Nelson woman Gael Gordon has been involved with organising an international beach clean up in honour of Sarah Auffret on what would have been her birthday – June 16. The Ruby Bay event is one of more than 60 beach cleanups being organised around the world.
The last time Nelson woman Gael Gordon and Sarah Auffret were together, they were picking up rubbish in remote parts of the Arctic.
This weekend, Gordon has organised a beach clean up in Ruby Bay to remember Auffret, who died after in the Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after take off trom Addis Ababa on March 10.
This Sunday would have been Auffret’s 35th birthday and Gordon said the beach clean up, which was being held in more than 60 countries, was a way of honouring the remarkable woman who dedicated so much of her life to advocating for the marine environment.
“It has just been amazing to see the reach that young woman had, literally across all the seven continents, it is just unbelievable.”
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Auffret was on her way to Nairobi to address a UN Convention about the state of the world’s oceans – with a focus on plastic waste – when the plane she was on crashed, killing all 157 people onboard.
Gordon said learning of Auffret’s death was one of the worst days of her life. She was at home when Auffret was confirmed on the news as one of the passengers on the flight.
“I don’t know how I will ever reconcile how someone like her perished, it doesn’t seem right that she is not with us.”
The women first met in Wales when they were both shortlisted for roles with the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust based at Port Lockroy, Antarctica. While Gordon missed out on a role, Auffret was successful and during the rigorous selection process, the pair forged a connection that would see them keep in touch.
Last year, they were reunited in Norway on a voyage to the Arctic where Auffret was expedition team member.
An environmental agent for the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, Auffret led the Clean Seas Project, which aimed to tackle the amount of single-use plastic used on polar expedition cruise vessels.
“It was lovely for me to see how much she had fully embraced her passion for the polar regions and particularly the environment from when I had met her six years previous. She had just flourished, she was incredible.”
She said Auffret instilled in everyone she encountered the importance of keeping the oceans free of plastic. Every time she went ashore with travellers, they took bags to collect whatever rubbish they came across.
“She had a lovely way with it, she never came across as preachy, she was always upbeat and made people actually want to go ashore and pick up rubbish.”
Gordon said it was sad to be in remote locations, uninhabited by humans and to see rubbish washing up on the beaches.
“During my visit to Norway and the Arctic, we collected all manner of waste items from discarded ship ropes, fishing debris, beverage containers, toothbrushes… the list was endless.
Since then, instinctively picking up rubbish had become second nature for Gordon, something she knows Auffret would have done.
Following her death, Auffret’s friends across the globe have joined forces to organise beach clean up events in her honour. Gordon said anyone was welcome to join the event at Ruby Bay.
“If you can’t make it, just go out for a walk on Sunday and pick up a bit of rubbish. Every bit makes a difference.”
Clean Up for Sarah at Ruby Bay – Sunday June 16 from 10am-12pm. Meet at the McKee Memorial Reserve, bring a rubbish bag, gloves and sensible shoes.