Project Ocean

Larger Than Us

By Laura Coleman, ONCA Director

It’s been exciting to partner with Selfridges Project Ocean over the last month, trying to be part of the sea change to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans. Now in its fifth year, Project Ocean 2015 has three key pledges:

  1. To encourage people to use less plastic, centred around the promotion of the reusable water bottle and water fountains rather than one off disposable plastic bottles.
  2. To ensure that all the fish served in Selfridges is from sustainable sources.
  3. To promote ‘donate as you dine’ in Selfridges restaurants, helping ZSL to expand the Selfridges Marine Reserve by 5 times, restore the UK’s oldest oyster beds and clean up 200 UK beaches.

I became truly engaged with the plastic problem a couple of years ago, after hosting a series of exhibitions at ONCA under the umbrella of INorganic – one of which was a supermarket recreated from plastic waste picked up off Brighton beach. Then, last November, I sailed across the Atlantic to see first hand the devastating amount of microplastic floating just underneath the ocean surface. Now, having attended Project Ocean’s series of events – and seen one of the biggest attempts to combat plastic pollution by a large scale retailer – I have learned that plastic, much like all our other environmental issues, isn’t a simple problem with a simple solution. It is not a question of just buying a reusable water bottle or placing your disposable one in the recycling. This helps of course, and I commend Selfridges for all that they are doing, and I recommend that everyone follow suit. However, the problem runs deeper than that, to the very core of how we locate ourselves on this planet and the stories that we tell about our position within it. We are part of a greater system – not above, beyond and outside it. If the ocean flounders, so will we. It’s environmental preservation, but self-preservation too. So go outside. Breathe the air. Taste the water. Go on a mini (or a massive) adventure. We cannot protect what we do not love and we cannot love what we do not feel connected to, so that’s my advice and that is what I am taking from Project Ocean 2015. Relish being a part of something larger than human, and throw yourself into this great creative challenge we are now facing – to readdress the balance and truly begin to restore an equilibrium that is within our grasp.

Laura will be leading ‘Art on the Edge’ in January 2016, a creative expedition on Pangaea Explorations marine research yacht Sea Dragon (currently to be seen in model version in Selfridges Ultralounge), learning about climate change and the challenges faced by Caribbean coastal communities due to rising sea levels. To find out more about joining this expedition, check out ‘Art on the Edge’ here.




ONCA meets….hiSbe

by George Pundek, Gallery Assistant

Have you ever been stood alone in the vacant aisle of a supermarket, apathetic and confused by the overbearing myriad of choices and products shoved in one’s face? Do you shake your head at the cosmetic approach to fresh food, and the sheer criminal volume of waste supermarkets dispense with daily? Luckily, you are not alone.


Last week I was lucky enough to meet Amy Anslow, co-founder and director of hiSbe, who joined me at ONCA to talk over the work she does. hiSbe, based in Brighton and standing for ‘how it Should be’, is a local independent supermarket that wishes to promote a better supermarket practise based on care, happiness, and zero-waste. Amy and Ruth, her co-founder and sister, were appalled at the wanton wasteful practises of national supermarkets, whose operations had eroded the importance of local communities, suppliers and economies necessary to the process.

They consequently set up hiSbe in 2013 as a solution, making sure fairness and happiness to staff, suppliers, and customers was fundamental to the operation. One way they achieve this is by shaping the stock around customers’ needs and by lowering their margins. This is not simply supply and demand, but an attentive, careful, responsible way of supplying stock that simultaneously means waste is minimised. An example of this approach is the giant feedback board in the store, where customers can write what they would like to be stocked, what they think should change, and what they would like to see. Thus by coming to hiSbe, customers are actively participating in an operation that delivers their needs foremost, while also maintaining responsibility for environmental impact. Additionally, hiSbe refuses to throw away food that is still fit for consumption, presenting it instead at the checkout for a reduced price. When I remarked about how the Real Junk Food Project goes about harnessing waste food for good, Amy smiled, and explained that although that is a good project, hiSbe simply has nothing to give because their practises insure minimal to zero waste.

hiSbe is neither a whole-foods or a health foods shop, but a model of sustainable supermarket practise. It was created through complete self-funding, and a crucial moment was the assistance of Gordon Roddick, former chairman of the Body Shop and co-founder of the Big Issue, who met Amy and Ruth at ONCA during the TruCost Super-M-Art exhibition. Roddick was very much interested in their project, and helped raise funds neccessary for hiSbe’s completion. 19 months later and hiSbe hopes to build a regional chain of ten stores in five years, expanding on their loyal client base and continuing their relationship with local suppliers, so the two can symbiotically grow alongside each other. Amy’s current role is to now support the team to help them self-manage and help expansion. Ideally, Amy’s vision is for a 30 year plan that could see hiSbe develop into a national chain, for she believes customers simply do not want to support businesses that increasingly don’t have a social mission. As Amy sees it, there needs to be more than not doing harm, supermarkets need to play an active role in changing the way things are done.


In regards to the specificity of Brighton as a place to open the pilot store, Amy says she always regarded the city as a perfect location given the existing embracing culture and hub for social enterprise and entrepreneurial work. Part and parcel of this involves collaborations in order to attain the full range of brands for customers, such as supplying fresh bread made at Silo.

Thus, what hiSbe embody is a progressive example of how the supermarket industry can survive by creating a harmony with customers and suppliers, which in turn shapes what is offered, prevents waste and saves money. hiSbe is also an example of how no problem is too big to take positive action against, even individually. This could be either Amy and Ruth’s decision to start hiSbe, or simply how being more attentive and careful in consuming on our part can truly shape the industry we buy in to.


Why Aren’t We Eating More Junk Food?

Image sourced from: www.facebook.com/realjunkfoodbrighton

By Emily Cowan, ONCA Volunteer

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about junk food. And no, I don’t mean burgers, hot dogs, or Kentucky fried chicken. The Real Junk Food Project is an organisation tackling current attitudes towards food waste, and founder Adam Smith set up the first original café in Leeds serving healthy meals on a “pay as you feel” basis, created from produce that would have otherwise been thrown away by supermarkets, grocers and food banks. More cafés have since popped up across the country in other cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh and, very conveniently, Brighton (just down the road from ONCA, in fact)

It is estimated that one third of all food produced around the world is wasted, a shocking amount considering global hunger issues. With hunger and food production drastically out of balance, things clearly have to change. The Real Junk Food Project provides a network for recycling the mass waste currently caused by the food industry, and tackles the regulations that have led to this imbalance in supply and demand.

Adam is targeting supermarket chains and restaurants to get them on-board, with Nando’s currently supplying all the chicken they use. However, it is not enough for supermarkets to simply donate their excess, as this does not address the root problem of over-production that they have caused in the first place. But it is a good start.

Whilst shaping new mentalities surrounding food sell-by dates and mass waste, the project is also creating an environment where money, profits and capitalism do not rule. For those who can’t contribute to the cost of their meal with cash, other exchanges are welcomed such as help with the washing up, enabling the homeless and less well off to eat a hearty meal and also get involved with the local community.

What’s more, not only does it provide meals for those who don’t have enough food, it also challenges those with surplus to really think about the way they are consuming. Living in a society with an abundance of fast food chains and supermarkets making absurd regulations – strict cosmetic standards for fruit and veg, for instance – it is easy to begin to view food as a disposable product rather than the fuel we need to live. The popularity of The Real Junk Food Project will hopefully cause people to look at their food differently, find ways to reduce wastage, and truly value what they have. No food should ever have to end up as junk.


We need to talk about chemicals

by Zoe Lonergan, Fundraising Assistant

It is ONCA’s mission to inspire creativity and positive action in the face of environmental change. So unsurprisingly, we found it extremely unsettling to discover a stack of numerous harmful-looking products tucked away in many corners of the gallery and upstairs centre. We had to do something about this!

On Wednesday the 15th of July ONCA team members held a ‘chemicals amnesty.’ All toxic looking products were brought down to the gallery and we began researching them. Everyone started to look at the listed ingredients of these products (many of which are common in every household) and found out what they contained, and if these chemicals were harmful.

