We had decided that we wanted to do a beach cleanup during our “glamping” weekend at Bukubaki in Peniche to see if we had a different experience in another part of the country. We had already seen the amount of trash in the beaches close to Lisbon, and the contrasting amazingly clean beaches in downtown Cascais. Via Instagram we found “The Peniche Beach Conservation”, and that they had posted photos from cleanups. We took contact and were met by the most welcoming, engaging and warm spirit of Gina, the German girl who moved to Portugal to live a life in stronger contact with nature.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
As a child, I was already deeply in love with the ocean, this feeling of being ONE! Whenever we were on family holidays at the coast I spent hours in the water and I have always been a collector. Back then I collected rocks, fossils, and shells.
I have always been in awe and love with nature, animals, being outside and caring for things and people.
I spent some years traveling the world and working in many different jobs, among others on the vineyards in Australia, as a farm helper, in restaurants and cafés, in a kid’s toy store, learning to grow edible mushrooms in Peru, at the radio as a reporter in Germany.
Then I started studying Biology in Berlin. I came to Peniche because I needed to get away from the city – to the ocean, which I usually did during short travels. Peniche appealed to me because of the description “sleepy old fishing village with world class surf” and because of its funny shape on the map in the travel guide. At the end of my studies, I contacted the local university and asked if I could write my final thesis about “Microplastics on sandy beaches in and around Peniche, Portugal”. Sad but true, all the samples I collected (five samples at each of the five tested beaches) contained microplastics and nano plastics on a very small scale. The majority of microplastics were microfibers, which could derive from fishing-related tools like nets but also synthetic fibers from our laundry. The synthetic fibers end up in the ocean because filtering systems in wastewater plants are not sufficient enough to filtrate these tiny pieces of plastics out of the water…
I realized the danger of the plastic in the ocean, but also saw the potential “beauty”. Some of the pieces of plastic seem to be a message from the ocean, and I would like to translate that message to other humans, simply by documenting and sharing things that I find on the beach or by creating artwork.
The ocean is our “Life-Support-System”: The ocean does not need us but we need the ocean. I think it’s my mission to spread this message and to invite people to be good and to be the change now.
After my studies, I stayed in Peniche and started a non-profit organization called Marmeu. Our first project is the “Peniche Beach Conservation Program”. On the Facebook and Instagram page, we share some scientific facts and information on how to be good to the ocean, together with things I find on the beach. We organize monthly beach cleanups, recycle the plastic, and keep the “treasures” – pieces of beach plastic that we later transform into artwork. We (try to) sell the things to raise funds for our work.
When and why/how did you become an environmentalist?
Travelling the world, I discovered great injustice related to unsustainable consumption and mass production, monoculture, and drought. In Australia, we went to a lake which was on the map, but when we arrived we were wondering where the water had gone. In the middle of a little village, there was a hole in the ground with remains of boats and piers. It turned out that because of climate change it had not rained for ten years, the lake had dried out, its inhabitants had died, and the village’s inhabitants had to leave their home because of the drought.
I also saw people living in paradises, surrounded by jungle with sweet tropical fruits, sun, and nature. But on the streets, there was no-one to be seen. It turned out they were sitting indoors, watching TV, abusing drugs and alcohol, dreaming of living an “American/western way of life” including buying all products that one “needs” in this world: Smartphones, Coca-Cola, brand clothing…
I saw giant landfills with fumes that went up in the air and drove through palm tree fields – for hours – which were sprayed, and the orang-utans and other animals shot, and I saw beaches full of plastic garbage.
I realized that I didn’t want to do any harm through buying the products that I buy or the way that I live. For a while, it was really stressful because I couldn’t really manage to change my life in order to have less impact on climate change and injustice and environmental destruction. But in the past two years, I have changed many things. I moved to Portugal, where I live outside, I started a garden, I make things myself, I repair and build things, and in general, I try to be as sustainable and as self-sufficient and independent of brands and big industries as possible.
In 2050 there will be more people picking up trash than there will be producing trash ♥
What is your favorite meal?
From the taste, I must confess it’s fries! But I really really love “fresh” stuff that you could say is still ALIVE – coming straight from a tree or picked up in the garden…. Mmmmh!!!!
Why should people join beach cleanups?
To see the SOS that the ocean is sending us. What it sends us in the tides, being disposed on the beach is a mirror. Our garbage, the things we use in our everyday lives, is in the ocean and on our beaches. 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. We need to be aware that plastic is a serious harm to the environment and to the ocean because it does not go away. Animals get tangled up and die, others eat the plastic and also ingest a toxic mix of chemicals. These mess with the hormone system, because they have the same structure as estrogen, leading to irreversible effects in not only fish but also its end consumer (us).
It’s also really fun to get together in community and to do something good for nature.
And, if you like the ocean and it’s obviously calling for help when you take a closer look, it simply feels good to give something back. It gives us so much, but we cannot take it for granted.
What are your top 5 tips for a more environmentally friendly life?
- Start a garden – grow your own food (and make compost)
- Buy local – support local farmers & refuse supermarkets
- Slow down – be happy with less and see beauty in the little things (nature)
- Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! and RETHINK to find ways to live without
- Be motivated to #bethechange and to be part of the people who change the world! It’s tough at first finding out about all that bad stuff in the world, but actually, it’s a really creative mission to be good to the planet in these times. Don’t be upset and don’t give up! Find like-minded, they are everywhere around you.