World Rowing’s Athletes Commission has joined the voices in support of the Big Plastic Pledge and Norwegian rower Martin Helseth in on board as an athlete ambassador for the movement and he’s already changed words into actions.

The Big Plastic Pledge is a global campaign around the issue of plastic pollution, specifically in sport. Initiated by Olympian Hannah Mills, it is growing in support from the international sports world. Helseth has pledged his support for the campaign by cleaning up five tonnes of waste on the Norwegian shores.

Helseth recently qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in the men’s quadruple sculls for Norway. But he has been a long-time supporter of the reduction of plastics and the need to clean up the waterways.

“I have been pulling trash out of the water for probably three years now,” Helseth says. “It started after I picked up free diving again. When I stuck my head under water I could see that there was so much trash and stuff that shouldn’t be in nature. So every time I went out to free dive I brought something back.”

Athletes Commission Chair Frida Svensson saw Helseth’s work and thought it would be the perfect opportunity for the sport of rowing to work on the Big Plastic Pledge. The Pledge helps to bring awareness and change to the sports community. Worldwide, we have produced nine billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, but only nine per cent has been recycled (1). Unfortunately, much of the plastic ends up in our waterways.

“I am so passionate about it because I am around the water every day,” Helseth says.

Not only does he spend hours training in the rowing boat, he uses free diving and spear fishing as his method to de-stress, connect with nature and get his mind away from rowing.

“In Norway we have a really long coastline. It’s a very popular activity to go both spear fishing and free diving. We put on a seven-millimetre wetsuit, a snorkel, mask, fins and led to go down. We basically just hold our breath and swim down as far as we can and see what we can find there,” Helseth explains.

Helseth also uses it as a sustainable way of eating. He uses a spear gun to catch fish.

“It’s a really nice way to get dinner,” he says. “In my opinion, it’s the most sustainable way. I pick whatever fish I want, it’s always big enough, and I try to never miss a shot. It’s a nice way to get in contact with nature and know what’s on my plate.”

He laughs as he describes eating everything on the fish that won’t make him sick, including the head.

Helseth expects to remove five tons of waste in July. But he will not stop there. He says his personal goal is always to bring back more waste than fish when he goes out for a dive.

But what can the rest of the rowing community do?

“One of the simplest solutions is to go along the coastline (or waterway) and pick up whatever you find along the way. It’s a good start,” Helseth says.

We are a long way from removing all single-use plastics, or cleaning up all of the plastic pollution. Helseth admits now that he is looking, he sees plastic everywhere and sometimes it feels like a drop in the bucket to individually remove trash. But he remains hopeful.

“When I started the trash project this summer, I’ve seen that people really care and that I can be a motivator for others to go out and pick up some of their own. It’s a good thing now that people are opening their eyes and seeing that it’s a big problem. I see a lot of good people both trying to stop plastic going in the water and pick up what’s been left there for years.”

For more information about the Big Plastic Pledge, visit the website: https://bigplasticpledge.com/

(1) UNEP Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability