MEET SIRI ØSTVOLD, DESIGNER AND STORYTELLER, ON BOARD NORTH PACIFIC.
Siri’s lifelong love for the ocean has taken her around the world, deep-diving for answers and always surfacing with stories. Led by curiosity and a sense of adventure, her trip to the North Pacific gyre in 2018 confirmed her belief in listening to everyone and learning from everything. It allowed her to investigate, to be able to learn, to be able to act.
Siri onboard eXXpedition. Photo credit: Eleanor Church / eXXpedition
Tell us where it all started
Norway’s got a long coastline. Every summer and every weekend my parents would take me out on our boat. That’s when I fell in love with the ocean – summers spent swimming, snorkelling and looking at the animals – they’d call me a seal, because I didn’t want to get out of the water!
Now, I love to surf, I love that that feeling of being on the ocean, at one with the elements. There’s a remote beach on the west coast of Norway, well known for surfing. It takes 8 hours to drive there. You can see all this plastic getting washed in from the ocean. I remember the first time I came across the plastic on that beach – there were cotton buds and bottles and all these smaller pieces. When you see these things in a place you really love, a place that’s so special, beautiful and remote, it’s a hard contrast to confront.
How did you end up on the North Pacific voyage and what was it like?
I remember a late Autumn evening, coming across an article about Emily Penn, eXXpedition and the upcoming voyage. Straight away I knew, “I want to be on that boat!” The explorer in me was drawn to the vastness of the Pacific, and the islands and their communities. So, I sent in an application.
Even though I’d spent my childhood on boats, It was a totally new sailing experience for me – sleeping out at sea with no sight of land. The first few days melt into each other when you’re doing shifts. I love being at the helm – but I felt a bit seasick when I needed to go down to make food, or go to sleep.
Siri with a microplastics sample. Photo credit: Eleanor Church / eXXpedition
Can you remember your first encounters with the gyre?
At the start of the voyage, we were noticing a little bit more plastic each day, it was building up slowly. Then one day, overnight, there was a noticeable difference. We saw bigger pieces like trays and buoys. It was a scary shift. I remember that part very clearly. And then it was such a slap in the face when we took out the first sample and found it to be full of microplastics. That was hard to see with my own eyes.
I was surprised by the amount of micro plastics – but a large part of that was the experience of the sail itself, the time it took to get there. That’s the part that’s harder to explain, because it’s more than just numbers. I flew in over the same ocean, but on the boat you get a different perspective. The most heart-breaking part was knowing we’d only covered a tiny piece of the ocean’s surface, and realising the scale of the problem.
Photo credit: Eleanor Church / eXXpedition
Now, when I interact with plastic in my life – I automatically imagine it out there in the remote sea, in tiny pieces, in x number of years. I can’t unsee it.
What did you take away from the experience?
Now, when I interact with plastic in my life – I automatically imagine it out there in the remote sea, in tiny pieces, in x number of years. I can’t unsee it. The ocean crossing and going through the garbage patch was one thing, but then there was also the expertise of the other women, from all different backgrounds and from all around the world. I love to learn from experiences, and I love to learn from other people, and it’s great thinking back on that part of it all. Building a bond and a connection like we did on the boat is so unique. It’s amazing – when and where else do you have an opportunity to make that happen in the world?
Siri at the helm. Photo credit: Eleanor Church / eXXpedition
What happened next?
I’m a designer – I’ve worked a lot with branding, identities and as well as more strategic work, and I already knew before I set off the voyage that I wanted to put my skills into doing more of the things that are needed to create change, which includes changing habits through communication.
When I came back to Norway, I told my story in talks. One of them was to 1000 people, and I was able to actually show people – ‘this is our doing.’ Delivering my talk to so many people was intense. But, it’s the storytelling on a smaller level that makes me prouder – those little everyday communication moments, where I notice I’ve genuinely moved somebody, or made them think. Whether it’s a person or a business, I’ve been reaching out and having conversations with people, and now I have a good opening for that conversation, with the experience and the knowledge that I’ve built up from my time on the boat.
Siri giving a talk. Photo credit: Marte Rekaa
One of the strengths of being a designer is in taking something huge or abstract and communicating it. I now work with a small agency (Æra Strategic Innovation), helping businesses become more sustainable through innovation and business development. It’s strategic work that uses design-thinking, helping people to frame a problem, talk together, and co-operate to find a new and better solution. Through my work I get to connect people. By designing processes rather than products, I bring people together from different sectors, and get them to think together and talk. Just like on the boat.
“It’s the storytelling on a smaller level that makes me prouder – those little everyday communication moments, where I notice that I’ve genuinely moved somebody, or made them think.”
Siri giving a talk. Photo credit: Marte Rekaa
What are you working on at the moment?
My eXXpedition experience developed my curiosity with communities that live near the ocean, and I want to learn more. I love to connect with ocean people around the world. I have gone back to Hawaii several times. It’s one of my side projects, talking to people who are close to the problem and in close connection with nature, their surroundings and the ocean. I want to hear how they live their life, how they see the problem differently, the changes they’ve witnessed and their connection to the sea. Whenever I travel I make sure to talk to all the people I meet. Everybody’s got a story to tell, and somewhere like Hawaii you’ll find people who are very connected to their surroundings living on an island and their shared resources. I admire that lifestyle, and I want to understand how we can learn from that, perhaps live more like that, also in the cities.
I met a woman in Oahu on a remote beach, who told me about the fish taken from the seabed for aquariums. I didn’t know about that. And then I went spearfishing with some local guys, following them as they hunted their own dinner – these people see and experience things it’s hard to know about if you’re not out there experiencing it and connecting to it.
I’ve been taking courses in freediving, so I can see more, and spend more time underneath the ocean surface myself. It’s become a really big part of my life. When you’re with people who love being in the ocean, the plastic problem comes up naturally – it’s the garbage in our playground, the space we all share and that our health and lives depend on. This year, I became the Norwegian champion in Freediving, in constant weight no fins, as the discipline is called.
Siri freediving in Tenerife. Photo credit: Siri Østvold
What keeps you hopeful about the future of the ocean?
All the people I meet and see working on the plastic problem is one part of it. But also all of the exciting advancement and projects on both new solutions and on ocean conservation. It’s happening in different places all over the world and on so many levels. There are a lot of business opportunities in this field now too. Businesses that ignore this problem and don’t act on the new opportunities will soon be out of business. There are all these new opportunities available to make a positive change and impact. Also, the younger generation keep me optimistic. They think differently about the world, there’s a noticeable shift in values.
Photo credit: Siri Østvold
Any advice for future eXXpedition crew?
Enjoy it! Take every moment with you – cherish it. Make the most of your surroundings and the other people on the boat. Watch, learn and ask questions. It’s a privilege to be there in that remote and beautiful place.