The love Siri Østvold holds for the ocean, combined with a lot of curiosity and eagerness to learn, has resulted in many hours exploring both sides of the ocean surface. Recently she even became the Norwegian champion of freediving in the category called no-fins. Siri is also doing a lot to take care of the ocean – everything from small actions in her daily life, to having sailed across the Pacific ocean through a garbage patch in order to research micro plastics and explore solutions.
Who are you?
I am a curious girl with the will to learn and the need to explore, with a big heart for the ocean and its diversity of fascinating creatures.
Photo: Eleanor / Lark Rise Pictures
What are you doing these days?
I just returned home after a trip to Troms where I got the great opportunity of going freediving with orcas and humpback whales. It was an incredibly beautiful experience, and my energy level is sky high after having seen those powerful creatures. I am now putting that energy into a project about preventing urban littering, and also into a project examining an optimal design for a circular economy in the textile industry.
Together with a group of smart and committed people, I work as a business architect and designer in Æra Strategic Innovation. We hold strategic and design driven processes, that combine design, innovation, business development and sustainability. It is fantastic to be part of an environment that works with the big challenges in our society. Here I can use a wide spectre of my competence from design, and from life.
“The borders between the ocean and myself can evaporate – mentally and physically”
When did the ocean become important for you?
I grew up on the countryside near Hønefoss, but I have spent a lot of time in the mountains during winter, and at sea during summer. The experiences I have had in nature have shaped the values I hold today. Every summer holiday my parents would take my sister and I out on our 38-feet sailboat. We even got to be responsible for the sailing, like that time when we sailed over Skagerrak when I was seven and she was nine years old. I was also very fond of snorkelling and watching life under the surface. I could swim for hours, and sometimes I wished that I could be a seal. My experiences from being in the water along the coast of Norway, Sweden and Denmark has given me a longing for being close to sea. Close to the ocean. Preferably in the ocean.
I also lived a couple of years right next to the little harbour in Kabelvåg in Lofoten. The luxury of living in those surroundings, quite simple and uncomplicated, close to nature with mountains, oceans and weather, has also had its influence on the values I hold today.
What role does the ocean have in your life?
I seek the ocean for when I need space to think – to get an overview, find my focus, or change it. I surf to indulge in the elements and to be a part of them – observe and react. I freedive to be completely present. The borders between the ocean and myself can evaporate – mentally and physically. I think a lot of people can relate to how water can affect the body and mind. For me, experiences related to the sea are what give me energy, joy and calm.By the ocean I feel at home.
My love for the ocean has brought me to different coastlines around our planet to surf, freedive and get to know other people connected to the ocean. I think it is fascinating to find similarities and differences between different coastal cultures. In some island communities, taking care of the nature surrounding you is an essential part of the culture – it is after all their foundation of life. Those who gather their own food are more aware of how biodiversities are changing and how they are affected by different factors, and they take care of their local eco systems. It is inspiring to experience communities with a bigger understanding of how we are all part of a bigger cycle and ecosystem – an understanding that tend to disappear in a society where you can get everything you’d ever wish for with only two keystrokes, showing up on your door the next day.
“If I have a piece of plastic in my hand, I can vividly imagine it either floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with turtles, fish and albatrosses gathering food for their children – or in a recycle bin. It´s a simple choice”
Can you tell us a bit about when you sailed through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
My desire to explore and learn is most evident by the sea. Last year this desire of mine led me to go sailing from Hawaii to Canada, crossing the Pacific Ocean through what is popularly known as “The Great Pacific garbage patch”. We were 14 women from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds such as marine biologists, designers, teachers, advisor for circular economy and filmmakers. We collected samples of microplastic. We documented, learned about the different types of plastic, where it came from, what kind of toxins that had gathered in the pieces of plastic, and what organisms that grew on them. We lived a life where we only focused on sailing, each other and the plastic pollution, and it was wonderful. During the night shifts we had time to have quality conversations while we kept on sailing with the seafloor 3000 meters under us, and a starry sky over us. We became ocean-friends for live.
From sailing day and night for weeks, I got a new understanding of the extent of plastic in the ocean – the stretch of sea we sailed is so huge, and with the microplastics it could be described as a huge soup. Despite the extent of the problem being so big, the little things I can contribute with in my everyday life now means even more to me. If I have a piece of plastic in my hand, I can vividly imagine it either floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with turtles, fish and albatrosses gathering food for their children – or in a recycle bin. It´s a simple choice.
Photo: Eleanor / Lark Rise Pictures
What do you do to take care of the ocean? What does tavaha mean to you?
I like to share stories about my experiences by the sea, but also talk about the big challenges, like the impact of plastic and toxic pollution. I have also held talks about this, and there is a lot of power in storytelling. I also try to be up to date and learn about the advancement of solutions and technology, or new initiatives. It is inspiring, and also something I have good use of in my own work.
I also buy things of quality so that I can use them for a long time. I try to avoid single use plastic as far as it’s possible. I eat mainly plant based, food of the season, and I avoid food waste. I bike or use public transport to get around, and I am also aware of my electricity consumption. I take short showers, and sometimes I am more than happy to take them cold – fun things like these. It’s just some everyday habits.
Tavaha is for me awareness and an understanding of our ocean as foundation of life. At the same time it’s a word loaded with joy for the ocean!
Photo: Marthe Rekaa
What do you think is the biggest challenge we have to solve in order to save the ocean?
We have to get better at collaborating, share knowledge, experiences and technology across different disciplines and lands. I think this is the way the strongest solutions are made. And at the same time we have to emphasize the success stories and the exciting development that is happening.
What are your three #tavahatips to take care of the ocean?
- Money is your ballot – Every time you buy a product you can vote for taking care of the ocean! By veggies and fruits without plastic packing, sunscreen without toxic chemicals, and if you eat seafood: learn what had to happen for it to end up on your plate (Check out www.wwf.no/sjømatguiden)
- Buy less clothes – and when you need something, you can choose between renting, buying secondhand, and buying quality that lasts for a long time.
- Engage in your community – share what you know about the ocean with your friends, colleagues and family. It can lead to some good conversations and at the same time change peoples habits.
“We have to get better at collaborating, share knowledge, experiences and technology across different disciplines and lands”
What is your happiest ocean memory?
When I was splashing around in the ocean together with orcas and humpback whales, surrounded by mountains lightly covered by snow. It was an amazing feeling filled with life. One of the humpback whales swam towards me, dived down in front of me and elegantly did a turn with its huge body. After this experience I feel an even deeper respect of why we have to take care of the ocean.
Photo: Aleksander Nordahl, ettpust.com
Who are your everyday heroes?
All of the spectacular women I sailed over the Pacific Ocean with. I would like to mention Dr. Emily Duncan who is researching turtles, and what they ingest of micro- and macroplastics. Already at a young age, she has done groundbreaking work on this, with method development and evaluation.
And lastly, what would you like to thank the ocean for?
For being powerful, alive and moving – A role model for how we should be living our lives.