Ripples swirl off every stroke of my paddle, leaving a trail of whirlpools in the otherwise calm sea. Rafts of guillemot keeping us company, floating peacefully, feeding-up ready for a summer of rearing clifftop chicks. A curious seal nuzzles the back of a kayak, causing squeals of excitement from the team in an otherwise tranquil setting.
We’re on an expedition to explore the remote Summer Isles, an archipelago of rugged wild islands, sitting off the northwest coast of Scotland. Our exploration isn’t solely for pleasure, we have a mission, to land on remote and otherwise inaccessible beaches, don our rubber gloves, and clear the washed-up plastics which litter the coastline.
Words and photography by Erin Bastian of Evoke Adventure | @erinbastian
For 10 years I’ve been a salty sea dog, I spent all of my spare time kayaking the coastlines of Britain, exploring remote islands and deep fjords all over the world. Somewhere along the line, my passion for the sea became my job. I now run my own unique expedition company, Evoke Adventure. Evoke came about because I wanted to do more than just take people kayaking! I wanted to make wild, remote, adventurous paddling accessible to anyone with a thirst for exploration. When the ocean becomes your office as well as your playground, you naturally become in tune with it. You know the ebbs and flows of the tide, you read water like it’s a book, and feel the moods of the ocean like you do a partner.
This intimacy with the ocean began to open my eyes to the struggles and pain it’s currently experiencing.
I noticed birds building nests from nets and rope. Floating milk bottles would pass me by as often than a pod of porpoise, and microplastic would swirl around my paddle like I was stirring soup. The ocean for many years now has been swallowing our waste and hiding it in its depths. Now it is at breaking point, and can no longer hide the damage we are doing. For someone who works on top it’s waves, and along its shorelines every day, it has felt like watching a loved one fight a terrible illness. A slow but sure decline in health. I decided I could no longer stand by and watch it deteriorate. Instead, I would fight to protect what I love.
Paddle Clean-Up was soon born. A combination of adventure, expedition paddling, environmentalism, and activism. I began organizing expeditions that would remove plastics from our waterways and oceans, whilst also talking to the world about the issues and how we can help.
This May a team of 10 passionate people joined the fight. Choosing to spend their holidays exploring whilst also caring for the ocean through an Evoke Adventure, Paddle Clean-up expedition. We set up base camp in Altandu, looking out over the gorgeous Summer Isles. These islands are home to an abundance of incredible wildlife, hidden beaches, and deserted coves. They are a kayaker’s paradise!
We spent our days weaving through rocky skerries, sea arches and caves until we came across a beach for lunch. This is when the real work started. Our remarkable team would sweep the beach plucking strands of rope wedged between rocks. Collecting armfuls of barrels, bottles and plastic fishing crates. When the beaches were clear, I’d scour the island and fill my Fraser the Rucksack with wind-blown rappers. We were awestruck at the sheer quantity of plastic waste we found on each beach. We’d crush and stash as many bottles as we could fit on our kayaks, coiling ropes into the hatches and strapping barrels on top of our decks. Our team transformed into a paddling group of flotsam and jet-some buy the afternoon. Kayaks loaded high with fishing buoys bigger than the paddlers themselves.
The sad fact is that our team of 10 couldn’t carry enough to clear an entire beach of its waste. Some nets, buoys, and crates where just too much for us to squeeze into our kayaks or precariously balance on top. We stashed these in piles above the tide line and would think up a way of getting them off at a later date. Thankfully on completing our expedition, we teamed up with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, who share our concerns and have the connections to implement bigger boats to the mission. Soon after, our 4 tons of piled up waste have been shipped off the islands.
There is something truly magical about spending a week with a tribe of people who share your passion.
Some never having paddled a kayak before, but drawn by the same love of the ocean, others, kayakers like me, who've seen the same issues grow steadily right in front of their eyes for many years now. Whatever their background this team of people came together and made a huge difference to a stunningly beautiful and remote environment. We laughed endlessly, shared stories huddled under a tarp with hot chocolate to warm us, paddled to the remotest corners of the islands, watched incredible sunsets and created beautiful friendships. I am grateful I can share these experiences with such amazing people and together we made a huge impact. It fills me with hope, that we can truly accept responsibility and take care of our planet for generations to come.
Friday 20th - Sunday 23rd September is the Great British Beach Clean.
Find out how you can get involved here.