Helping kids to make a difference
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.
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.