Meet Claudia Haltern, diver, anaesthesiologist and crew member during our Round the World Virtual Voyage 5 to South Africa. As part of our Ambassador Spotlight Series we wanted to share Claudia’s Superpower Story.
Can You Tell Me A Bit About Yourself?
I grew up in the western part of Germany, and had nothing to do with the sea or the ocean besides my holidays. It was not until university, when I began scuba diving, that I first discovered the ocean. I have now dived all around the world, but my favourite place to dive is the Mediterranean, especially in South Sardinia.
Alongside my passion for diving, I am also an anaesthesiologist and a mother of 2 children – they both love diving too!
How Did You End Up Joining An eXXpedition Voyage?
The more I dived, the more advanced I became, and the further I could go. Yet, wherever I went I couldn’t escape the plastic, whether that be plastic bags or old fishing nets. The ocean is so beautiful, and I knew I wanted to learn more, and do more.
I also love sailing, so when I saw the opportunity to join eXXpedition on Facebook, I just knew I had to apply.
What Did You Learn That Surprised You Most During The Virtual Voyage?
I loved learning how to analyse the samples using the microscope. In terms of what surprised me, it was probably learning about recycling symbols on different plastic products.
I was shocked to learn that firstly, these symbols were actually created by the plastics industry and, secondly, often the items they were attached to were not actually recyclable. They were just there to greenwash consumers during their purchasing decision.
How Would You Describe Your Superpower?
As an anaesthesiologist, I think my Superpower is the connection between my environmental interest and professional interest.
I am fascinated by the effects microplastics have on our body, in terms of their physiology and their chemistry. Being able to understand this connection is special, and has allowed me to dig deeper into the topic. With the network of doctors and medics I am connected to, I think I can use this superpower to hopefully drive change in the health industry.
How Has The Voyage Influenced Your Work Since?
Given the nature of the work I do, it’s not always possible to find plastic alternatives. However, I think we can do more to make the products and utensils we are using in hospitals easier to recycle. I am in the early stages of investigating this with a colleague and am excited to see how it progresses.
Outside of my work, I have been making changes much closer to home – literally! Rather than buying from supermarkets, I try to do all my weekly shopping at local stores, like the bakery, the grocers or the butcher. I can avoid plastic packaging and support independent businesses at the same time!
I also work with an organisation called Project Baseline. The organisation mobilises citizen-divers to record changes in aquatic environments and engage with scientific, conservation and government entities to restore and protect the ocean.
There is so much we don’t know about the ocean, but with initiatives like this, we can begin to build up richer and more robust data sets. Once we have this data, it will be easier to monitor changes and make, implement and measure action plans for the future.
What are you most proud to have achieved?
I am really proud of the work I have been doing with the charity Ghost Diving since my voyage. They are a global diving organisation that specialise in the removal of lost fishing gear.
With a global network of divers at their disposal, they are working all across the world. They have recently established a branch in Germany and I was one of their first members.
We went on a week long trip to the Northern Sea, where we collected over 600kg of nets. Our dive attracted a lot of media attention across Germany, and we appeared in several national newspaper headlines. The Environmental Minister for the Local Government even came to visit us during the project, which was really exciting.
In my little world though, I am just proud to be making other people interested in the topic and see some of my close friends avoiding plastic a little more than before.
What are your plans going forward?
Whilst there is lots of interest around plastic pollution in the ocean, there is far less attention being given to freshwater bodies, such as rivers and lakes.
In the future, I am hoping to establish an organisation dedicated to the restoration and decontamination of fresh waterways. As primary feeders into the ocean, I think they are an important and interesting space to explore.
What Keeps You Hopeful About The Future Of The Ocean?
The fact that traction on this topic, especially in the western countries, has grown so much, even in just a few years. There is so much more awareness and that gives me hope going forwards.
If You Could Give One Message To The World, What Would It Be?
Keep going! Keep doing what is needed to protect the environment. Take a step back, think about your actions and think about what you could do to make a difference – however small that may be!