By Inaki Tomey & Kevin Ochoa
Spanish biologists in the Artic.
We, Inaki and Kevin are two marine biologists who studied our Masters in Marine Ecology and Resource Biology at The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. We met during our studies and our friendship grew stronger in Tromsø where we shared a powerful love for the ocean, passion for outdoors sports and a desire to live an alternative/custom-made lifestyle.
It was in this sub-Arctic region where we experienced the severity of global warming and plastic pollution. Upon those experiences, a strong feeling of responsibility invaded us as the idea of just living an alternative, adventurous life turned out not to be fulfilling enough. In 2019, following the strong surge to act, we decided to become more active in the fight against climate change and plastic pollution, and created our organization Marinewide. More than a company, MarineWide is a lifestyle; founded on the belief of a sustainable future and determined to lead the change towards a healthier relationship between human beings and Planet Earth.
Our path in beach cleaning actions began in 2020, working in collaboration with Norges Miljøvernforbund and In The Same Boat. However, in 2021, we wanted to combine our knowledge and experience in beach cleaning with our passion for climbing and sailing. That was the small flare that lit the beginning of Clean and Climb.
Clean & climb: the concept
Clean and Climb 2021 is an initiative where climbers combine their passion for the sport with taking action to fight the marine litter found throughout the Norwegian coast. The aim of the project is to demonstrate the connection between our mountains and our oceans – as parts of the same ecosystem – and the people who choose to take responsibility for caring and protecting them. There is no better place to feel the connection between the rocky and watery realms than in the Lofoten archipelago, where sharp mountains plunge directly into the depths of the sea. The goal of Clean & Climb 2021 was to remove plastic waste from the coast and film a short documentary. The aim being, to inspire other climbers and outdoor enthusiasts around the world to become more involved and take responsibility for environmental problems such as plastic pollution.
Whilst based in Henningsvær, we spent the whole month of July sailing around Lofoten. We were joined on board by photographers, film makers and local climbers, spending our time alternating between trad-climbing and beach cleaning. During that time, we also invited locals and people visiting the area to join us and collaborate in the project. The garbage collected was handled and registered by the local company “Cleanup Lofoten”.
The main motivation behind this initiative lies upon 3 core pillars:
1: We feel the urgent need for more people to get actively involved in the fight against plastic pollution.
2: We want to find the balance between taking from nature and giving back to nature. 3: Sailing is a sustainable way of exploring remote cleaning areas and unclimbed routes that are only accessible by sea.
Filming the whole project and creating a short documentary about it was therefore necessary to reach more people and have a greater impact and, hopefully, inspire them to join the cause in the future. Because despite not being our garbage, it is our collective responsibility.
There are undoubtable differences in attitudes and motivations when it comes to protecting and caring for the environment we live in. Our goal is to help bridge this gap, inspire others to go outside and get active, explore, enjoy it, and want to do something to help. Small actions matter.
Climbers as ambassadors
The reason why we decided to involve climbers in this project is because, by its nature, climbing is a sport where you are in constant and immediate connection with the environment around you. In other words, climbing instils an awareness of valuing the mind-blowing places the sport can take you.
In addition, the climbing community has a lot to give to humanity in terms of unity, collaboration, and mutual support. Values, that are required for global changes to happen. Besides, climbers are people who spend a great amount of time surrounded by nature and tend to take really good care of it instinctively.
We believe that there is nothing as powerful as a strong example to raise awareness in a meaningful way. Therefore, it is extremely important for us to spread the word and broadcast our results to a wide range of people.
In that regard, we are grateful to have had Marthe Kristoffersen and Elisa Rotterud onboard during this project as ambassadors, among other climbers and volunteers. During their stay, not only did they climb and clean hand to hand with us, but they also helped us to reach a broader audience and set an example for others around the world.
