The following story originally appeared in National Geographic Voices and is being re-purposed here, being only slightly modified.
Gazing up the dizzying school of swarming silver jacks, for a brief moment, breathless, time stands still. I pop my head up and marvel at the isolated Isla Isabella – 80 miles offshore from the city of Mazatlan – and chuckle with delight.
After nearly two months on the boat, I still can’t fully grasp that we are actually sailing down the Pacific coast of Central America with some of my closest friends — surfing, diving and exploring with our own sailboat. It feels like one of the last great adventures of our time!
Along the route, we are visiting marine protected areas, and taking water samples for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) micro-plastic research project. Just a year ago, none of us would have imagined that we’d be visiting this Jurassic-like island, made famous by Jacques Costeau, surrounded by thousands of squawking blue footed boobies and soaring frigate birds.
Our sailing aspirations grew from California’s rugged Channel Islands. We cut our teeth sailing around the archipelago which consists of a National Park, Navy controlled areas, and the private island of Catalina, all guarding the bight of Southern California. We marveled at the abundant life – the dancing humpacks, the kelp forests swaying the currents – and we drank in the rejuvenation brought on by a few days unplugged from the frenetic life back on shore.
As thirty-something professionals in environmental and health fields, we found ourselves yearning for something more. We paw through blogs, flip through magazines and daydream about lifestyles of adventure while maxing out our weekends and vacation time. So we put our heads together to collectively achieve a common dream: to explore the tropical south seas with our sailboat. Eager to to do this while still in our youth, we shortcut the requisite decades worth of planning and saving by crowd-sourcing the adventure.
Through a co-op model our friends each banked time on the voyage and we raised the needed funds to fortify the boat for the journey — along with the blood, sweat and tears needed to ready our 42’ trimaran, Aldebaran, in 4 short months, for the greatest adventure of our lives.
Realizing the rare opportunity at hand, we set our intentions on making a positive impact for ocean conservation. We wanted to visit and promote a network of marine protected areas across the Pacific, inspired by the restoration successes of California’s Channel Islands. As a spin-off on the “Coconut Milk Run”, the famous sailing route along the South Seas, we coined our route the “Green Coconut Run”, linking wild and protected areas from California to New Zealand.
Along the way we’re collecting water samples for ASC that feed into a global campaign to assess micro-plastics throughout the world’s oceans. Our samples will provide a snapshot of marine plastic along a transect spanning 50 degrees of latitude and longitude across a multitude of remote Pacific islands. When combined with data from other sailors and ocean enthusiasts, this will be a significant collection of primary data that would be otherwise too expensive and impractical for scientists to gather with research vessels.
We are excited about ASC’s idea of crowd-sourcing scientific data — as a crowd-funded, boot-strapping journey, we know the value of rallying resources to get big tasks done quickly! On the Green Coconut Run, we are journeying (and sampling) along the Baja peninsula, mainland Mexico, and south to Panama this first year, before heading across the South Pacific. Three months into the voyage, we have sampled 22 sites, of which 17 were remote places and 5 were near metropolitan areas for comparison.
Why are reducing plastic pollution and creating marine protected areas vital goals? Scientists say that by mid-century we may see the end of fishery stocks as we know them. Can our grandchildren enjoy seafood and sushi as we do? Can humanity preserve the ocean’s health for its many other values, including the intrinsic beauty of biodiversity?
One inspiring story we came across is from a newly planned marine reserve in Arroyo Seco, Mexico. After receiving a visit from a representative from Cabo Pulmo, a famous marine reserve in southern Baja, local fishermen are now rallying around a grassroots effort to protect a four square kilometer area of mangrove and ocean with excellent fish habitat. A Native American leader by the name of Four Arrows is assisting them with community organizing and fundraising.
Four Arrows told us, “While we consider the ocean a resource, we will keep abusing it. Once we see the ocean as our relative – the fish and corals as our brother and sisters – we will love and protect it.”
With the Green Coconut Run, we want to inspire people to embrace this new relationship with the ocean. On a basic level that means keeping trash out, and keeping marine habitats alive. Maybe we can even pool funds together, as Four Arrows did, to crowd-source new protected areas — just as we are crowd-sourcing a sailboat adventure, and micro-plastics data for ASC. It’s a novel and exciting tool with potential for scaling.
Come join us! The Green Coconut Run is funded by guests joining the boat and being “patrons” for our video series (including Hook-to-Fork, Off-the-Beaten Anchor, and Pirate Surfing). Visit www.GreenCoconutRun.com to read more about us, and to see how you can participate in the dream of sailing the tropics and preserving the ocean.
Come join the adventure!