The importance of life below water: how an artist can move a community

Bringing awareness on plastic pollution through art campaigns

Gina started with small steps but now she has adopted the movement of the Global Goals as a way of life. She’s an art enthusiast in Dubai that has lead many very successful campaigns on the importance of life below water. So far she has volunteered for beach clean-ups collecting 145,405 cigarette butts and over 67kg of plastic waste. Now she’s looking for an organisation to start a recycle cigarette butt facility since there are so many things that can be created with cigarettes. Hands-up anybody?

the importance of life below water sustainable development goals

Gina is a mum, a teacher, a conference speaker, a creative director of Garrycooper Technologies FZCO, a good friend; and she also highly cares for the environment. Since she joined the Global Goals for the importance of life below water and Responsible Consumption, Dubai is becoming more aware of how important it is to be aware of the plastic pollution and other highly contaminating materials, such as cigarettes. Her dream would be to close the cycle and is looking to get in touch with an organisation that has the infrastructure to recycling the cigarette butts, as she says “ones trash is somebody’s treasure”.

We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did!

You have been very focused on running campaigns to bring awareness to plastic contamination. What was the tipping point for you to dedicate your life to this?

The idea of ecological conservation has always been on my mind. But the realisation to put words into action came early February 2017. Going through the news, I read about a beached whale in Norway. It was emaciated and in pain, and the coastguards had to put it down. When they did an autopsy, they found 30 plastic bags and other plastic items clogged in its intestines. Thirty! Imagine that in your body.
I cannot forget the images, and the shock felt at that moment. What have we come to as a race? Research showed that thousands of whales and other fish had been found with plastic in their bodies. Further, I read about the Plastic Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean- a floating mass of plastic bigger than Mexico.
My family and I adopted the cause of a clean marine ecosystem. It was high time we realised the damage we are causing. Also, what we put in the ocean comes back into our plate.

If someone decides to join the Global Goals movement, what are the steps to do so?

I would request anyone who wants to be a part of a change to:
Step 1) View the website http://www.globalgoals.org/

Step 2) There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Choose what interests you the most. In my case, I have chosen SDG14 Life Below Water and SDG12 Responsible Consumption. Read about the Goals that are aimed for 2030.

Step 3) Once you begin activism, do share online and hashtag #GlobalGoals #SDG

Here’s an open letter to get started

17 Sustainable Development Goals open letter
An introduction to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030
We have seen you organising beach clean-ups. How do you feel children’s’ reactions are when they learn about the amount of plastic thrown away on the beaches?

Children have the most innocent hearts. They love nature and in my opinion are true guardians. When I first shared facts of the death of the whale in Norway they were very sad. They promised to go home and tell their parents not to use single-use plastic. The garbage island created by grown-ups littering behaviour shocked the children, they began to wonder how could a grown-up misbehave when they keep telling children to behave. It’s a wake-up call for us to amend our ways, now is the time.

And how different is it to the reaction of adults?

Adults are busy emulating the west or just too busy in their own bubble. When I share the facts with adults, there are two reactions. Some feel bad but just let go and carry on with life as usual. Few ask me what I do to make a difference. That is when I tell them that it all begun with small steps and how it eventually has grown as a way of life about being conscious of consumption, wastage and disposing of garbage ethically. These few people who follow me have now made ethical decisions, especially those who are leaders in the industry.

life below water activism art wall plastic bottle taps dubai

You also give conferences on sustainability. What are your goals?

All my lectures, talks and education sessions revolve around creating awareness of a world we cannot see upfront. The Ocean and underwater are under threat due to our superhuman behaviour. Sadly this superhuman is destroying our mother. We are behaving as if there is ample of resources and not thinking about the next generation. We do not have a conservation mindset. We must question how products are made and if they follow sustainability criteria.

the importance of life below water sustainable development goals
What has been your most successful campaigns so far?

Evoking a sense of responsible consumption by saying no to plastic in a reputed school by awareness through Art. The school decided not to use plastic water bottles, and we helped them adopt a sustainable water filtration product called Home Pure Nova certified for schools by NSF (The NSF mark assures consumers, retailers and regulators that products have been rigorously tested to comply with all standard requirements.).

What other campaigns are you running?

At the moment I am trying to spread awareness along with a group of women. We call ourselves Spectacular8, and we are voicing concerns towards littering cigarette butts. We along with other volunteers have collected over 145,405 cigarette butts and over 67kg of plastic waste, from 5 beach-cleaning sessions. I have again resorted to art awareness where we transform the cigarette butts we find, into a sculpture named Tilly the Turtle. I recognised that by creating Tilly; a physical, artistic representation of the human impact pollution is having on marine life, the cause was more likely to capture the attention of children, and adults alike. Tilly is now used as an educational tool in schools to spread awareness of the threat human consumption habits pose to marine life and the future of our oceans at large. Spectacular8 will play for the Global Goals World Cup to raise awareness of the adverse impact humans are having on marine life, and encourage people to adopt more sustainable consumption habits.

the importance of life below water
The Spectacular8 team representing the importance of life below water
Do you think these practical activities are creating a long-lasting effect on those who participate?

