Why These 2 Students Rally Against Ocean Pollution In Their Free Time

AKA, picking up beach rubbish in their spare time.

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Our generation cops a lot of heat for being “lazy” and “apathetic”, but we reckon that’s bullshit. As part of our I Give A Damn series, Uni Junkee is speaking to a bunch of young volunteers who give up their free time to do some good in the world. Take that, boomers. 

Maddie Wray and Lauren Houston, aka Prez and Vice Prez of the University of Wollongong Surfrider Foundation Club and Society, have been fighting the battle against ocean plastic pollution for about two years now.

Maddie is in the midst of completing her Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics (Honours), while Lauren is charging through her Doctor of Philosophy. But it’s their passion for the ocean that brought them together — through surfing, and scavenging for rubbish on the sand.

Uni Junkee: What kind of stuff does Surfrider Foundation involve?

Lauren: We are involved in conducting local beach cleanups, hosting educational social events surrounding reducing plastics in everyday life and aiding Surfrider Australia’s national campaigns to protect the oceans, which includes surf breaks and marine life.

Maddie: Surfrider UOW also operates as a uni club, which means we run events combining the Surfrider ethos with the fun, social side of uni life — pub-crawls, movie nights, gigs, that kinda thing!

Why These 2 Students Rally Against Ocean Pollution In Their Free Time

What made you give a shit about this cause? What motivates you to keep going?

M: There is nothing more important to me than living near the coast. Australians are incredibly lucky with our proximity to the big blue, and living in the Gong it’s impossible to not spend time at the beach. Plastics and ocean pollution just naturally follow on as issues to care about when you’re at the beach every day. I also find the link between nutrition and plastic pollution very interesting – a huge amount of plastic pollution we find is due to food and beverage consumption. When you’re passionate about both those things it easy to stay motivated!

What’s your secret? How do you balance uni/work/volunteering/social life? 

L: I don’t think there is a secret, we volunteer our time because the ocean is something we both care about and it’s easy to fit in time for those and what you love.

M: When your friends, lovers, and family are just as keen to spend Sunday morning cleaning rubbish from a beach, it’s easier to combine a social life with volunteering! The rest is a balancing act that’s up to the Gods. Some weeks it all works, others you’re just hanging on. 

Have you gained any cool extra skills or knowledge from doing this work?

L: Events management and networking.

M: Data entry into Tangaroa Blue! Collaborating with council, local government and businesses! Writing grant applications! Public speaking! Surfing?? (Jury is still out on that level of skill.)

What have you accomplished from doing this work?

M: Well, 1000s more pieces of data in the Australian database, kilograms and kilograms of waste off our beaches, and hopefully a fair bit of education!

What do you think are young people’s greatest concerns in 2018?

M: Gun control. Goon tax. Maybe even whatever is happening on the Bachelor. But in terms of the environment, I actually think plastic pollution is pretty up there on the concern list! Maybe it’s the cute baby animals suffocating that gets attention, the health risks to humans, the surfers who see floating rubbish, the backlog of recycling in Australia, there’s something about plastic pollution to grab anyone’s attention.

What do you think about the stigma surrounding millennials that claims us to be lazy/unconcerned/self-obsessed?

L: I think that’s quite a generalized comment people make. I’m sure there were plenty of baby boomers who didn’t give a shit about certain causes and had different priorities similar to today. I think what it comes down to is education and what we care about as an individual. I find this hard to comment on as the people I’m surround around aren’t lazy or self-obsessed. They are very much the opposite.

(All images provided)