The general consensus was that most of these products contained harmful chemicals which can be toxic to the environment. They were perhaps not as bad as initially thought but we did notice however that most products are unfortunately tested on animals, with only a few stating that they were animal-testing free. Many manufacturers who want to use ‘new’ ingredients or want to make sure their product is covered in labels such as ‘germ killing’ are required to test on animals which normally they would not have to do. For more information on this, check out ethical consumers website.

The products we were most shocked by was the furniture polish and aerosol cans. One piece of research regarding furniture polish points to its usage being linked with poor mental health states, while they can also irritate skin and breathing. Therefore we have decided to put a ban on all aerosol cans. A homemade polish using ¼ vinegar and a few drops of oil instead makes for a much better alternative.

After further research and discussion we tried to think about what other alternatives could be used instead of these products. Some of the team suggested that white vinegar and soda crystals are really good for cleaning absolutely everything! This is an eco-friendly and cheap alternative to many big branded cleaning products. It was also put forward that instead of using shop bought air fresheners we could make our own room scent, for example crushing rose with lavender and bicarbonate of soda. This would not only be better in probably smelling better and more natural, but could also be just as effective and would not require using an aerosol.

After the chemicals amnesty I was quite taken aback by what we had found so I began to conduct my own personal research. I discovered some shocking facts not only about the household products I use at home and work, but also that very similar chemicals are found in some of the make-up brands I use.  I was completely unaware about the overall hazards my make up could be causing to my health. EWG’s Skin deep website is a great tool to get to know what it actually is we are using and putting on our skin on a daily basis. Some of the concerns they flag up include the risks of cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity. They also rate these risks as high, medium or low for each product.

The message I wish to convey is for us to really carefully consider what we buy, what is has been tested on and whether there are any alternatives available.

Guest blog

Bioethics and Fashion

by Lilia Yip, Artist.

Bioethics. I roll the word on my tongue as I watch a bioethicist on YouTube question the future of a world where your DNA is data, just like where you live, what websites you visit and how you shop.  In 2012, I came across synthetic biologist Matthew Jones’ research into reflectin, a squid protein responsible for squid iridescence, and was awestruck by the beauty of the microscopic images of squid cells and reflectin.  Matthew was very generous with his time and research data, and our conversations about squids and synthetic biology began a journey that has led to SQUIDCUT

Fear and fascination. These feelings drive the creative process as people I encounter voice their memories of Kraken, the mythological tentacled sea monster, while licking their lips at the taste of calamari. Squids are revered, as evidenced by Mr. Kubodera, a Japanese zoologist who has spent his life chasing Architeuthis, the giant squid (finally catching one on film in deep water in 2013) yet one cannot find a single live squid at the Brighton Sealife Centre. “Squid? We serve them as food for the other marine animals” was the reply.


In 2010, President Barack Obama deemed synthetic biology such an important and sensitive area of science that he commissioned a Study of Bioethics to assess the risks and benefits of this emerging science. Synthetic biology seeks to apply the principles of engineering to the practice of biology and make possible the development of biological systems, including entire organisms that have never been found in nature and serve specified human purposes. The potential benefits this science could bring in areas of health, energy and the environment has propelled it forward and since 2012, the UK has made a substantial public investment -about £200m– to establish a network of synthetic biology research centres and to build a critical mass of research We embrace these new developments and yet there are real and valid concerns about the ethics of engineering nature, potential environment, health and safety risks associated with synthetically engineered organisms, concerns about ownership and control, and effects on existing sectors and workforces.  


The ethical boundaries of any new area of research are unclear, just as the future of this science is yet to be. Will synthetic biology offer us radical solutions to global problems or will it perpetuate our current unsustainable way of living?   The field for debate is open and all are welcome. 

For more information about SQUIDCUT:

Read an interview with fashion journalist Anna Battista as she reviews the exhibition.

Visit http://www.liliayip.com/squidcut

Project Ocean

Exploration to the Gyres

By Laura Coleman, ONCA Director

Last night at Selfridges, at the third in Project Ocean’s trio of plastic debates, oceans advocate and sailor extraordinaire Emily Penn led us on a journey of discovery through the five ocean gyres. In her words, at sea “life depends on your ability to respond and react to the changes in your environment”. And for Emily, when sailing around the world on the record-breaking biofueled powerboat Earthrace, she witnessed a staggering amount of ocean debris. It was this environmental change that she decided to respond to, and it was this that led her to change the course of her life. She now runs Pangaea Explorations, and curates year long programmes of expeditions on their 72 foot research sailing vessel Sea Dragon. As J.Y. Cousteau believed: “We must go and see for ourselves”. And this is what lies at the heart of Panagea Explorations, taking ordinary people out to sea, to witness and research the growing problem of marine plastic debris. And this is what lies at the heart of Selfridges’ exhibition also. A concept model of Sea Dragon is surrounded by five beautifully designed items, each of which are representations of the five ocean gyres, by artist duo Studio Swine. Using the power of the sun on board Sea Dragon in the Azores, Studio Swine melted down ocean plastic, in their hand cranked 3D printer, to create these items – turning the really “scary story” of marine plastic debris into something truly beautiful. Emily was asked last night: “What makes you hopeful?” In her reply she indicated Studio Swine, she indicated the outdoor philosopher Kate Rawles, she indicated the scientists and the educators and the ordinary people in the audience and her answer was: “Passion”. The passion of each and every one of us, in our individual disciplines, to come together and make something beautiful out of this mess we have created for ourselves. This is what happens on board Sea Dragon, this is what is currently happening in the Ultralounge at Selfridges, this is what we try to do every day at ONCA, and this is what we can all do, if we are passionate enough. We can turn the scary story of human consumption, expansion and destruction into an opportunity – a challenge, if you will, for the most creative species on this planet.


IMG_3555 2





From eXXpedition to Wangari Maathai: how ONCA is inspired by female explorers

by George Pundek, Gallery Assistant.

Back in November 2014, ONCA Director Laura Coleman set sail on eXXpedition’s first voyage, a three week journey across the Atlantic from Lanzarote, Canary Islands, to Martinique, Carribean. With an all-female crew comprised of, amongst others, scientists, artists, filmmakers, and designers, the voyage achieved valuable research regarding plastic and toxic pollution of the ocean. For as eXXpedition see it, exploration is key to engaging people in scientific narratives relating to the consumer choices they make, and specifically how the ocean’s health impacts us and our environment.



I learnt about Laura’s voyage soon after I joined ONCA, and was naturally inspired. Furthermore, eXXpedition’s aim to inspire a narrative of female leadership had me recalling an impressive and over-looked film I had recently seen. Tracks (2014), a true story, portrays Robyn Davidson’s 1976 solo walk across Australia, from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean, accompanied only by a dog and four feral camels (who she had spent the previous two years taming). The film wins on a combination of beautiful imagery and a grounded central performance by Mia Wasikowska as Robyn, and is a testament to individual spirit and risk. Davidson is shown to be uncomfortable with mass culture and the bustle of human activity, a moment perfectly captured in a slow zoom-in on her puzzled face amidst some friends’ heated discussion on politics. Her nine month walk thus becomes a personal renouncement of contemporary life and a method of reconnecting with the Earth. The myriad of hurdles she encounters on her journey often indicate the complex relationship between humans and the environment, whether they be the natural threat of bull camels; pollution left over from farming; the spiritual customs of the Aboriginal people; or tourism.

Being a personal journey rather than a research-based one, the exploration of the film is implicit. Yet, Davidson’s dogged stoicism and unassuming attitude in her journey, captured by Wasikowska’s pensive, brooding and subtle expression, is an inspiring message of individual harmony with the environment.

Although seemingly disparate, these two instances both concur with how ONCA is inspired by the endeavours of female explorers. For example, at the ONCA Centre the names of female pioneers adorn the doors of our offices. One is Wangari Maathai, whose name lends itself to our meeting room, and who has already been featured in many of our blogs. Maathai was a Nobel Peace Prize winning Kenyan environmentalist and activist who, through such work as the Green Belt Movement, established tree nurseries and public green belts while drawing attention to political oppression. So, although not an explorer in the traditional, conventional sense, Wangari Maathai was an explorer in her pioneering work and achievements.

