In the film, you speak about how this is your “thank you” to the ocean. How so?
I have spent many, many hours underwater in the ocean – feeling accepted and safe. Not just physically safe, but safe to explore myself, which is way scarier than being physically unsafe. Before each training dive or world record dive, I would always make a promise to the sea that I would pay it back in some way. All my life, the sea has given me a great deal and I didn’t feel I had come full circle, you know, giving back to the sea, until this project – I think because of the magnitude of the plastic pollution. It made me feel I could repay my debt to the sea.
How did you become involved with A Plastic Ocean?
My interest in all things environmental stems from my background with the sea – my relationship with it and my athletic career. In 2011, I went to Africa to do a project for Discovery Channel, which had me dumped in the wild surviving by myself and in a situation that was so completely out of my element. I was absolutely terrified because I really was alone in the wild: no camera crew, nothing. For the first time in my life, my mind was a million miles from the ocean.
But just before I left for Africa, a mutual friend of Jo’s and mine suggested I meet Jo, and I did, the night before I left for Africa. She told me about the foundation and invited me to be a patron. I listened to her and thought “This is it, this is exactly what you did all that diving for: the opportunity to work with this organization.” So I agreed, but somehow I knew I really wasn’t quite grasping all she was saying as to the magnitude of the issue. But when I was able to really move my focus to it, I just became absolutely enthralled with almost every word that I soaked up from conversations or the website or any visual stuff I started to see.
Why do you think the plastics issue took such a hold on you?
Because – much like audiences who will see the film – it was kind of new to me as well as a no-brainer. Of course plastic is bad, we all sort of know this on the fringes of our consciousness. You see plastic bags streaming out of supermarkets, and straws blowing around in the wind outside of restaurants. I felt sort of a deep-seeded disgust about it but I didn’t really know what the true consequences meant. As I became more involved with the foundation, the enormity of it really hit me.
Then when Jo asked me if I’d like to be involved in the film and I learned more about this amazing cinematic baby she was birthing, I saw how she was really giving life to this project. It gives me chills just thinking back on it, because it was like layers of understanding getting peeled back like an onion with every conversation and subsequently every shoot.
How did it affect you personally?
My husband would watch me get really excited about a shoot and when I returned, he would be slightly exasperated by the changes I insisted on making in our home – the kitchen and such, and even with our daughter Tilly, who was only three in 2011. He’s seen me become passionate about things before. I guess you can’t do the sort of crazy things I’ve done or achieved the things I have without being slightly driven. So eventually he was, like, “OK, I get it. We can’t do that anymore,” and support my demands for recycling and things like that. Because I began to see my daughter as a vulnerable little sponge for everything – not just literally the toxins she’s taking into her body, but her awareness of the way we live: minimizing waste, being more organic, if you know what I mean.
So before “A Plastic Ocean” you really weren’t familiar with how big a problem this is?
No, I really wasn’t, I’m embarrassed to say, but I don’t feel alone in that. I think people in general are not aware. I am on that steep organic learning curve, just like everybody else. Before this project, I microwaved plastic baby bottles, I bought milk in plastic containers. It makes me feel physically sick to think I did that, but I did. Now my second child is drinking out of glass bottles, never microwaved; too bad if the milk is cold, suck it up, right? Literally!
Before, I wasn’t aware. My awareness only extended from being a kid in the Cayman Islands and being annoyed with visitors who came to the beach and didn’t throw away their garbage. But the erroneous concept of “away” is what the film introduced me to. The fact is that it isn’t “going away.” Every single piece of plastic ever made is still out there, still on the planet, a lot of it in the ocean. I hope that begins to scare the living daylights out of everyone.
Can change in human behavior really solve the problem – in the sea and on land?
There is no sweeping solution yet, but, yes, by all means, how we live, what we use and how we dispose of it can greatly mitigate the problem. And by example, you teach your children. My children will never know a different way. Sometimes, when I am pumping gas, Tilly will bang on the car window, crying and saying “There is a woman with a plastic bag; you have to tell her.” They get it, kids get it, and they get it for the planet.
What do you hope the film’s greatest take-away will be for viewers?
I think the most powerful information is the human health factor. If people understand that the same issues that offend them (plastic on the beach) and distress them (animal’s entangled) also extend to people, in terms of the toxins that are building up in our bodies because of all the different ways in which we are exposed to it, that will encourage change. Because the human race is by definition selfish, I strongly believe that knowing plastic is killing them will be the strongest motivation. The film is a phenomenal educational tool. But I think the human health issue is the one that will make the biggest difference because, ironically, our selfishness will be what saves us.
You mentioned your children might accompany you to promote the film. What do you want them to remember?
Because of what I know now, I am never going to sit back and say “I am at maximum passion for this issue,” that is never going to happen. I want my children to see that Mummy stood up for something.