The pristine beauty of the Pacific Ocean, with its crystal-clear waters and vibrant marine life, has long been the pride of Pacific Island nations. However, the growing menace of marine litter and plastic pollution poses a significant threat to the region’s marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of its people.

In response to this urgent environmental challenge, the Pacific Ocean Litter Youth Project (POLYP) has emerged as a force in the battle to keep the Pacific clean. Led by young activists, this innovative project combines science and artivism to engage communities, advocate for change, and take decisive steps toward combating marine pollution.

Established nearly two years ago at the University of the South Pacific (USP) Marine Campus in Suva, POLYP has been making a profound impact, and its success lies in the passion and determination of its youth volunteers.

The Youth’s Call to Action

With an unwavering commitment to environmental preservation, POLYP founders Andrew Paris, a Marine scientist, and co-founder Suzanne Turaganiwai, a Graphic Designer, joined forces to establish the project. Recognising the urgent need for research, advocacy, and community engagement in the marine pollution space, they set out on a mission to inspire change and alter societal paradigms around marine litter pollution. At the core of POLYP’s vision is the belief in the power of youth activism and their talents to drive meaningful change within their communities.

The heart of POLYP’s initiatives lies in coastal clean-up campaigns, where young volunteers take up gloves and trash bags to remove litter from the shores. Weekly coastal litter assessments and brand audits at the USP Marine campus foreshore provide essential data for research purposes. To add an artistic touch to their advocacy, the project incorporates “artivism Talanoa spaces,” where the collected debris is transformed into impactful marine debris art. These artworks serve as powerful awareness tools during clean-up campaigns and community events.

“With an ongoing issue like pollution, we are engaging the youth in advocacy and awareness, using science and art,” said the POLYP co-founder.

“Our work is essential in changing the narrative and behaviour around pollution in Fiji.

“We know the drive that is within our youth to be activists, who use their talents and skills to make a difference in their community.”

“The Drive Within Our Youth”: POLYP’s Impact

POLYP’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, as they have already collected over three tonnes of rubbish through their study and public clean-up campaigns. Their key partners, including the Suva Harbour Foundation, Suva SUPers, Pacific Conference of Churches, and others, lend crucial support to the cause. The debris collected ranges from plastic bottles and lids to fishing nets and cigarette lighters, highlighting the diverse array of pollutants threatening the ocean’s health. 

The urgency to combat marine litter is emphasised in a 2021 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), projecting a doubling of plastic in the ocean by 2030. In the Pacific region, this problem is particularly grave due to the region’s heavy reliance on healthy ocean ecosystems and services. Recognising the critical role they play as the ocean’s custodians, POLYP’s volunteers are driven by a shared responsibility to protect their oceanic heritage.

Building Towards a Cleaner Pacific

While POLYP’s coastal clean-up campaigns and artivism activities have made a significant impact, the group aims to further its mission by organising an art exhibition to showcase the powerful marine debris artworks. This initiative not only raises awareness but also serves as a means to support the project’s ongoing efforts. Moreover, the group collaborates with organizations such as Waste Recyclers Fiji and Suva City Council to ensure that recyclable materials are appropriately managed and disposed of.

“Recyclables are collected by the Waste Recyclers Fiji (WRF) and anything that cannot be taken by WRF, is placed in the bins to be collected by Suva City Council (SCC),” Turaganiwai said.

“PET bottles are also separated to be taken to Mission Pacific, while debris that can’t be recycled is collected by SCC to be taken to Naboro Landfill.”

With continued dedication and support from partners like the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), POLYP is well-positioned to achieve its ambitious goals. The youth-led project represents a beacon of hope in the fight against marine litter, inspiring future generations to become environmental stewards. Through science, artivism, and community engagement, POLYP is shaping a sustainable future for the Pacific and leaving an indelible mark on environmental conservation.

The Pacific Ocean Litter Youth Project (POLYP) stands as a testament to the power of youth activism and their capacity to effect real change in the fight against marine litter and plastic pollution. Empowered by science and artivism, the young volunteers of POLYP are driving coastal clean-up campaigns, advocacy efforts, and impactful marine debris art installations to alter societal perceptions and behaviors. As the custodians of the ocean, they are working tirelessly to preserve the pristine beauty of the Pacific and ensure a sustainable future for the region. With unwavering determination and a collaborative spirit, POLYP offers hope for a cleaner, healthier Pacific for generations to come.

POLYP artivism session.
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