As we experienced, anyone participating in “Clean and Climb” or similar projects will feel the importance of giving back to nature, as well as the incredible power of unity and team effort. Because both in climbing and beach cleaning, having inspiring people around us and working together as a team, is what moves us forward and allows for greater challenges to be accomplished.
Marthe Kristoffersen climbing and fighting tangled ropes. Photos: Andres Meszey
A successful season with unexpected results
When we started this project, we did not know the magnitude, coverage or importance of what we were doing. We did not know if it would be successful or whether we could even make it happen. To our surprise, soon after we made the project official and offered our sailboat to host any climber interested, all the spots filled in fast. We were stoked to welcome on-board the 30 participants. In addition, we were grateful for the support offered by local newspapers, clean-up groups and especially the Norrøna ambassadors Marthe Kristoffersen and Elisa Rotterud.
Every participant stayed onboard between 7 and 14 days, we lived like a small family, working together, dividing tasks onboard, integrating new climbing partners and exchanging valuable personal experiences.
As a result, we ended up sailing and exploring almost the entire coast of Lofoten, from Svolvær to Værøy; we climbed new walls and inaccessible routes, and we collected around 2800kg of plastic from 12 different beaches. However, the amount did not matter, what mattered was the powerful memories that remained within us and all the participants.
To run these operations, we worked closely with other organizations and environmental actors involved in beach cleaning. Thanks to these collaborations we could make evaluations of what areas needed to be cleaned, and to take advantage of our ability to access remote destinations with our sailboat. However, the volunteers and participants of this projects were the key to our success, and through them and our social media, we could reach a wide range of people.
The highlight of the climbing during the project was during our visit to Reinefjord. It was astounding for us to find out that behind the rocks in the fjord, an immense amount of plastic was hidden. However, access by road was impossible so we had to carry all the plastic on our sailboat to the closest harbour with road access. A total of 500 kg of plastic was collected in just a few hours.
At anchor in Reinefjord during a beach clean-up. Photo: Sigurd Pedersen
The following days after the clean-up, we had two teams of climbers attempting first ascents and new routes inside the magnificent Kjerkfjord. One team, composed by Kevin Ochoa and Kjersti Iversen, accomplished a first ascent to Segltinden, and an epic repetition of Sørveggen, in Marklitinden, where they stayed more than 25 hours on the wall. That route was first climbed in 1999, but we are not aware of any other later ascents. The other team, composed by Aniek Lith, Sigve Elstad and Johan Nils Swärd, attempted two first ascents to Segltinden and Merraflestinden as well, but the rock quality and the high temperatures prevented them from reaching the top, having to bail after a few gorgeous pitches.
Soon after, with all the climbers safely back onboard, we set sails back to Henningsvaer for the closing day of our project. We were tight on time, and a gale was raising from the North West. We sailed fast, since we had to make it on time for the last clean up that we had organized with the locals. After the clean-up, we ended our stay in Lofoten, with an event at Arctic Lofoten Hotel. Here we held a night of celebrations including a presentation and dinner for all the participants.
Our goals for the future and a growing movement
Given the success of this first edition of Clean and climb, we are committed to repeat it in 2022. The main idea that we want to transmit is that we don’t own Clean and Climb, in fact, we would love if more people joined us next year and made it theirs too, wherever they are.
When we started, the idea was to gather a small group of climbers, now the vision and motivation by participants has made us think of a totally new concept. A movement, where every year we will gather to climb, clean and sail around Lofoten. Therefore, we would love for everyone to embrace clean and climb as theirs, and hope for it to become a yearly attraction in Lofoten. Currently, we are working on the documentary of the project, which will be finished by January 2022. However, we want to make it our commitment to devote part of our summers to beach-cleaning, spreading the word via social media and giving the opportunity for others to join us.
We know that removing 100kg of plastic from a beach is not going change the world. But we believe it can change a person’s life, the way we see our world and our place in it. We hope that with it, more people will feel inspired to join us, because the incredible moments we lived together and the small family that was created can’t be expressed with words alone.