‘Why can’t you just put the stuff in the bin?’ - Olympic silver medallist Annalise Murphy says a plastic bag cost her in Rio
“We’re very lucky in Ireland. Even when I was sailing around Ireland in June, the wildlife we have….” Irish Olympic silver medallist Annalise Murphy pauses. “I saw more dolphins and whales around Ireland than I had around the world.”
“We saw pilot whales, bottle nose dolphins, and porpoises. Apparently there are blue whales around Ireland, but I didn’t see any.”
Though our best known sailor was charging through the Irish waters with steely eyed focus last June as she finished the epic Volvo Ocean Race, now the memory of the wild still lingers.
But even more profoundly, what weighs on her mind too now after 40,000 miles of racing around the world, is the very real problem of plastic in our oceans.
All the more incredible, in fact, because it cost her badly in the 2016 Rio Olympic games.
“In Rio I got a plastic bag stuck on the rudder of my boat and I went down quite a few places in the race because of it.”
“I didn’t really want to talk about it because I didn’t want to make excuses. I’m sure other girls in the race had similar problems as well.”
“In the last year doing the Volvo Ocean race, we’ve been trying to promote the idea of how much plastic is going into our oceans. At the current rate that we’re going, there’s going to be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.”
“I saw a lot of plastic as I was sailing - anything from small plastic debris like small bottle caps. I saw a potato peeler once. In the current you’ll see lots of pieces of rubbish just floating around.”
The Olympic silver medallist is now involved in Repak’s public awareness campaign “Team Green”, which aims to educate people about recycling correctly.
She explains: “In Dun Laoghaire harbour, I saw plastic bottles all just up against the pier wall. One day I picked up two big boxes, it took me just 15 minutes to pick up all these plastic bottles. And I thought ‘Oh I feel so much better now’.”
But she said: “It’s hard to see that. You think ‘why can’t you just put the stuff in the bin?’. But it’s just trying to get the awareness out there. The more people that will be aware of keeping our oceans clean, the better it’ll be.”
“It’s basically just trying to get people to think about recycling, making sure they’re thinking about recycling the hard plastics that can be recycled. Realising things like the shampoo bottles actually can go in the recycling.”
“You think you’re good at recycling, but actually if you try you can be much better, you can. Even over the last year, just educating my family on cleaning out containers, it’s simple, a quick rinse out of something.”
“There’s been a lot more media coverage on plastic pollution and trying to stop plastics going to landfill.”
“Everyone is getting more aware of it. You can’t look at the world like ‘it’s all terrible’. You have to look at the positives, and think that the world will be a better place for the future.”
The two-time Olympic sailor was moved by the final episode of last year’s Blue Planet II, which depicted the albatross parents unwittingly feeding their newborn chicks plastic, the albatross parents who don't know they're feeding their newborn chicks plastic which has been thrown away, sea corals bleached white
“I love it. That last episode, it’s really shocking how massive the micro plastics are in the ocean at the moment. It’s all the small bits [of plastic] are just as important as the bigger bits.”
“Hopefully even if I can only get a few people to recycle a little bit more and change some habits, that’ll be a big thing.”
“It’ll bring the message to recycle better. If you see some rubbish on the ground, just pick it up. The idea of plogging or if you’re on a walk just pick up three pieces of plastic, is really taking off.”
“It’s very hard to avoid [plastic] now but simple things like I’d use a keep cup for coffee, and reusable water bottle.”
“If people want to go to Repak.ie/teamgreen they can look up tips on how to recycle better.”