This week, we speak to Wesley Walton, a Chief Officer passionate about conserving our oceans.
It wasn’t until I started working in the yachting industry when I noticed first hand the effect of global warming and human waste on the oceans. I have seen vast amounts of abandoned fishing gear, washed up single use plastic, oil spills, and glaciers carving and receding
How did you get into the yachting industry and how long have you been in the industry for?
After finishing my Bachelors of Economics with Honours in Environmental Science Degree I decided to go into yachting as a gap year before re-joining the corporate world. I had been working at an Energy Production Company as an Environmental Analyst during my holidays at University and I was planning on returning to this company in hope of focusing on renewable energy, however once in the yachting industry I never turned back. The constant travel and the not knowing which country you could possibly wake up in tomorrow grew addicting.
This industry has such a unique connection to the oceans and we have noticed that you are a PADI freediver, we would love to know your favourite place to dive and why?
Having grown up in landlocked Johannesburg I was very fortunate to travel for holidays to the coast and many islands growing up. I have dived in a majority of the world’s hotspots, South Africa, Mozambique, Bahamas, Mexico, Thailand, Philippines, Mediterranean, Zanzibar, Belize, Great Barrier Reef, Sipidan and most recently Raja Ampat, however my favourite without a doubt is Komodo, Indonesia. This to me was a wonderland. I had been searching to see a Manta Ray for 11 years and on my first dive in Komodo we were blessed enough to have seen 42 Manta’s. It’s hard to put my sheer excitement in words. I was completely immersed in beauty, from marine life, vast amounts of healthy coral and spectacular macro life. It was a moment of complete awe.
We also know you are passionate about conservation, which we of course fully support at Seastainable, how did you come to notice the need for conservation especially when it comes to our oceans?
Having studied Environmental Science and being an avid diver I have always been aware of the sensitivity of the ocean ecosystem and its need for conservation. However, it wasn’t until I started working in the yachting industry when I noticed first hand the effect of global warming and human waste on the oceans. I have seen vast amounts of abandoned fishing gear, washed up single use plastic, oil spills, and glaciers carving and receding. This being said the moment I noticed we desperately needed conservation was when I saw the effects we were having on marine animals. Whales beaching themselves due to noise pollution, fish stocks falling drastically due to overfishing, coral reefs rapidly dying due to temperature rise and many animals changing their diets and migration patterns because of the stresses caused by human impact. These have a lasting affect when you see it first hand.
As yacht crew, what are your thoughts on the mindset surrounding sustainability in the industry?
I believe sustainability in the yachting industry is starting to shift positively, however there is still some resistance in certain spheres. There are great international laws that are set to limit pollution, namely, The International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships. This convention holds each ship responsible for their pollution and I believe if regulated correctly it will have a huge positive impact on the oceans. Without these laws in place I do believe yachts and ships would try cut financial costs at the price of the environment, for example discharging dirty oil overboard rather than installing oil water separators and storing dirty oil on board.
A lot of crew have started to make sustainable changes onboard, as a Chief Officer how do you find making changes onboard? Do you ever come up against any barriers at all, if so what are they?
There are a lot of small changes that been implemented onboard various yachts, for example using reusable shopping bags rather than single use bags, installing water filters rather than purchasing bottled water, recycling and buying more organic and ethical food products. However there are always challenges when it comes to change. On board I find there becomes resistance when there is a financial cost involved in implementing more sustainable and eco-friendly practices as well as when trying to convince longer standing crew members. I say this because its there is a mind set of “this is how we have always done it, we don’t need to change it”. As hard as it may be to bring these sustainable ideas to the table I find it healthier to start the debate rather than not addressing it at all.
Sustainability and the impact of plastic pollution has been so widely covered in the media, especially recently, would you say its now easier to discuss alternative solutions with crew and owners?
I wouldn’t say it is easier to discuss but rather more necessary to discuss. You will find a lot of crew are becoming more passionate about ocean conservation and will often speak up, and rightly so. This would often spark a debate or conversation around the crew mess table where everyone can bounce their ideas and opinions off of each other. This may lead to choosing one product over another or to purchase items not packaged in single use plastic etc. This being said it often doesn’t go much further than that. In my experience I do not know of anyone who has approached an owner and have asked them to have filtered tap water over bottled San Pellegrino. As yacht crew we are taught to always give owners and guests what they want and to never question it. Just to set the record straight here, bottled water companies do not produce water, they produce plastic.
The yachting industry unfortunately doesn’t hold the greenest of credentials, what do you think the future of the industry will look like?
There is a lot of waste and pollution associated with the yachting industry however I do believe there is a positive shift towards a greener future. With advancements in green energy and engineering coupled with strict International laws we will be on a more sustainable trajectory. We at the crew level do need to start making more conscious decisions towards smarter and more eco-friendly purchases and limit over buying. This in the long-run will lead to being more economical as well as it will protect the ocean that provides us with our jobs.
Thanks to Wesley for the chat, check out he's travels on Instagram.