The Malta Independent 17 December 2018, Monday

The sea makes me feel small and large

Camilla Appelgren Tuesday, 20 March 2018, 11:23 Last update: about 10 months ago

The deep blue. The amazing place I always imagined discovering as a child. I was always told by my parents that I was like a fish, that I belonged in the sea. I could snorkel forever in the 15 degrees celsius cold sea that I for some reason considered comfortably warm. I was chasing fish and spent my time at the beach collecting jellyfish in buckets to put them back into the sea.

Summers in Sweden are short. If you are lucky, you have a couple of weeks in July or August. The rest of the year you live off the memories and the hope that the cold months will pass quickly. I always felt a strong connection to the summer and the sea.

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When I couldn't swim in the sea, I spent my time in the forest. No iPad, mobile or other distractions, just me and nature. We were best friends. I still remember the feeling of laying in the grass after rainfall, looking up at the sky and feeling one with nature. Muddy but happy. There is no feeling like that.

I belong to the last generation who remembers life without Internet. My parents belong to the last generation who remembers a life without single use plastic. And my kids belong to the first generation who doesn’t know anything else than a world full of it.

During my teenage years I spent many summers with a Maltese family and they became like a second family to me. When my son was about to start school, it felt natural to take the step to move to the country close to my heart.

I decided to fulfil my dream of becoming a diving instructor. Now the sea was there all year around and the child within me was as content as ever. Once again I was happily chasing fish.

And plastic. Something had changed. The sea wasn't only full of fish and crystal blue water. Instead my dream became blurred by plastic bags, straws, caps, q-tips, polystyrene and other objects. The fish were in far lesser quantities due to overfishing. The sea I knew - the sea I could spend all year round in, wasn't the same.

This, dear reader, is where my journey started. I am pretty sure my parents, apart from saying that I was like a fish, would describe me as a stubborn child. I only remember good moments of stubbornness but for sure they remember some less good ones, but that's another story. My stubbornness kept me going and still do as we speak.

I did my first diving for debris clean up back in 2012 and it was a success. We filled a whole skip with the most astonishing items emerging from the sea: like sea monsters. The people gasped when they saw diver after diver popping up with full bags of trash. I kept the cleanups coming. I was enjoying it and a year later I founded Malta Clean Up. Persistence paid off and today the group has 5500 dedicated members and still counting.

When I do cleanups near the sea, I always stare at the horizon thinking out loud. One day the blurry dream will be made clear and I will chase fish instead of plastic. There is an appointed time for everything.

The sea makes me emotional. It makes me feel small and large, weak and strong, useless and important all at once. It always had that impact on me. It taught me to respect it and it fills me with joy. Now, it is time to return the favour, and to show it respect.

My daughter once asked me during a discussion about the lack of green spaces, 'Mum, how will kids be able to respect something they have never experienced?’. I told her we have to make sure everyone does experience it and thus grow to respect it. No child should grow up with dreams blurred by plastic. They all deserve the clear visions my generation had, without plastic pollution and concrete wherever they look with their curious eyes.

I close my eyes for a moment. Once again I'm back, to those warm summer days snorkelling in the sea that only I considered warm enough. Chasing the fish and seeing nothing but the clear, crystal blue sea. The issue is that I can't live with my eyes closed. I can't hide my head in the sand. And to be blunt, these days even with my head in the sand I would encounter plastic, and lots of it.

It's time to set our needs and demands aside and place the Earth's needs in focus. The ecosystem will survive without humans, but humans will not survive without the ecosystem. It's time to act. Let's chase this vision of clear seas together!

 

Camilla Appelgren is an Environmentalist

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