Similarly, one of the offices upstairs is named after Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring was ground-breaking in bringing the dangers of pesticides to the American public. This incurred a flurry of support in the US, particularly the growth of grass-roots environmentalism, and led to the implementation of successive environmental legislation. By exploring a field, bringing it to everyone’s attention, and combating fierce opposition, Carson is in many ways behind ONCA’s ethos of inspiring positive action in the face of environmental change.

Thus ONCA is constantly inspired by women explorers in a plethora of fields, from the obvious to the oblique, and we, much like our partners eXXpedition, wish to simultaneously inspire a narrative of female leadership in environmental, artistic, and cultural exploration.

For information about expeditions and how to get involved, please visit our Expeditions page on the website.

Project Ocean

Loops and Cycles

By Laura Coleman, ONCA Director

There are cycles to this planet.  We learn about them in school.  Rock, carbon, water and nitrogen; they all flow in beautiful circles.  But there’s something else that flows too.  Waste.  More specifically plastic, in the context of Project Ocean’s second public debate.  Plastic flows through our water systems, through our food systems and eventually, as we ingest it, through our own bodily systems. We would be hard pressed to find somewhere to look on this planet where plastic is not.  But it’s pattern is not cyclical.  Plastic waste does not flow, as one might hope, in a virtuous closed loop, but with a hard linearity.  Last night Sophie Thomas, Director of Design at the RSA, brandished a handful of plastic toothbrushes she had collected off a Pacific beach, each containing about four different types of plastic – designed, as she explained, for ease of manufacturing rather than ease of demanufacturing.  These products are not made to have a second life, a third life, a fourth life… and this, as Dr Richard Thompson contributed, is because over sixty years, we have been trained to see the worthlessness of plastic as a product, rather than the worth of it as a material. So we must break that training – but how?  Philip Law, the Director General of the British Plastics Federation, puts the onus on the consumer, saying that one use plastic is only produced because there is a demand for it.  And he says that Selfridges’ focus on the plastic water bottle is a “flawed attempt to combat [the complexity of] marine litter” – due to the fact that actually, the water bottle is – as an example of PET plastic, eminently recyclable.  This may be true, but as explorer Paul Rose – chair for the evening – and Jonathon Porritt, from Forum for the Future, agree – this platform that Selfridges have created, with the emblem of the water bottle at its centre, is simply a launchpad – and a powerful one at that.  The plastic problem is big.  It is off the charts in its complexity.  And our conversations about it – so nicely put by Alannah Weston, Deputy Chairman of the Selfridges Group, go around and around and around – just as the ocean gyres do.  We offload the problem down the line, from the consumer to the retailer to the producer to the politician, just as we offload our one use toothbrushes unwittingly into the ocean currents.  Last night’s debate – THE PLASTIC BOTTLE POLLUTION SOLUTION – did not have a conclusion, but it had a mission, and that was to take the conversation out of the room.  Because ocean plastic is not going to be fixed by Alannah Western, or Philip Law, or Jonathon Porritt by themselves.  It will only be fixed if we do it together, if agency overcomes passivity – “Complexity is the worst enemy of agency, but within all that complexity is creativity” (J.Porritt).  If we, consumers in a developed world with access to clean tap water, buy reusable water bottles.  If we take this problem creatively into our hearts and out into our worlds – into our workplaces, universities and city councils, to our planning boards, with the hope of installing water fountains in every public building, to port authorities, to artists and to local MPs.  Selfridges say lets have a plastic water bottle free London – and so I say Brighton, let’s do it first!




Talking Trash with Cat Fletcher

By Zoe Lonergan, Fundraising Assistant

On Tuesday 21st July, I attended Cat Fletcher’s event ‘Conversation Cafe – Cat Fletcher talks rubbish’ at the Marwood Cafe in the Brighton Laines.  The event was run so that the people attending could engage with issues surrounding the themes of reuse and circular economy.

Cat Fletcher is the powerhouse behind the fantastic site Freegle, where people can arrange to give away their unwanted things to someone else who really needs or wants them, all for free! This is not only great for the people involved, but also the environment, as it means the object doesn’t go into landfill, or an incinerator.

At the cafe, the discussion was led by Cat who sprung some surprising facts on us. She told us that Brighton and Hove’s level of recycling falls greatly below the national average of 42% at a disappointing 25.2%. Considering Brighton’s Green reputation, I could not understand why this was.

Cat outlined some examples of where things are going wrong. At this years ‘The Level Summer Festival’ an event that you may have attended, 20 bins were placed across the park, but only a small minority were recycle bins. This seems rather ridiculous as the majority of things thrown away during this festival were plastic/glass bottles or cans, and despite attempts to save the situation, unfortunately most of this waste wrongly got sent to landfill.

When looking at the bigger picture, Cat mentioned that the nature of our capitalist society plays a big part in why our carbon footprints may be high. Since the 1970s consumption has risen, and we are a nation obsessed with buying new things. Before this, recycling had been prevalent throughout history in our society. In war times when people had little money, hand-me-downs and reused good were extremely common. It is only in recent decades that we have seen this surge in consumerism and a lack of responsibility from many people and corporate businesses who should do more to ensure their waste does not unnecessarily get sent to landfill. We have become a nation obsessed with ourselves and our lifestyles, not the planet!

So after this stimulating talk and discussion, I left the cafe with a slight feeling of anger towards contemporary societal values. It is human beings who are destroying our planet, and it is human beings who can save our planet. I think it’s important that we all do our bit in terms of recycling and reusing things and try to stop buying into a consumerist society. This is similar to the vision of Wangari Maathai, a woman very close to the heart of Onca. She believed that everyone should do the best that they can, and while it may not look like a lot overall, if everyone has this attitude, then change will happen. if we all do our bit then we could improve Brighton and Hove’s recycling levels, and set an example for others to follow.

An exciting upcoming series of free events called ‘The C-Side Challenge’ is about to launch in Brighton and Hove.  This is a programme of workshops targeted at inspiring conversation and collaboration around ensuring that we collectively create a cleaner, greener future for our community and embrace the principles of One Planet Living. This is a good opportunity to do something about the issues I have talked about in this blog post, if you’re interested. Also, I would like to hammer home that if you come across something you don’t want, think of ways to reuse the object or contact Freegle – don’t just throw things away!

Another way to get involved is through letter-writing. At Onca we are looking into holding letter-writing workshops in the near future; we feel there is something very special about a handwritten letter. We had been reminded at a previous event led by Nick Mole from PAN-UK of the power of letter writing. If you want to do more, write to big corporations, supermarkets and anyone else you see fit. Positive Action!


ONCA hosts Old Tree Brewery’s drink-making workshop

by Zoe Lonergan, Fundraising Assistant

On the 16th of July, Old Tree Brewery came to ONCA to demonstrate to a group of our volunteers how to make some fermented drinks. In a recent blog we detailed and discussed Old Tree’s ethos and approach, and this had consequently left me anticipating the drinks-making workshop to be a long and complicated process. However, within an hour we had each very simply made two different pro-biotic soft drinks: water Kefir and Kombucha.

Firstly we were shown how to make water Kefir. This is first cultured by using a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) which is placed into a jug of sugar water. These metabolise sugar and contain gut-friendly bacteria and a variety of organic acids and enzymes. Extra nutrients were then added to the mix: 4 tbsp of raisins/sultanas, and half a lemon to help drop the pH of the freshly brewed mixture. We then added the optional ginger and any other fruits of our choice, before securely  covering with a muslin and placing onto our newly built fermentation station. Surprisingly, we were told that the mixture only needs to be left for 48-72 hours depending on the temperature (ideally around 20 degrees Celsius). Aclue that the fermentation is well underway is when the raisins/sultanas begin to float to the top of the jar.


