Change needed now to see the future

Published on December 3rd, 2017

Olympic gold medalist Martine Grael is a rookie on the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, so the first two legs as crew on team AkzoNobel has exposed the Brazilian to some of the good and bad that our oceans offer.

“We’ve seen a lot of wildlife on the first two legs, particularly around the coast of Spain and Portugal,” she explains. “It’s amazing – a lot of whales, dolphins, and monkfish. Unfortunately, we also saw a lot of plastic. Even just from a performance point of view, you have to keep an eye on it – we hit a lot of it, and got it caught on the keel.

“I don’t think I went through a single watch without seeing it – even as we raced really south. It was really surprising, and if you see that in the middle of nowhere, imagine what it’s like on the current circles where trash collects.”

Martine knows all about the extent of the plastic problem in our oceans. Not just a world-class sailor, she hails from a family of sailors (her father, Volvo Ocean Race legend Torben is Brazil’s most successful ever Olympian, whilst her brother Marco and uncle Lars have also raced in the Games).

But it’s her mum – an ecologist – who she says sparked her passion for marine wildlife and conservation.

“My mum is a vet, and she’s very used to dealing with marine wildlife and birds as well,” Martine explains. “She has great experience in that area, and does a lot of environmental education back home, so the problem with plastic is something that we always talk about.

“One of the biggest issues for the turtles is that they normally eat jellyfish, so it’s easy to confuse plastic bags for food. My mum has done a lot of biopsies of turtles and marine wildlife – it’s a bit gross to see, but very interesting, because you see a lot of plastic in their stomachs.

“The problem is that once they’ve ingested plastic, they often can’t eat anything else, so they starve.

“As an athlete and a role model, I do feel a responsibility. I’ve noticed that the thing you see a lot is that the people who don’t have contact with nature, don’t tend to care so much. I think it’s a matter of education, and if there’s something I can do to help, then I’ll do it.”

But she admits that it’s hard not to ‘feel like a hypocrite sometimes’, with so much plastic and waste around in our daily lives.

“We all want to turn the tide on plastic and encourage people to use more reusable materials, but at the same time we’re all using a lot of it. It’s so hard to see all the plastic that is used, because you know that most of it isn’t going to end up in the right place – and, I mean, what is the right place for plastic? Even if it goes into landfill, there’s still a big problem.”

She adds: “Events like the Volvo Ocean Race have a big footprint, but it’s good that the Race organisers are trying to do a better job and build awareness.

“I really want people to change their ways of living, because we need to change. We’re in a part of history where we do need to change to be able to see the future.”


Overall Results (after 2 of 11 legs)
1. MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP), 14 points
2. Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA), 13
3. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA), 11
4. Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED), 7
5. Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED), 6
6. Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS), 5
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR), 2

Race detailsLive contentScoreboardRace routeFacebookYouTube

The next In-Port Race is December 8 in Cape Town, South Africa with the third leg starting December 10 for the 6500 nm course to Melbourne, Australia.

2017-18 Edition: Entered Teams – Skippers
Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED)
Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA)
MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP)
Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA)
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS)
Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR)
Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED)

Background: Racing the one design Volvo Ocean 65, the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicante, Spain on October 22 2017 with the final finish in The Hague, Netherlands on June 30 2018. In total, the 11-leg race will visit 12 cities in six continents: Alicante, Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg, and The Hague. A maximum of eight teams will compete.

Source: Volvo Ocean Race

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