Help­ing kids to make a dif­fer­ence

Hamilton Metro News - - COMMUNITY - Lau­rilee McMichael ■ Learn more at www.tread­lighter.org

Libby Bowles says she’s al­most a mer­maid.

“I re­ally, re­ally, re­ally, re­ally love the sea, and I re­ally, re­ally re­ally love all the an­i­mals in the sea,” she told the chil­dren of Taupo¯ Pri­mary School dur­ing a visit there last week.

“I’m quite close to a mer­maid. I don’t have a tail but I’ve spent six years work­ing un­der wa­ter.”

Libby’s un­der­wa­ter ca­reer took her to In­done­sia, Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, but it was while work­ing in In­done­sia that one day she came across a huge manta ray swim­ming around with its mouth open feed­ing in a swamp of plas­tic bags and plas­tic cups — “a plas­tic soup of a sea”.

She felt sick. She felt help­less. “The prob­lem with plas­tic when it’s in the sea is that it gets bro­ken down into re­ally small bits and they can’t spit it out,” she told the chil­dren. “Tur­tles have big prob­lems be­cause they eat jelly fish

. . . jelly fish look like plas­tic bags and the tur­tles can’t tell the dif­fer­ence so a tur­tle will start to eat it and it can’t spit the plas­tic bag out . . . their stom­ach gets full of plas­tic so it can’t eat food and then it gets gassy and floats to the sur­face and their shells get sun­burnt and break down and birds come down and eat their eyes and they can’t get down any more and they starve to death. It’s re­ally, re­ally aw­ful.”

Back in the United King­dom, Libby made a point of al­ways teach­ing her stu­dents about the im­por­tance of mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

“I’ve al­ways taught my pupils that if you don’t like some­thing in the world you don’t have to wait un­til you’re an adult. You have much more power to change it.”

But was when one of Libby’s pupils chal­lenged her to do some­thing about it that Libby re­alised she could be the change she wanted to see.

Now, hav­ing al­ready vis­ited schools across the UK, Aus­tralia and Sin­ga­pore, Libby is on a 10,000km, six-month cy­cling trip around New Zealand to ed­u­cate Kiwi kids about plas­tic waste, on her self-built bam­boo-frame bi­cy­cle.

Stud­ies have sug­gested around eight mil­lion met­ric tonnes of plas­tic waste go into the planet’s oceans each year — equiv­a­lent to 16 shop­ping bags full of plas­tic for every me­tre of coast­line, ex­clud­ing Antarc­tica.

By 2025, hu­mans would be putting enough plas­tic in the ocean to cover 5 per cent of the Earth’s sur­face in cling­film each year.

On her school vis­its, Libby tries to in­spire chil­dren to make a dif­fer­ence by re­duc­ing the amount of plas­tics they use, chang­ing the way they dis­pose of them, and clean­ing up lit­ter where they find it.

When the go­ing gets tough, Libby said, she only has to look down at the top of her bike frame. On it she has painted the mes­sage “oh yes I can”.

And that was the mes­sage she also wanted to pass onto the stu­dents, she said.

What­ever we think it’s a real chal­lenge don’t think you can’t do it, just keep go­ing and be­fore you know it you’ve got to the top of your hill or made your bi­cy­cle or done your skate­board or what­ever it was that you didn’t think was pos­si­ble.

“And if you do it, the we can make a dif­fer­ence.”

“You guys are all su­per­heroes be­cause you want to make the world bet­ter.”

Libby’s cru­sade is part of a grow­ing global move­ment to stop the use of sin­gle-use plas­tic bags.

Photo / Liz France

SU­PER­HEROES ALL: En­vi­ron­men­tal cru­sader Libby Bowles shows off her bam­boo bike to chil­dren from Taupo¯ Pri­mary School. She is cy­cling the length of New Zealand to raise aware­ness of plas­tic pol­lu­tion.

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