Finding Solutions and Stewardship in Fiji

Picture of Interview with Hannah Bennett

Interview with Hannah Bennett

Fijian Pro Surfer & 'Dirty Wave Challenge' Winner

Earlier this week, Save The Waves Coalition announced the winner of the Dirty Wave Challenge – a call to action asking users of the organization’s Endangered Wave App to identify the dirtiest surf ecosystem.

The winner of the challenge, and recipient of the $5,000 cash prize for coastal stewardship, was Hannah Bennett – Fijian Pro Surfer and Vice President of the Fiji Surfing Association. She submitted a photo of her local beach where huge amounts of trash and debris from the nearby stream wash up and pollute the coastline on a daily basis. 

Save The Waves interviewed Hannah about what the ocean means to her, using app technology to raise awareness, and her hope for coastal communities to tackle the threat of plastic pollution.

  1. Where did you grow up and how did you get into surfing?

I grew up on the most northern island of the Fijian archipelago called Rotuma. We are Polynesians who speak our own language apart from the mainstream Fijian dialect. Surfing was introduced to me by my two older sisters Leilani and Kim. Rotuma is where I caught my first wave.

  1. What does surfing and the ocean mean to you?

The ocean means everything to me and surfing is my most favorite way of enjoying the ocean and all that it offers. Experiencing the ocean through surfing has helped shape my values and life lessons too. It’s time to offer some help in return!

  1. What do you think people visualize when they think about Fiji? What is the reality?

I think when most people visualize or think about Fiji, it’s in terms of a vacation, surf trip, resort experiences, and especially ocean activists. A lot of people I’ve spoken to who have visited Fiji have yet to see the capital or rural places of Viti Levu. The absence of that paints only a portion of the story but the reality is, like most second world countries, Fiji is struggling with a cultural transition between traditional disposal practices and the current plastic epidemic. Plastic pollution is plaguing our seas, rivers, coastlines and forests. These sights are seen all over the major cities and some rural villages.

  1. How did you hear about the Endangered Waves App? Why do you think it’s important for surfers and beach-goers to have this kind of tool?

I learnt about the app through a friend of mine, Cliff Kapono, whom I’ve known for sometime. He saw photos I kept posting about my local homebreak filled with trash so he thought it would be fitting for me to try out the app. The Endangered Waves App was a game changer for me and I believe it’s important for beach-goers to have because it helps raise awareness about an isolated region that is polluted and bring to the community’s attention. I also love how seamless it is to use and pinpoint your region. Even people within our surfing community here didn’t realize how trash filled our lineup was until they started seeing it. 

  1. What was the problem you posted?

I posted a photo I took at my local beach park where I like to take my dog for a run and to also check the surf. The beach park is situated next to a river mouth where lots of debris and trash thrown from up stream ends up.

  1. Do you think there is a lot of hope, movement and potential among surfers and coastal communities to protect the places they love? Why? 

I always have hope and enthusiasm for our coastal communities to get more involved in stewardship here. However, there is a lack of education on this particular cause and stewardship isn’t exemplified here that much which I am hoping to change!

  1. What do you do to reduce impact personally? How can individual people make an impact for our beaches and coastlines?

I think it’s important to not get overwhelmed and begin reducing with day to day habits such as not using straws and taking your own containers and reusable bottles. It’s a lifestyle! 

  1. As the winner of the Dirty Wave Challenge, how will you coordinate with your community to improve the problem in Fiji?

Firstly, I’d like to thank the coalition for presenting this opportunity, Vinaka! I’ve teamed up with the Fiji Surfing Association in order to get the vast majority of the surfing community onboard. We’ve identified our focus location which is upstream, consulted the people of the settlement on how best to move forward in regards to providing a means for them to dispose of their waste other than throwing it in the rivers. Furthermore, we hope to educate and promote stewardship in these rural places which I believe we – as a surfing community – can achieve through leading by example. 

  1. Why do you think Save The Waves and the global coalition it’s creating is important for the conservation of surf ecosystems?

It’s extremely important for the conservation of surf ecosystems to have a platform such as Save The Waves, where communities like mine can expose our issues in real time at exact locations. By doing so, it helps get others involved to help out. After using the app I got so many more people on board within my community who didn’t even realize how bad it was. This coalition I feel has given me a voice and a sense of support to tackle my biggest fear – losing my favorite surf spot to pollution.

Save The Waves is excited to see what Hannah does next! The prize money from the Dirty Wave Challenge went directly to Hannah to help support the ongoing stewardship of the rivers and beaches on Viti Levu in partnership with the Fiji Surfing Association.

The overarching goal of the challenge was to collect data on the health of our surf breaks, mobilize beach goers and educate the surfing community around the key issues facing our coastlines. We also plan to use the photos and data collected to better track and prioritize coastal threats by building our capacity to use artificial intelligence. 

Save The Waves will launch another Challenge at the beginning of 2020, but in the meantime please download our App, and report the issue you are seeing at your favorite place.

Thank you to our partners: WSL PURE, XPRIZE, Valtech, Pela Case.

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