Definitely yes. That for me is a winning moment and all worth the time and effort.

How do you see they have made changes in their everyday lives?

I have people coming and confessing that they were unaware of the damages caused to the environment due to simple behaviour choices, for example, accepting a plastic bag from grocery stores that eventually lands up in the landfill/ocean. They have adopted a lifestyle where they keep reusable canvas/jute bags in the car/ their bags so that they can ‘SAY NO TO PLASTIC’. I have now taken it to a different level where I empower women of developing nations with low income to make 100% sustainable bags.
Also, so many people understand the damage using single-use plastic is doing to the environment with regards to trash, I direct them to go for a sustainable water filter like Home Pure Nova. They feel good about it and are now increasing ways to make sustainable choices by questioning their consumption needs. They have reduced carbon footprint and trash and are the heroes.
I know for instance that many people didn’t know that littering cigarette butts end up in the ocean and some people have stopped littering, some go the extra mile by collecting cigarette butts and letting others know about the causes.

Gina Fernandes SDGs Life below water Dubai

On a personal level, what else can we do in our daily lives to avoid the use of plastic?

Question consumption needs, try and see if you can adopt sustainable behaviour. Take the smallest step and continue to do it. Plastic is micro poison and avoids it as much as possible. Understand that your trash is somebody’s treasure so recycle, reuse, upcycle, freecycle, go in for garage sale, avoid products that are single use.

Can you explain the impact of leaving the plastic on the beaches, also how the cigarette butts affect the environment?

When we litter plastic bags and cigarette butts on the beaches or leave balloons in the air, it always lands in the sea. Plastic bags and balloons visually look like jellyfish and sea animals’ ingest it thinking it is food. This cannot be digested and gets stuck in the gut and animals eventually die.
Cigarette butts contain 400 chemicals out of which 40 are carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Sea animals mistake floating cigarette butts for krill or shrimps and ingest it. These chemicals make sea creatures ill, and it lowers their immunity level. Mostly these sea animals land on our plate, and it completes the cycle of life. What we do not realise is we are the environment.

the importance of life below water turtle cigarette butts dubai
Educating children on the importance of Life Below Water through art
How many kgs of plastic and cigarettes butts have you collected through your campaigns since you started?

1,45,405 cigarette butts and 67kg of plastic for four beach cleanups in just one hour/session.

What do you do to recycle the plastic?

At home we recycle everything. We send our recyclables to the local recycling centre. I mostly upcycle to create things with my children. For example, you can make a beautiful pencil case with a plastic bottle and a zipper. I do suggest that people should look at making homes with sand/mud stuffed in plastic bottles too. I avoid Plastic bags completely by merely saying NO. I am known as the No Plastic Lady.

And with the cigarette butts?

At the moment I use few of the cigarette butts to make mix media art creations of cigarette butts for my awareness through art, but I am looking at a possibility of recycling cigarette butts soon. I am also looking out for an organisation which is ready to come to Dubai and start a recycle cigarette butt facility since there are so many things that can be created with cigarette butts when added with another medium. I believe ones trash is somebody’s treasure.

How could other social entrepreneurs benefit from using these disposable materials?

Recycling is a sustainable option, for example, Terracycle is an organisation that makes money of thrown away plastic, flipflops and cigarette butts.

If you could write a message for other social entrepreneurs on a big wall, what would it say?

Your life has a purpose – to change the world. Go for it!

And what would be the message for the consumers?

We have the final say. Our choices should be based on sustainable behaviour. Ignite a spark and endorse sustainable products. What we consume speaks a lot about of how we respect the planet. Use less packaging, plastic and go for an eco-friendly sustainable lifestyle option. Future generations should remember you as someone who made a difference.

Comment below if you want to send a message to Gina!

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Maxime Ducker

The powerhouse behind OurGoodBrands. She's a social, eco & spiritual activist driven to create positive change. Her mission is to connect brands with conscious shoppers to show that we can build a new economy, society & world together. She's a big believer in the power of the individual, and the important contribution each creature on this Earth can bring as a part of the whole. Yoga, natural health, plants, astrology, and crafts are Maxime's ways of opening her heart, creating art & raising her to higher consciousness. Besides her simple and minimalist way of life, travel and living in other countries, learning languages and getting to meet new cultures is in her DNA.

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