map maker rick earnest bonnierRick-Ernest Bonnier of Clean Ocean, member of the African Marine Waste Network

Rick-Ernest Bonnier, 27, wants to change the world. In particular, he wants to rid it of the scourge of plastic pollution that is enveloping marine life around the globe – and floating in the idyllic waters of his homeland, Mauritius.

Bonnier is, of course, not alone. Those who hear he has turned to crowdfunding to try and raise cash to perfect and scale up a prototype machine that will ‘attract’ surface and submerged plastic to gather in areas from which it can then be collected may raise an eyebrow. Bonnier doesn’t explain exactly how his machine works, and says that yes, the prototype still needs work. Currents, or water movement, “is one of my best friends,’ he says seriously. He’s tested his machine in an aquarium and a friend’s pool; ocean conditions will be dramatically different. He’s not an engineer; he’s working with volunteers and friends, and is seeking out technicians and welding workshops to help. Right now there isn’t much visual evidence of how the creation works, just a static shot that raises more questions than it answers.

All of which gives one pause for thought. No matter Bonnier’s sincerity, what are the odds that he will succeed?

But then consider Boyan Slat, 24, founder and CEO of the Ocean Cleanup, who dropped out of an aeronautical engineering degree to chase his dream. He plans to scoop plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch after concentrating it through the use of drifting barriers. By 2017, he had gathered donations and crowdfunding of some £31.5 million, and employed 65 staff. His invention was all set to be deployed to site on 8 September 2018. Both fans and critics will be watching the results.

At this stage, what Slat and Bonnier have in common is that they are dreamers. Bonnier was born in an inland Mauritius town, Curepipe. He had to travel to get to the beach. His father died when he was 15, making it impossible to pursue dreams of studying marine biology. A cousin at a dive centre helped him learn to dive in exchange for helping out, and the experience “triggered something”: a love for the oceans and the wonders they contain.

Bonnier began volunteering at a local marine conservation society, educating children about cetaceans and other creatures. Later he volunteered on studies to monitor pink pigeons and Mauritian kestrels. This led to other opportunities in endangered species protection. He participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Programme and a Long Now Foundation project. More recently, he worked for Wise Oceans, guiding and educating resort guests on snorkelling experiences.

Bonnier, in other words, has hustled to follow his heart. He hopes raising sufficient funds will allow him to test his clean-up machine in the ocean by year-end and shoot a video of it at work. He recalls that just over a decade ago, when he first started diving, you’d see far more large fish, sharks and biodiversity on the reefs. Since then, coral bleaching, crown-of-thorns starfish invasion and other pressures have taken their toll. “There are definitely less fish,” he says. And there is significantly more plastic pollution.

"The ocean is everything to me and I am sick of seeing marine animals dying due to trash in the ocean,” says Bonnier. “International ocean plastic pollution is devastating habitats.” His invention will, he plans, gather litter as well as smaller pieces of plastic that are entering the food chain.

Bonnier will have his critics, but there’s no denying his urge to try and contribute to change (his marine education alone will have spread ripples). As the Guardian said of Slat, who gets seasick on boats, “he may or may not have the solution to one of the planet’s greatest puzzles, but he’s doing something about it – and that’s better than nothing.”

Sometimes, one simply has to try.

See Are You on the Map? If you're part of any initiative that is aimed at keeping our seas around Africa clean, you should be. Our goal is zero waste to Africa’s seas by 2035.


The problem of plastic pollution is systemic

Published: 15-10-2018

Plastic is everywhere, in what we wear, covering the things and food we buy, in the tyres on which we drive, it’s even in the teabags we steep in water. We use it all the time in w... Read more

Recycled-plastic desks support local learning and …

Published: 23-04-2018

Two of South Africa’s leading plastic recycling names teamed up with the African Marine Waste Network to furnish a disabled care facility with eco-conscious desks and chairs. Thin... Read more

Norway and African Marine Waste Network team up to…

Published: 23-04-2018

Dr Tony Ribbink and Norwegian Ambassador HE Trine Skymoen made the big announcement on April 24th. The partnership will see a feasibility study conducted in Nelson Mandela Bay this... Read more

Dealing with Marine Waste - South Africa-Norway Sc…

Published: 08-02-2018

Last year, Dr. Tony Ribbink represented the African Marine Waste Network (AMWN) at the South Africa-Norway Science Week of 2017 (SW2017) during the Green Maritime Seminar. A plen... Read more

PETCO Communications Hub rising to meet the challe…

Published: 06-02-2018

Communication is the key to solving the issue of plastic waste; it raises awareness, promotes interest, shares knowledge and educates. This is why Dr. Tony Ribbink, Director of t... Read more

