Mission Ocean spent about a month in the Cape Verdes (including Christmas and the New Year), hopping from island to island with our two volunteer crew members. If you’ve never visited this archipelago off the west coast of Africa, we recommend a visit. The scenery is stunning and varied – from lush green volcanoes for hiking, to flat sandy islands perfect for kite-surfing – and we saw plenty of yachts and merchant navy vessels happily sitting in port and at anchor.
Following a lumpy sail down from the Canary Islands, our first stop was into Mindelo, one of the northernmost points and the only real marina in the archipelago. Contigo was covered in thick red sand from the Sahara, and we were glad of an afternoon berthed alongside to hose her down. We spent Christmas at anchor, in the company of around fifty other boats and lots of friendly cruisers of all nationalities.
After stuffing ourselves with all the festive goodies we had brought over from France, it was time to get back to work and on Boxing Day, we sent out a call on the VHF asking for volunteers to join us for a pop-up beach clean on a long sandy beach that we had ear-marked as being particularly polluted. Several crews joined us at the dinghy dock to don gloves, clean between rocks, filter micro-plastics out of the sand and answer questions from curious tourists and locals alike. That morning, we collected 200L of plastic trash alone.
After spending New Year eating our body-weight in barbecued chicken and dancing the night away with fishermen in San Nicolau, we made our way down to the island of Santiago, opting to anchor off the small fishing town of Tarrafal instead of the capital, Praia, where we had heard some nasty rumours of violent robberies on boats. A long, curved sandy beach lined to one side with cliffs and coconut trees, and to the other with brightly coloured wooden fishing boats, Tarrafal was picture-postcard beautiful.
We decided to hold our second beach clean here, and our four crew simply began to pick up litter one busy beach day, in front of a crowd of tourists, boat owners and fishermen. Gradually, people began to join us, and at the end more than twenty helpers had borrowed gloves and picked up another 200L of trash, and plenty more had stopped to ask questions. The fishermen thanked us with toothy grins and strong whiskey, which somehow seemed to improve our skills on the slacklines strung between coconut trees that afternoon.
Our final anchorage was in Lomba, a stunning little bay on Brava, the southernmost island of the Cape Verdes. The village is split into two, with a building devoted to the fishermen on the pebble beach, and the rest of the town some 250m up the cliff. The two are linked by a steep rocky path, but also by a small, recently installed cable car that serves to transport the fish from the beach up to the wives, who take the minibus into town to sell at the fish market.
We received the most wonderful welcome from this little community, and two of the fishermen in particular adopted us for the week that we stayed. We fished with them in the morning whilst their kids played in our tender, and we ate at their houses in the evenings.
We were so bowled over by the generosity of the village that, not wanting to be rude or preachy, we had almost decided to turn a blind eye to the state of the beach, which was by far the most polluted that we had seen in the Cape Verdes.
But one of the fishermen invited us to visit the local school to deliver a workshop on plastic pollution; he accompanied us and looked down the microscope at our plankton and micro-plastic samples with the same wide eyes at the children! We were then able to explain to him, and to the other fishermen, how UV, salt and waves cause the plastic in the oceans to break up into tiny particles, which are then ingested by fish and other marine species unable to distinguish them from their normal food sources.
We discussed the effects that this pollution can have on reproduction, as most plastics have been shown to contain endocrine disrupters, and the fishermen remarked that they had noticed that supplies were falling year-on-year.
It seemed only natural that the following Sunday morning, we met with our fishermen friends and their families, and cleaned the beach together, sharing barbecued fish and rice and homemade dulce de leche afterwards. We sent a staggering 1000L of trash up the hill using the cable car, where it was collected by the weekly bin lorry. Almost all of this was plastic food and drink packaging, dropped in the street in the village, on the cliff path or directly on the beach.
There is a real movement, especially in the UK at the moment, to reduce plastic consumption and go back to traditional shopping and packaging methods. Refusing plastic straws or cutlery, opting to buy in bulk or in glass jars, rather than individually wrapped plastic snacks, or simply taking your own metal water bottle to the gym instead of buying a plastic one every time are all little gestures that we can make to stop these litres and litres of trash from winding up in landfills, on our beaches, in our oceans and, ultimately, in our food chain.
The BBC is doing it, the Queen is doing it, and many coffee shops in the UK are now offering reductions if you bring your own mug. Hashtags such as #NoExcuseForSingleUse, #PassOnPlastic or #StrawsSuck are trending on Instagram, and living a zero-waste lifestyle (or as near as you can get) is rapidly becoming as fashionable as it is important.
Image courtesy of Sky Ocean Rescue
At Mission Ocean, we are thrilled to see this positive change; if you are trying to reduce your plastic consumption and you have any questions, or if you want to organise your own beach clean, please feel free to get in touch via our Facebook page or in the comments section below.