Once the Kefir had been made, we then moved on to the Kombucha, known in China as ‘the elixir of life’. Kombucha is a fermented, sweetened tea which tastes similar to sparkling apple cider and champagne, depending on what kind of tea you use. Kombucha is made by fermenting tea and sugar combined with a SCOBY. The yeasts in the SCOBY convert the sugars into ethanol while the acetobacter converts this ethanol into acetic acid. In addition, it is thought that at least 75% of the tea’s caffeine is consumed during the fermentation process.

Once the drinks had been made and we had partaken in a ceremonious walk to the fermentation station- with our drinks in hand- it became clear how simple and low-input fermentation can be! Unfortunately, in the society we live in, the mass production of food made with shelf-life and profit in mind often results in food being rendered lifeless, nutrition deficient and unhealthy. Fermented drinks however help with your overall health as they restore good digestion. Water Kefir does everything from improving your skin and nails to cleansing your liver; while Kombucha has been linked to fighting cancer, arthritis and other degenerative diseases.

Therefore, it now seems surprising that more people don’t make them at home. Perhaps this is down to many of you having the same preconceptions as I did, such as fearing that I wouldn’t be able to make them as well as shop-bought versions, or that I wouldn’t have time to make them. Yet actually the recipes are simple and take no time at all to make, while the SCOBY only needs to be purchased once and can be reused from then on.IMG_0556

This made me think about how ingrained it is in our society to buy and consume rather than to produce ourselves, and how we throw things away rather than re-using them. The workshop taught me a lesson, and how we can all learn things from the Old Tree, who are also the botanical brewery of Silo, the inspired zero-waste restaurant and pre-industrial food system in the North Laines.

I hope, in doing this blog, that I am passing on the knowledge I acquired at the fermented soft drinks workshop, and that this encourages you to try fermentation yourselves at home.

Water bottles across history - and none are plastic!
Project Ocean

A Sea Change

By Laura Coleman, Onca Director

Our oceans are full of plastic, and fragments of fishing nets, bottle lids, microbeads and cotton buds are some of the most dangerous things that lurk in the deep.  Yesterday was the first in a series of events this summer run by Selfridges Project Ocean, the Zoological Society London and a host of other amazing partners in the Ultralounge at Selfridges, in an effort to rethink the stories we tell ourselves about plastic.

I have been lucky enough to sail across an ocean on Pangaea Exploration’s research yacht Sea Dragon – a model of which sits centre stage in the Ultralounge, created by artists Studio Swine and Andrew Friend.  With a crew of 14 women, I sailed the Atlantic last November, looking for plastic.  Every day we put out our trawling nets and every day, the nets came up full.  To the naked eye, the blue water looked pristine, but in actual fact we were sailing through a plastic soup.  Through the gyres – the five major rotating systems of our oceans’ currents, it is common to pick up over 250 tiny pieces in one 30 minute trawl.

Given that the amount of plastic humans produce per year is greater than the weight of the entire human population, I should not have been surprised to feel that our oceans contain more plastic than fish.  Plastic has only been around for about 100 years, and yet each piece will survive for at least another 1000 – buried in landfills, swallowed by birds, or floating on the currents of the Atlantic.  We throw it away, but there is no true ‘away’.  And so although plastic in itself is not dangerous – it can be beautiful, powerful and even lifesaving – it is our unwillingness to place true value on it that is the dangerous thing.  But we are a consumer driven society with an obsession with “throw away” goods, so how do we break the cycle?

Selfridges’ Project Ocean have chosen to use the plastic water bottle as their way in.  As Jane Withers, the curator of Selfridges’ exhibition, says: “Vessels to contain water are as old as thirst itself,” and if you visit the Ultralounge, you will see Withers’ curated collection of water carriers throughout history and none are made of plastic.  But now the UK uses over 5000 plastic water bottles every 15 seconds, and approximately only 24% of these are recycled.  So this summer, Selfridges have stripped their food hall of these water bottles, and in their place are reusable alternatives – encouraging consumers to buy, keep and value, rather than discard.  This, Project Ocean hopes, will inspire a “sea change”, sparking a fire for other retailers to follow.

But we need more than that – we need conversations to fan the flames of these sparks.  And that’s what yesterday’s event was about – bringing together a host of projects and people.  We heard from initiatives like Net-Works, that turns discarded nylon fishing nets into carpet tiles; Trash Hunters, a citizen science app that turns trash hunting into a corporation ‘name and shame’ game; and the Plastic Soup Foundation’s ‘Beat the Microbead’, that targets microplastics in beauty products.  It is these kinds of collaborations, these stories that bring together consumers, politicians, artists, scientists, designers and businesses, centering on positive, proactive solutions – it is these stories that have the power to drive us towards the tipping point, and to foster a real sea change in each and every one of us.

This is the first in a series of four Friday blogs, centred around this summer’s events at Selfridges’ Ultralounge.  Onca is partnering with Selfridges Project Ocean to be part of the sea change to reduce plastic pollution in our precious oceans.

The sea change at Selfridges



Onca talks Wind Power

By Emily Cowan, Onca Volunteer

Image sourced from Wikimedia.org

By 2018 the Sussex sea view will paint the picture of a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable future, as plans are in place for a 116-turbine offshore wind farm to be built along the coast. It’s time to talk wind power.

As you may be aware, wind power, unlike coal, natural gas, petroleum and uranium, is a renewable source of energy. And unlike the use of fossil fuels, it does not pollute the atmosphere with harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, which contribute to major problems such as global warming and acid rain. This is why the current governments plans to cut subsidies for onshore wind farms makes us let out a long, gusty sigh, as 1,000 other planned projects for new wind farms may just end up as a load of hot air.

The wonderful thing about wind power is that we don’t have to worry about it running out; as long as the sun shines, we have wind. As the Earth’s surface absorbs the heat from solar radiation unevenly, the resulting hot air rises and cooler air fills the space in-between. This movement of air then creates wind. The force of wind against the blades of a turbine causes them to spin, transforming the kinetic energy into mechanical energy, which can then be made into electricity by a generator. And once these wind turbines are up and running, it is a relatively cheap way of producing energy, with no risk of emissions of harmful gases into the environment. What’s not to like?

Some argue that wind turbines are aesthetically displeasing, a risk to birds and bats that collide with the blades, and also complain of the noise generated by wind farms. But newer designs ensure that noise pollution is kept to a minimum, and Spanish energy start-up Vortex Bladeless have even designed turbines without the need for the three spinning blades. Instead, energy can be used from the vibrations of a singular post similar to that which normally forms the base structure of a typical wind turbine.

Success stories like that of Denmark, which in one day managed to produce 140% of its energy needs with wind power, is what we should be aiming for. It will even save us money, as it is estimated that British consumers will spend between 2 and 3 billion more pounds in energy bills should the plans for more wind farms be scrapped.

The Guardian’s campaign ‘Keep it in the ground’ targets investors in oil, gas and coal companies, urging them to stop funding the biggest cause of climate change. The chilling campaign video points out that if we were to burn the fossil fuel reserves that have already been discovered, without even including any that are currently being sought out, so much carbon would be released in the process that “catastrophic climate change” would occur.

In 2012, climate change activist group Liberate Tate, who actively oppose BP’s sponsorship of The Tate Gallery, brought a 16-metre wind turbine blade into Tate Modern as a symbol of their disregard for the gallery’s association with such a huge force in the market for non-renewable energy. This year the group acted again, occupying Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall for a full day and night, and covered the floor with messages about climate change concerns.

These artistic displays of real passion for the future of our planet emphasise that Onca’s mission – to inspire creativity and positive action in the face of environmental change – can succeed in causing people to think differently, and to become more aware of the issues affecting the environment around them.

So, although others may oppose the plans for the Rampion wind farm along the Sussex coast, perhaps for its aesthetic and the idea that it might spoil the sea view, I personally will be proud to look out to sea and gaze at the vision of a more sustainable future. And with a greater shift towards renewable energy sources over the burning of fossil fuels, that future really could be a possibility. Isn’t that beautiful?


