ELK TALES: BELINDA BAGGS "FIGHT FOR THE BIGHT"
Right now, we are fighting for the health of our oceans. World Ocean's Day on Saturday 8th June is an important time for us to consider the impact we are having as individuals and as businesses both here and globally.
Gliding across the waves poised on the nose of her longboard is Belinda Baggs; a world-renowned Australian surfer, mother to seven-year-old Rayson and surf ambassador for Patagonia.
Belinda is passionately campaigning for the environmental protection and preservation of all living things for our future generations. She is a driving force campaigning against Norwegian mining company, Equinor, who plan to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight - a project we feel strongly opposed to at ELK.
In recognition of World Ocean's Day, our Co-Founder and Creative Director Marnie Goding sat down with Belinda, who offered a perspective on what we can do to help in the Fight for the Bight.
Belinda, what is your first memory of the ocean and what does it represent to you now?
I’m often asked that question and still find it the most difficult to answer. My first memory of the ocean is blurred throughout all childhood memories. My father is an avid surfer so I literally grew up with sand between my toes! Going to the beach and the surfing lifestyle is a way of life for my family. Leaving the shore and heading out the back beyond the breakers was a rite of passage that came along with puberty. The sea and the art of riding waves represented and still represents so much more than just a sport or something to do on the weekends. To me and my family, it’s a way of life - a heritage and knowledge that was instilled from my father that I am now getting to pass that down to my son. It’s a care for the environment, respect for the power of nature, the ultimate playground, a best friend, a place to be challenged and a place to relax. The ocean is my lifeblood and the true meaning of ‘home’.
Can you tell us about your role as a Surf Ambassador for Patagonia and what does it involve?
I’ve been part of their surf team for over 10 years spending countless hours product testing innovative fabrics that are now setting high standards and pushing change in the surf industry. Recently, Patagonia changed its mission statement to ‘We’re In Business To Save Our Home Planet’. Alone, this message paints a good picture of the ethics behind the company. My role is now devoted to the betterment of our environment. I spend much of my time working with our Environmental Manager, campaigning, creating awareness and rallying the surf community to stand up and protect what we love. It may sound glamorous but it’s actually a lot of late nights behind a computer! Essentially it’s my dream job though - using surfing as a way to create positive change for our planet.
The Fight for the Bight is a hugely important campaign for everyone Worldwide to know about, can you please give us an overview of the situation?
The Great Australian Bight is one of the most pristine ocean environments on earth supporting a vast array of marine life and also vibrant coastal communities, jobs and recreational activities.
The Norwegian company Equinor want to drill for oil there and send it overseas for their own profits. The proposed Stromlo well is 327km out in the Southern Ocean, open to everything the Roaring Forties has got. It is in 2500m of water, and they’ll then need to drill through 3000m of seabed to extract the oil.
As part of their environmental plan, Equinor were forced to supply oil spill modelling, which showed oil on beaches between Margaret River in the west and Port Macquarie in the east. That’s our entire southern coastline placed in immediate risk! Wildlife, marine ecologies, the local industries and communities would all be devastated... this could be a catastrophe on every level.
Scientists estimate that 85% of the species in the Great Australian Bight are found nowhere else on earth. What happens to the environment of the Bight effects the diversity of the marine world on a global scale.
We should all learn from the past and the memory of the Deep Water Horizon spill is still a haunting memory. So what are the potential risks with this rig?
There is serious cause for concern for the potential impact of a similar oil spill disaster. If you look at the comparisons the well in the Bight is deeper and frequented by more treacherous swells and intense weather conditions than the site of Deep Water Horizon. The surrounding area is flanked by the Nullarbor and the longest continuous sea cliffs in the world making a spill near impossible to access, stop and clean up.
I’ve already mentioned the risk to wildlife. We must also consider the implications to our way of life and the immediate economic risks that would wipe out all the small communities that lie along the coast. The Bight sustains fisheries and aquaculture industries worth around 440 million AUD per year. Tourism equates to 1.2 billion AUD regionally. This is the economy that small towns survive on including the area where I reside, here in Victoria on the Great Ocean Road. We would be affected and forced out in more ways than one!
We must also consider the global issue of climate change. If we are to limit global warming to the internationally agreed maximum of 2 degrees celcius we must not continue to exploit new oil reserves.
As individuals, what can we do to make our voice of opposition heard and how can we join the campaign to keep Equinor out of the Bight?
There are always ways we can help and be involved.
- Paddle out protests have been held over the last few months and more are planned throughout Australia. Reach out to Surfrider and host one of your own or show up to an already planned event and make your voice heard! It is a great way of creating awareness and continuing the pressure by outwardly showing your disapproval of the project.
- If you have any Norwegian friends please tell them about the issue. Equinor is partially owned by the Norwegian people, so letting them know that the drilling will place Australia’s coastline in danger will place more pressure on the company to pull out of the project.
- You can also petition your local council to officially oppose drilling in the Great Australian Bight.
- Sign the statement of concern and donate to the Great Australian Bight Alliance.
- On Instagram, you can follow @greataustraianbightalliance and @patagoniaaus for campaign updates and find out about new calls to action.
- Check out Island Home Film created by Thunderbox Film for more details on the issue.
- Use the hashtags #fightforthebight #climateemergency #bigoildontsurf #worldoceansday #petagoniaustralia and #greataustralianbightalliance to show your support.