OceanZen Bikini Founder Steph Gabriel Shares Her Trash Tribe Adventure

Kira Simpson

I’d like you to meet Steph Gabriel, an Environmental scientist, founder of sustainable fashion label OceanZen Bikini, conservationist and all round nice human.

Steph recently joined forces with Clean Coast Collective, Tangaroa Blue and a group of passionate eco warriors to form Trash Tribe, a conservation project and journey to clean up some of Australia’s most polluted beaches.

Why? Because it’s desperately needed.

Did you know, every year, we send about 8 million tons of plastic into the oceans? The World Economic Forum estimates that in just 35 years, the amount of plastic trash in the ocean will outweigh all the fish.

Shocking right?

Fortunately there are incredible people like Steph working hard to raise awareness about plastic pollution in our oceans and what we can do about it.

Below, Steph shares her adventures with Trash Tribe and her tips on how we can all be activists for the ocean.

trash tribe

"What we found was waste from all over the world and all mostly plastic items."

Photos by Jemma Scott

The Trip

The experience was completely life changing.

When we arrived to Chilli Beach after two full days of dirt road travel, we were in admiration of the beautiful tropical beach. Palm trees, white sand, blue windy waters and then when we looked a little closer we could the shoreline covered in rubbish that had washed up.

It took us 5 full days to walk a 6.7km stretch and we helped removed 7.001 tonnes of marine debris in just that area which is over 1 tonne of waste per kilometre!

trash tribe

What we found was waste from all over the world and all mostly plastic items.

We found 2279 toothbrushes, a plastic item that personally I never noticed before until this trip. We found 5547 thongs lost from beach walkers (with no pairs found haha), 1009 lighters and 3204  bleach bottles.

We then would count the data (where we literally count every single piece of what we found that day and categorise it) and through this process we could potentially trace it back to it’s origins.

One product that blew our minds was a few hundred bleach bottles from Papa new Guinea with stab wounds in the bottles. It was shocking to learn that the local fisherman in these countries use bleach to stun and catch the fish. This is not only toxic for the reef’s and the marine environment, but also toxic for the locals and tourists that eat the fish that absorbed the bleach.

plastic pollution
plastic pollution

We also found a crazy amount of plastic remnants which is hard plastics that can no longer be identified as they have broken up into smaller and smaller pieces. We learned so much in just a short time, and it was incredible to learn more about the source of plastic pollution.

The Trash Tribe (Clean Coast Crew) really bonded going through the waves of emotion together and leaning on one another for support.

Since coming home from this trip, I see plastic everywhere now.

What needs to change

Plastic pollution needs to stop at the source and as long as it is being supplied, it will probably keep getting used.

Brands and organisations ultimately need to make the switch to more sustainable solutions in partnership with the consumer choosing to only support organisations that are doing the right thing. Consumer’s have all the power by choosing where they spend their dollar and if there is enough pressure to make the switch, it’s in the best interest of the organisation to satisfy their consumer’s demands.

plastic pollution

It’s been an adventure coming home and ‘assimilating’ back into the ‘real world’.

Although I was conscious about plastic consumption before and have a sustainable swimwear label (@oceanzen_bikini) that is completely plastic free, it was the household plastic waste that really shocked me on this trip. Personal care products like shampoo, body wash, cleaning products, toothbrushes, combs, lighters.

These are the types of items that can be so easily replaced with plastic free options. You just have to prepare a little more. Online stores like Clean Coast Collective and Biome offer alternatives such as shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes and natural cleaning products in jars.

Lately I have been doing some of my grocery shopping at The Source and you can also fill up jars of shampoo, conditioner and body wash as-well there along with lots of plastic free dry food options.

plastic pollution

Avoiding single use plastic items can make a huge impact. I truly learned what the power of one means on the Chilli Beach Clean Up.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming and it can be easy to think one person can’t make a difference in a world with 7 billion people. But in the 5 days of being at Chilli Beach, every single one of us put in all of our effort even though we were feeling disheartened and challenged, and yet we stuck together, stood by our passion for the cause and looking back, if one or more of us flaked out we wouldn’t have removed as much waste as we did. It was a team effort.

By doing your part as an individual, you are joining a world-wide team of environmental conservationists.

People Creating Positive Change

A powerful shift is happening in society right now, where we are learning more and more about our environmental footprint on this earth. I have a long list of conservationists that are inspirations and it’s amazing that more and more organisations are switching towards sustainability.

plastic pollution

A few key conservationists raising awareness are:

Ocean Ramsey – she shares her knowledge and passion for sharks  through shark education programs.

David Attenberough because he is just a bloody legend for the decades of work he has shared with the world.

Hannah Mermaid –  shares a unique perspective with marine life encounters and through captivating her audience she shares various strong messages for the protection of marine life.

My favourite is ‘Tigeress’ – She danced with Tiger sharks in order to highlight the Australian Government’s shark cull policy on Tiger Sharks.

Us for sustainable swimwear!

Clean Coast Collective – for plastic free alternative’s which support their national beach clean ups.

plastic pollution
plastic pollution

Read more about the Trash Tribe’s experiences and the Chilli Beach cleanup over on OceanZen and Clean Coast Collective.

Kira Simpson

Kira Simpson is an environmentalist and sustainability expert. She started The Green Hub as a blog in 2015, which has since grown to become one of Australia’s largest education sites dedicated to helping people live a more sustainable lifestyle.