Onca meets… Old Tree Brewery

by George Pundek, Gallery Assistant

Here’s a question for you: why is it that restaurants together offer a vast and varied spectrum of food, yet offer only a very limited drinks menu? One could recite the soft drinks options off by heart, for example, and most of which are either owned by Coca-Cola or Pepsico. This question was put to me by Nick from Old Tree Brewery in our conversation at Silo last month, and proved a crack in my naive perception of our drinking habits. For, as Nick would explain, today’s drinking culture has led to a disjuncture and disinterest between us and our environment over the past 100 years, and it is Old Tree Brewery’s mission to change this.

Who are Old Tree Brewery? Old Tree are a drinks making collective. They produce botanical and nutritional drinks by fermenting and brewing local fresh produce either deemed not fit for retail or foraged in the local environment. Comprised of NickTom, and Will, the drinks are then supplied to wherever they are needed, which is currently and predominantly Silo, Old Tree’s current base.


How does this benefit the environment? Old Tree’s drink-making is a method of preservation against the wasteful operation of food consumption inherent in our society. As Nick made clear, drink-making marries creativity and care for the local environment through processes such as foraging and networking. Old Tree’s ‘end of the pipe’ approach is just one example of resourcefulness and sustainability against our over-producing yet under-consuming society, for it upcycles natural products that would otherwise be lost to our current wasteful food operation.

How does this relate to the community?  Old Tree are symbiotic with the local community in how they endeavour to use what is surplus to local suppliers at the end of any given week. Meanwhile, the bi-product of Old Tree’s fermentation is often supplied to local chefs and bakers to use in their products. Similarly, Old Tree are supported by a growing group of friends and volunteers, while also collaborating with local groups such as the Real Junk Food Project, and now, Onca.

Old Tree’s vision:

Old Tree doesn’t want to be a centralised, hierarchical company like other drink companies or breweries, for this has resulted in a disconnection between us and the land. Fermentation and brewing requires, at its heart, a hands-on approach with nature through the use of natural products and the harnessing of natural-occurring bacteria. Yet mechanisation and mass-production in the drinks industry has severed this connection, resulting in diminishing quality and the art of brewing being lost. Nowadays, alcohol too-often has an unfortunate association with violence, excess, and bad behaviour. But through a small-scale local approach, Old Tree aims to reconnect people with nature by breaking down the spaces between creation, distribution, and consumption.

Indeed, part of Old Tree’s aim is to reinvest any profit made from drink-selling back into forestry and the landscape. The way Nick sees it is if humans increased their participation with farming and the land, then the involvement of pesticides, artificial fertilisers and even GM could decrease by balance. Perennial agriculture is an example of the kind Old Tree looks to, for it involves little input and great reward, while eliminating the need for constant harvesting that erodes and stresses the soil.

How do they find funding?

Old Tree are all personally invested in the project having started with no loans or ties to financial institutions. As a result, they are not under pressure to pay off loans or make decisions that are purely motivated by money. After taking enough only for a basic living for the team, Old Tree put their profits towards the pursuit of land for the planting of perennial crops, educational workshops on forestry and fermentation, and further networking.

What does the future hold for the drinks industry?

Nick would like the drinks industry on the whole to involve more conscious drink-making, such as a refill culture over a recycle culture. For recycling, despite its benefits, is only a temporary solution that can fall victim to the inaction of the general public, while also being extremely energy intensive. In a refill culture however Nick believes people would be made to think when they buy, to think about how they can individually make a change.

Ideally, the future would also see many local groups operating like Old Tree all over the country, rather than one centralised, national system. Nick believes this is definitely achievable given that each collective survives on the input of their local community, thus transgressing class and socio-economic background, and making every group intrinsically unique to the community in which it operates. The result will hopefully be a de-centralised drink-making model that re-invests profits back into the land in a low-tech, low-input way.

Until then however, Old Tree will continue to brew their fantastic drinks from Silo (the elderflower champagne is a must), and hope to hold workshops at Onca in the near future. To register your interest, please contact info@onca.org.uk


Onca visits… Natural History Museum’s ‘Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea’

Image sourced from: www.industrytap.com

By Emily Cowan, Volunteer

The Natural History Museum’s current exhibition Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea transports you to an environment more bustling and vibrant than Borough Market, but with even more fish. Dive in at the deep end via a trio of giant screens that create a virtual reef experience, allowing you to get up close and personal with the turtles, and swim amongst the seahorses. Study Darwin’s original maps locating these diverse ecosystems. And lastly, gaze in wonder at an aquarium that holds more water than 40 bathtubs, full of live corals and exotic fish.

Despite the breath-taking natural beauty and comical comparisons of the coral reefs to our own societies (the giant barrel sponge plays the role of bin man, and the pink skunk clownfish the security guard), the exhibition addresses the darker side to coral reefs, which must not be forgotten amongst the colour. These secret civilisations are under threat, and their gradual destruction will have catastrophic consequences.

Coral reefs are home to 25% of all marine species, and provide food and resources for over 500 million people whilst protecting our shorelines from waves, storms and floods. Yet we continue to damage them through overfishing, polluting the oceans and coastal development.

Climate change is another serious threat, for when sea levels and temperatures rise or fall too much the specific environment needed by coral reefs is consequently disturbed. If oceanic temperatures change too drastically, or coral becomes overexposed to sunlight and air during extreme low tides, then algae abandons the coral tissue. This results in coral bleaching, and as algae provide the colour and main source of food for corals, bleaching effectively means coral starves to death.

The exhibition’s message is clear: we must actively prevent the destruction of coral reefs. Not only for the incredible array of species living in these ecosystems, but also for the vital role they play in protecting the seas and land. The more parts of the world that become Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the lower the threat to coral reefs, as harmful fishing techniques are prohibited, and pollution and coastal development better regulated.

We can all help by choosing to instead purchase sustainably sourced fish, and being generally conscious of what and how much we consume. By becoming more aware of the ways in which our personal choices affect the planet, we can choose to live more sustainably and try as best we can to not contribute to climate change.

Coral reefs, like many other parts of the natural world, need to be protected from the negative impact that human living has on the environment. These secret cities are not ours to disturb.

Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea will be running at The Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London until 13 September 2015.


Blog, Soil

Talking waste and composting with Jo Glazebrook

By Zoe Lonergan, Fundraising Assistant and Gary, Volunteer

Composting provides a nutritious source of food for our gardens, and it all comes from kitchen and garden waste. This natural process, is a valuable and easy way in which we can do our bit for the environment and help send less waste to landfill.

It enriches soil by helping to retain moisture whilst suppressing plant diseases and pests. It works in two ways: the initial layer of compost can be dug in manually to help break down the soil. Organic matter and nutrients can be added to the soil to make it more moisture retentive, which also helps plant roots to establish quickly and find the food they need for healthy growth.

Then a mulching layer (2 – 4 inches thick) evenly spread over the surface can be added to slow down evaporation from the summer sun and wind and act as an insulating layer through the winter months, worms will naturally help take the mulch down into the subsoil in their daily duties of being worms.

Composting is not just good for our gardens, but also for our planet. It means less methane and harmful greenhouse gases seep into our environment, damaging the Earth’s atmosphere. Instead, composting breaks down waste aerobically, which is much better for the natural world.

We invited Jo in to the ONCA garden from Brighton and Hove Food Partnership and got some useful tips about how we could compost effectively here.

Brighton and Hove Food Partnership are a not-for-profit organisation that delivers a range of community projects such as tips and advice about reducing food waste at home.

Firstly Jo suggested that we add layers of cardboard to our compost to create a lasagna effect. This should reduce the need to frequently turn it. So all the used toilet rolls, flyers and shredded paper can go in to the mix.

We were also advised not to throw away any egg shells or cooked food. The eggs shells may attract rats. They love the oil from the egg whites, so if you want to compost them definitely give them a wash first! As for cooked food, we shouldn’t be throwing this away because we should be eating it!

It is Brighton and Hove Food Partnership’s ethos to encourage people not to waste any cooked food where possible. Maybe you could give your leftover cooked food to a colleague or save it for lunch tomorrow, wasting cooked food is thoroughly discouraged.

Jo also mentioned that we should introduce worms to our compost because they are a catalyst for breaking down the food and garden waste. They also help to aerate soil, by continuously moving around. They find their way to the top of the soil and take down mulch into it.