Where does my Recycling Go? Part 2: Converters

Published: 24-10-2017

Last week we looked at Material Recovery Facilities, the first stop for your recycling. This week we continue the story and show you how recovered plastics are recycled and turned ... Read more

Where does my Recycling Go? Part1: Material Recove…

Published: 17-10-2017

  This is the third installment of the AMWN Showcase. Read the first and second installments. Few of us consider the fate of the waste we produce once it passes ou... Read more

Microplastics on the Menu

Published: 11-10-2017

Image source: iStock This article is the second instalment of the AMWN’s On the ground Showcase series. Read the first instalment here. There’s no denying that plastic is ... Read more

PACKA-CHING set to pack a punch in the world of in…

Published: 04-10-2017

  This article is the first installment of the AMWN’s On the ground Showcase series. Want your initiative showcased? Email Read more about ... Read more

AMWN on Wits Science Inside Radio Show

Published: 13-09-2017

Dr Holly Nel and Tatjana Baleta of the African Marine Waste Network were interviewed by Wits “Science Inside” radio show in light of the recent plastic bag ban in Kenya. The show ... Read more

Sylvia Earle, SST patron, features on cover of TIM…

Published: 29-08-2017

Dr Sylvia Earle is name that for many needs no contextualising. An oceanographer, explorer, author and conservationist, she is known the world over as an icon of the ocean and am... Read more

Mobile Apps and Marine Debris

Published: 29-08-2017

 Mobile Apps for combating Marine Debris Mobile applications have the power to turn your phone into a handy pocket-sized tool for fighting marine debris. Data on types and ... Read more

News from the AMW Conference

Published: 14-07-2017

“Waste is a human problem. There is no waste in nature.” With these words Dr Sylvia Earle gave the keynote address at the inaugural African Marine Waste Conference last week in P... Read more

Boaz sets sail for Port Elizabeth

Published: 26-06-2017

And they’re off! The yacht Boaz set sail from Gordon’s Bay, Cape Town this Monday morning at 5:30am on high tide in good conditions. The yacht is due to arrive in P.E. on the 8th... Read more

Gabon announces creation of largest marine reserve…

Published: 15-06-2017

An eel slithers through coral patches off an oil platform in Gabon. Photograph by Enric Sala, National Geographic Creative   Last Monday Gabon lead the way for Africa and... Read more

Cellphone apps and GIS: A response to data deficie…

Published: 15-06-2017

Plastic is a revolutionary material. Nowadays it’s found nearly everywhere; from the containers keeping our food fresh, to the clothes we wear, to everyday home and office suppli... Read more

PETCO launches the Communications Hub for AMWN

Published: 07-06-2017

  SST is proud to announce that PETCO is generously sponsoring the PETCO Communications Hub of the African Marine Waste Network (AMWN), which has just been  launched.&... Read more

New Partnership with DPaPP

Published: 23-05-2017

 SST and the AMWN are excited to announce a new partnership with DPPAP. Establishing the Network means starting right here on our very own coastline: East to West and beyon... Read more

Do One Thing (DOT) Challenge

Published: 15-02-2017

Braam Malherbe together with rowing partner Wayne Robertson, set off on their epic 6700km unassisted rowing expedition to Rio de Janeiro, launching the DOT (Do One Thing) Challen... Read more

Buli G Ngomane

Published: 31-01-2017

TV Presenter on SABC 3's "The Power Within", Buli G has a prime-time radio presenting career in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng under her belt and is currently the Communications Exec... Read more

My Waste

Published: 13-01-2017

So you've decided to "go green." You've replaced your regular light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs and purchased recycling bins. You've even organised ... Read more

2017 Conference - New Speakers Announced!

Published: 08-12-2016

Sustainable Seas Trust and the African Marine Waste Network are excited to announce that Sylvia Earle, Jenna Jambeck, Kristian Teleki, Nancy Wallace, Hayley McLellan, Willemijn P... Read more

Unseen Danger: The Truth About Microplastics

Published: 25-11-2016

Images of plastic debris choking estuarine systems or spreading insidiously across the surface of the sea are commonly used to represent the issue of marine pollution - and for goo... Read more

Silence of the Sharks

Published: 08-06-2016

Concerned ocean users voice their support for the Silence of the Sharks underwater protest Read more

Concerned ocean

Published: 08-06-2016

Concerned ocean users voice their support for the Silence of the Sharks underwater protest Endorsed by UGU South Coast Tourism, the biggest underwater protest ever held in South A... Read more