website.
What are your hopes for this event? How can the dive community support you?
You can donate time, money, make life changes, lobby for local, national, and international governmental changes, and pass the passion and awareness along to others. I am not collecting donations from anyone. I just want people to understand what humanity is doing to our ocean and to be inspired to act. In order to return to a healthy equilibrium, many changes need to take place on many levels: personal behavior, corporate principles, government policies. Attitudes and priorities must change.
Do you have any advice for others hoping to arrange similar events in thier own communities?
Give yourself plenty of time – for me, at least, everything seems to take longer than I anticipate. Be patient, with yourself and the process – planning an event can be stressful enough, don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – there are undoubtedly people around you with strengths you don’t have and people are very willing to lend their expertise when it’s for a great cause! And finally, don’t get so wrapped up in the event details that you forget the cause – event planning is stressful and time consuming, if you lose sight of the reason you are doing this, it will be that much harder to do. Remember that it is passion that gives us the inspiration, passion that creates a great event, and passion that people respond to. Don’t lose your passion for your cause. Oh, and remember to do it all with a smile and have fun!