In terms of time-scale, she thought our black composting bin would be ready in 9 months, especially as we are composting over the summer. Everything will get cooking in the heat!

Jo informed us that there are lots of local businesses who are using composting schemes such as Silo, a local restaurant, bakery and coffee house with a zero-waste policy. They state that their composting machines turn all of their scraps and trimmings directly into a compost used to produce more food.

Here at ONCA we are planning some great things for our composting system. Our volunteer Gary has generated some ideas for our compost bin. He has suggested that we could put a toughened safety glass on one side of the bin as an educational tool to show people how composting is done. However, as a compost bin needs darkness, (because micro-organism’s prefer these conditions to flourish) we’d need to add a curtain or shutter to it.

These ideas will be discussed further in the coming months.

This is very exciting for us as ONCA’s mission is to foster and inspire a greater understanding of ecology. And what better way to do this than in our own back yard! We hope that this blog has inspired you to take action and start using a composting bin if you have not already! It is a very rewarding thing to do.


Brighton Green Drinks with PAN-UK

By Zoe Lonergan, Fundraising Assistant


Over the years it has become apparent that there are more and more negative consequences associated with the use of pesticides. From links to cancers and birth defects, to killing off certain species, it is clear that the use of pesticides can be dangerous.

According to Rachel Carson’s seminal book ‘Silent Spring’, it all started with fox deaths in the 1950s. By the early 60s many birds were being killed due to use of pesticides, including predators like owls who were found with mercury and other chemicals in their bodies. This seemed to be due to the fact that they were eating rodents or insects in the gardens of London, which had been contaminated by these deadly toxins.

Sadly, because of pesticide use, we have seen the disappearance of some animals. Cuckoos have become scarce, because their staple diet of caterpillars has been depleted. There are also less songbirds due to an insect and worm shortage, and of the little left of this food, most is poisoned.

On Wednesday the 24th of June, Lauren and I headed to the Lord Nelson Inn for ‘Brighton Green Drinks’. This month’s talk was led by Nick Mole of PAN-UK.

Nick highlighted how widespread the use of pesticides is: there is no way we can escape them! The most widely used pesticide by the council is glyphosate, which is particularly harmful to children and nursing mothers, yet it is sprayed all over our parks, playgrounds and schools.

Pesticide use can be replaced by many other safer, ecological and more cost-effective techniques.  Flame, foam or hot water treatments and hand weeding could be used instead. So if there are better alternatives out there, then why are we not using them?

Perhaps we are just lazy. Many major cities in the world have significantly reduced or even stopped the use of pesticides in their public spaces, for example Paris, Copenhagen and Seattle. France, in particular has hundreds of towns and villages which are or are becoming pesticide free zones.

PAN-UK are a Brighton-based charity tackling the problems caused by pesticides, and are leading the way to make Brighton and Hove the first pesticide free city! They have already done some amazing things such as helping 5000 cotton-growing farmers in West Africa and Ethiopia to start using organic production.

They have also been raising awareness of how bees are affected by pesticides. There are 40 pesticides which are toxic to bees. Honey bees pollinate one third of everything we eat, and so are vital to humankind.

One interesting thing mentioned in the talk was that lobbyist and ex-Greenpeace member, Dr. Patrick Moore, claimed that a pesticide manufacturer’s product is safe to drink, and then refused to drink it.

Surely he knows all of the ingredients in this “safe” concoction as he currently works in PR for polluting companies. Refusing to drink it clearly means that these chemicals are not fit for human consumption. Imagine what it is doing to nature and wildlife.

The point is, if pesticides are causing this much harm, and if other places are surviving perfectly without them, then why can’t we do the same here in the UK?

PAN-UK are continually putting pressure on governments, regulators, policy makers, industry and retailers, and you can do the same by writing letters and signing petitions!
Everyone needs to get involved, otherwise, in the words of the great scientist Rachel Carson, “we will continue to contaminate the entire environment and bring the threat of disease and death to mankind.”


ONCA meets… Ken Eklund

Image: ONCA Creative Producer Persephone Pearl with Ken Eklund

by George Pundek, Gallery Assistant

Ken Eklund is a man of many words, talents, and interests. An interactive play and game designer, Ken is the mind behind authentic fiction experiences such as World Without Oil and FutureCoast, the latter of which will be coming to Brighton and ONCA this autumn in the shape of FutureCoast Youth. These projects are essentially story-telling games that allow immersive and playful explorations of pertinent issues, such as climate change or education. Ken visited the ONCA Centre on Thursday 18 June and sat down to discuss questions about his work and his ideas.

One concept our conversation covered was the genre of ‘cli-fi’, or climate fiction. As environmental issues grow ever more pertinent, cli-fi, an off-shoot of science-fiction, has prominently emerged as a genre posing important questions about our future’s environmental fragility. Ken regards Margaret Atwood as the “shining star” of climate fiction, and talked on the fundamental participatory nature of the genre that marries so well with his own projects.

We also discussed COP21, the United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris this December. Ken noted the marked difference between the top-down/bottom-up approach of environmental action, and the unfortunate slow-pace that this entails. However, Ken recognised that Paris is an opportunity for people to make their voices heard, and that the emergence of climate fiction is further proof that acceptance and realisation of pressing environmental issues is growing and increasingly becoming part of the zeitgeist.

Ken was visiting ONCA ahead of the launch of FutureCoast Youth in September, an extension of the FutureCoast project that launched in 2014 in the US. In partnership with the University of Brighton Media School and Dorothy Stringer School, FutureCoast Youth will incorporate ONCA artists, University of Brighton volunteers, and GCSE Environmental Science students to create a climate change delegation from the future that will become a young people’s Climate Conference to coincide with COP21. More information will soon be available on the ONCA website.

The video of the interview will be uploaded shortly, as will more “ONCA meets…” interviews.



ONCA goes to… Brighton Eco Technology Show 2015

by George Pundek, Gallery Assistant

Although reluctant to escape the welcome June sunshine, Alice and myself made our way to the Eco Technology Show at Falmer’s AmEx stadium on Thursday 11 June. Consecutive stalls were decked out with a diverse range of environmentally related products, from new modes of transport to drainage and roofing.

A stall that immediately drew us in was Sea Shepherd. As many will know, Sea Shepherd are a non-violent, direct action group active since 1977, founded by one of the original members of Greenpeace, Captain Paul Watson. It was interesting to discuss with them how they operate, and what current projects Sea Shepherd UK are specifically working on. One of these is a project involving the salmon farms in Scotland, where Sea Shepherd are currently trying to protect seals from being illegally shot by salmon farmers.



Elsewhere there was the Dytech stall, whose Flow-Teq drainage clearer uses sound vibrations to locate and solve problems in drainage, helping businesses manage their waste. Examples of companies using them included a hospital in Australia and an apartment block in Los Angeles. There was also the flashy Tesla electric car, whose shareholders recently sought for the company to make the car a vegan friendly vehicle in not having leather seats. Particularly eye catching was Project 42’s self-balancing unicycle:


We also spoke to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), who offer short courses in a range of ecological fields such as sustainable woodland management, building with sustainable materials, mushroom identification and cultivation.

It was certainly an array of sights, yet there seemed a looming elephant in the room. This was the fact that, minus the likes of Sea Shepherd and CAT, the show’s focus was more on simply replacing existing products with green versions,  in a type of eco-conversion and green consumerism slant. This seemed almost oxymoronic, and it was a shame not to see more stalls promoting alternate ways of living rather than simply replacement appliances. It seemed a missed opportunity for such an event not to really engage in a conversation about what needs to change in our lifestyle.


This week at ONCA: University of Brighton presents “The Altostratus Collective”

by George Pundek, Gallery Assistant

This week began with last week’s excellent University of Brighton exhibition Sound and the Urban Environment being quietly dismantled. Yet within a few hours, the Altostratus Collective, themselves a Brighton University group, soon took over the gallery space and transformed it into their own unique world. Contrasting to the visual minimalism of last week’s exhibition, the gallery was filled with eccentric objects being used in diverse ways, from bin bags and tents to shaving cream and scourers.

The group are creating an interactive installation for Friday 12 June at 2pm, where the public will be welcomed into a creative art party to wander and engage in the surroundings. The group are experimenting in the process of play and engaging in how different collaborations and disciplines can produce alternative results to traditional methods of work. This approach could thus, hypothetically, offer forward-thinking and resourceful approaches to issues such as education and the environment. The group were overseen and coordinated by the artist Tine Bech, who specialises in the concept of play.

This follows on from a previous residency by the associated University of Brighton group PAVA (Performance And Visual Arts) in March of this year, who experimented with modes of performance in our space to express themselves in new and different ways.  It was the first time they’d had the freedom of an external space to work in, and consequently allowed them to establish a lot of creative energy through discussions, brain storming, and generally looking at objects in an alternative way.

With this in mind, Altostratus Collective’s one day installation promises to be as equally exciting, alternative and different when it opens this Friday, 12 June, from 2pm in the Gallery.


From small beginnings: the journey of ONCA

by Laura Coleman, ONCA Director

Less than three years ago, ONCA wasn’t much of anything.  It was an idea, no more, and a small one at that.  But as if by magic, ONCA has somehow managed to migrate from an idea into a gallery and now into the ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology.  By taking over an additional three floors in our beautiful Grade II listed building, we have made another exciting step in our charity’s future.

It’s been a heady few months, as we have completed a full-scale building refurbishment powered by extraordinary volunteers, love and sheer determination.  Over two thirds of our paint was donated by New Life Paints, a local company that recycles unwanted paint.  Wood was donated by Brighton Festival and Freegle, and bought from the Wood Store, a social enterprise across the road from ONCA.  All furniture was donated, reclaimed and refurbished by the team – powered by the insatiable kindness of organisations and people including Nanadobbie, Cat Fletcher, Helen Cann, Gary Mart, OnRequest and England at Home.  We have LED lighting, funded by British Gas in order to improve our energy efficiency.  And we have smatterings of artwork throughout, such as a beautiful screen print by Kittie Jones, or James Eddy’s fish sculpture entitled ‘A Great Migration’ (as featured in our 2013 exhibition ‘Making Tracks’), in our new meeting room, reminding us of all the wonderful projects and artists we have been associated with since our formation.

So now, here we are.  Our new Centre opened on the 31st May.  Above the gallery, work, studio and meeting space is already playing host to an eclectic and inspiring combination of businesses, charities, freelancers, artists and designers.  It is our unique ecological ethic that underpins the initiative.  We have a strong sustainability policy that includes recycling, composting and low energy usage, in addition to an ethos that promotes widespread, positive change.  For us, environmental well-being is holistic.  It encompasses everything from biodiversity and energy to economy, human health and technology.  And by bringing together an interdisciplinary mix of people, we hope that the ideas germinated within the ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology will play a key role in the creation of a more positive future for us all.


UN World Environment Day – how ONCA ‘consumes with care’

Authored by George Pundek

As you may know, today is the UN World Environment Day. An annual event, #WED15 aims to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the environment, with this year’s message being to “consume with care”. Given the importance of the day, we’d like to invite you to consider the practical ways we can uphold these aims as individuals and as a community. Indeed, here at ONCA, we believe we can all go further by minimising consumption in order to maximise environmental care. Do you, however, often feel daunted by the task? Or find it hard to source materials? Or feel like simply recycling your plastic bottles is merely a drop in the ocean?

A recent challenge for us was our endeavour to uphold this aim during our refurbishment of the ONCA Centre. Yet this provided us with an opportunity to see the benefits of collaborative problem-solving, and its powerful results. For despite the scale of the task, we were able to ensure that 85% of all paint used was paint recycled or intercepted from incineration and landfill, something made possible by the kind donations from local company New Life Paints. All of our wood has been reclaimed either from local skips or from Brighton-based The Wood Store, who collect waste timber for reuse and recycling. The brilliant people from the web-based stuff-sharing service Freegle also donated most of our new office furniture and supplies, and inspired us with their passion for recycling unwanted goods. Meanwhile, Alys Dobbie of Nanadobbie hosted an upholstery workshop, upcycling colourful spare fabric to reupholster the donated furniture. This is all part of our aim to build a bank of skills, through which people can exchange their specialist knowledge in a non-consuming, democratic and non-monetary way.

The completed ONCA Centre thus stands as a testament to the potential of minimising consumption, and more importantly to the creativity, generosity and imagination of ONCA’s community of volunteers, friends and supporters. We are eternally grateful to all those who helped in this achievement, and thanked them at the launch of the centre on May 30:

 Brighton Vox Choir performing at the ONCA Centre Launch Party


Do you know of other methods of minimising consumption, or perhaps have ideas? Do you have your own plans for World Environment Day 2015? Let us know on Twitter @ONCAnetwork




Guest blog

David Holyoake: Arts and Culture – the missing link to winning the climate fight

This article was first published in Voices, Global Call for Climate Action 7 April 2015.

Authored by David Holyoake
David Holyoake is co-founder of Forever Swarm. David is an advocate and expert in climate change law and policy and a practicing and published composer focused on issues of ecological collapse.

The climate change movement faces a problem. While campaigners and advocacy groups around the world continue to fight against the climate crisis – and make huge strides in getting their voices heard – this world of climate change policymakers and campaigners still does not talk to the world of arts and culture.

More striking still, the cultural response to the biggest threat to human civilisation practically does not exist yet.

This holds true in both ‘high art establishments’ and in mainstream cultural channels like film, design, novels, fashion and popular music. It also holds true of our NGO campaigning. When climate campaigns use ‘art’ it is usually more about ‘stunts’ or exhausted photos of polar bears on ice caps. With a few exceptions, ‘art’ is not used, as such stuns fail to break into the cultural fabric.

Contrast this with other game changing campaigns that won in modern history.

The American Civil Rights Movement, for example. The Freedom Songs of African Americans united and inspired millions of tired souls and rallied others to the cause. Songs like ‘keep your eyes on the prize’ and ‘we shall overcome’ right through to the repertoire of Nina Simone and others, revolutionised the unity, energy and scale of the civil rights movement.

The power and accessibility of music allowed everyone to be part of the movement, with songs often performed at or in connection to political events – with Fanny Lou Hamer a famous example in the early 1960s.

The climate community is never lost for words, but these words so often feel tired and exhausted. Remember the words of activist singer and environmentalist Peter Seeger: “Art can help us ‘leap the language barrier.And he wasn’t just talking about music.

The Mexican equivalent of the Civil Rights movement (Chicano) developed a distinct art form. A unifying aesthetics, iconic imagery and mural paintings with greater penetration than words, facts, infographics or stunts.

What is different now? And why have we not, on the whole, managed to connect the call for urgent climate action with the cultural fabric?

Climate is a very different sort of campaign challenge, admittedly. But it is just as in need of emotionalising, re-energising and hope as the civil rights movement was until the late 1950s.

Where are our cultural influencers and artists at the vanguard of the new world order that the climate crisis must usher in? Where are the coordinated efforts of artist and designers and musicians helping inflame divestment or other climate campaigns? Where are the great utopic cultural movements of today in which to embed the climate story?

Forever Swarm aims to fill this gap.

There are many reasons why we have yet to see a mainstream cultural response to climate change. Part of the answer is the obvious general confusion about the facts perpetrated by Big Oil and not helped by the media until very recently. And the psychological tendency towards denial and wishful thinking (science will save us).

But there is also a deeper answer: that the environmental community has neither offered culture makers a compelling holistic vision of the alternative world we seek, nor invited them to help our collective dreaming. Better futures require better dreams.

This might be one distinction with the civil rights movement – they could see and articulate their alternative view of the world. We in the climate movement have articulated only parts of the future world we seek by 2050 or beyond.

We are clear on clean energy and transportation. But what of the rest of life, consumption, and the other sectors economy? We have not imagined a magnetic new positive story of human happiness that connects social well-being with the multiple and radical lifestyle and economic changes that will be necessary to unlock the emissions reductions that will be necessary from other sectors by 2050 or soon after. What about food and agriculture, consumables and the idea of not only buying efficient, but buying less full stop.

What about the values shifts, a redefining of prosperity as some call it? This shift will be needed to support policy changes in the mid-term, while securing the political mandate for the immediate challenges of keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and an acceptable international deal.

But all is not lost. As we lead up to the UN climate summit in Paris this December, there are possible areas of convergence. Commitments on long-term deep decarbonisation pathways are important to hold political and policy momentum to account, to bed down long-term pathway towards the necessary goal to decarbonise our economies soon after 2050.

The majority of countries have not yet laid down even aspirational long term decarbonisation plans, with the exception of the EU which has at least headline figures showing how 2030 and 2050 pathways fit together.

We all know the difficulties of the COP process, even securing adequate shorter-term commitments (INDCs) and the need for immediate urgent action. But what if one reason why negotiators shy away from the longer term questions is because none of us can yet comprehend or imagine what a near zero carbon economy looks and feels like?

Forever Swarm believes that there is a need for creative renewal in the arts and to connect campaigns with the cultural fabric.

It is time set artists and creatives to work to help the cut through of smart climate communications. It is time for artists, filmmakers and writers to get to work translating a more holistic, positive visions of the future.

It is time they explored happiness, new economics and new definitions of personal and collective success in a carbon-constrained world. A world in which the economy serves human flourishing, well being and surviving an increasingly hostile climate, rather than serving the god of GDP growth. It is time to confront our collective dread, which cuts us off from the future.

And what about the role artists can play in specific campaign asks? Divestment is growing fast – an exciting glimmer of hope. Imagine how it could grow even faster if articulated and symbolised by iconic, unifying imagery, emotive inspiring art, song and design appearing and normalised in diverse and popular channels?

It has long been proven that humans make most decisions not rationally but according to emotional and unconscious drivers and values frames. Accepting this, the limitations of the infographic become startling. It might be time for the climate movement to revisit the power of art.


Journey’s end: The making of ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’

Journey’s end: The making of ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’ in response to my expedition on SeaDragon Summer 2014.

By Helen Cann

In the Summer of 2014, I took the opportunity to become part of the crew of SeaDragon with Pangaea Expeditions sailing from Iceland to Sweden alongside three other artists. Although the expedition was called ‘Whale Watching’ we would also be expected to map whale and dolphin sightings on the OBIS whale database as well as help man the boat. Out ultimate intention was to create a body of work in response to the journey that would be exhibited at ONCA gallery in Brighton.

I’m not sure what I expected in terms of creating work while I was on the voyage. Since January of that year I had been researching whales, the whaling culture and sea charts of the three countries we would be visiting – Iceland, the Faroes and Sweden. I was reading books, watching documentaries and footage, talking to and visiting a variety of maritime and whale museums. I am particularly interested in maps and how people locate themselves using stories and so the mapping aspect of the expedition seemed to fit very well. I left Gatwick airport with the idea that I would draw a huge wallsize map in the gallery showing the journey and man’s relationship culturally to whales. I was also aware that that idea might develop as the journey progressed so was open to making some radical changes. My fine art practice has become very text based but I draw regularly and wondered whether I could combine the two disciplines.

The doors of the plane opened on landing in Reykjavik to the tail end of Hurricane Bertha. Force 12 gales meant staying in Iceland a little longer than intended. I used the time visiting the maritime museum and learning about Icelandic fishing communities. I took reference from historical black and white photos of old bearded Icelandic boys in their hats and boots, on boats and standing smoking by the mountains of fish they’d caught.

I’d also got hold of an audio recorder so attempted to interview the locals about any whale stories they had. Whale watching was clearly big business in Reykjavik and many of the tourist restaurants had whale and dolphin on the menu. The harbourmaster commented that tourists often went whale watching and then tucked into a whale steak with mustard to finish the evening off. They didn’t seem to see the irony of this at all.

We set sail finally on remarkably calm and sunny seas. That meant that I was able to sketch happily and I made some drawings of the crew on the boat. Of course, as soon as we got out of coastal waters and the waves became more choppy, it became almost impossible. We were working regular 6 hour shifts through 24 hours and gradually as the broken sleep and weird Arctic Summer nights started to take their toll, listening and remembering became the best way for me to record the voyage.

We sailed into Torshavn harbour one white morning through the majestic high cliffed Faeroese islands. We were greeted with a fair amount of suspicion. As soon as we mentioned the word ‘whales’ there was an assumption we had a political agenda and intended somehow to sabotage or protest against the traditional, very bloody whale hunt, the Grindadrap, that takes place there. I had to approach interviewing people with a clearly neutral standpoint and most were keen to explain the reasons behind the hunt and how it was practised. Here the value of the whale was seen very much culturally as the spoils are divided up as food amongst the hunters and it is a spectacle for the community rather than tourists.

We finally reached Sweden at the end of July. One of my goals in Gothenburg was to visit the Malmo whale at the Natural History Museum, a blue whale beached and preserved in the late 19th century. At some point it had had its jaws articulated so they could be opened up and visitors could step inside. I think initially referencing Jonah and the Whale, it was seen as something religious but as time sailed on, it became both a café and a cocktail bar, the roof of the whale mouth draped in blue star spangled silks. Closed due to the discovery of a ‘courting couple’ inside, it is now opened up only at Christmas where children can visit Father Christmas there… Another fascinating, if telling, story about whales and tourist economics.

I think it’s interesting to reflect that whales have clearly held a fascination for people since the beginning of time, whether for food, for tourism, as a cultural signifier or in our case, as inspiration for artwork. Only time will tell whether the value of them will be the saving of them or their destruction.

My final piece of work became a set of three maps including both drawings and text. I trawled through the photographs and sketches I had made, jettisoning much of it. I did use as reference the black and white photos I’d seen on my museum trips and made portraits of fishermen to add to the title sections in the maps.

Influenced by the ancient Carta Marina, the maps are also swimming with drawings of the fantastic whales that medieval people thought existed in the Northern waters. We had seen so few real whales on the expedition that they could equally have been just another traveller’s tale.

I recounted the stories I heard on the journey on the maps – the stories from the crew, from the harbourmasters, the bartenders, the whalewatchers, the whale hunters and eaters. Some had been recorded as part of an interview. Some were memorised and were stories overheard on board. Like all travellers’ tales, details have been changed and the truth cannot be certain. To me the journey was filled with stories and that will be how I remember it. How I remember where I was.

The completion of the maps, I feel was the true journey’s end of my adventure. They are currently hanging in Onca gallery and act as a flare to the world that once upon a time I travelled with the whales on the Whale Road.

Guest blog

A Cancer Landscape, Margaret Felton – Sussex Community NHS Trust

I have been working within the NHS for twenty years and have concentrated primarily on improving the general public’s understanding of cancer. This involves providing: information, training, education, risk reduction as well as getting more people to participate in the three cancer screening programmes – breast, bowel and cervical cancer. Early symptom recognition is very important to our work so bringing about behaviour change and changing attitudes to cancer is essential in everything we do.

Following a nursing career and a master’s degree in environmental epidemiology and health policy, I assumed I was well equipped to work on any aspect of the cancer programme. However I discovered it was much more difficult than I thought. It was extremely challenging to talk about cancer at all; people wept, people fled from talks, my colleague at the desk next me had breast cancer and I upset her every time I mentioned the word from an objective perspective. It was not until I heard artist and cancer patient Michele Angelo Petrone talk about and show his emotional response to his cancer journey that I realised how far I was from the emotional trauma of those in the population with a cancer experience. So I changed my way of working and found every way possible to acknowledge the emotional impact and worked on how to establish a dialogue that allowed me to hold people so that we could talk.

One of the most powerful things that Michele said was: “My journey has two intertwined threads – elements which mirror each other as exactly as the two chains of the double helix. One is the medical history. The physical injury, the illness… The parallel thread is my emotional response. The disbelief, the grief, the doubt, the flung out, the anger, the banter, the bargaining, the accepting… “

Therefore having clear images of how the physical impacts on the emotional allowed me to present to people what they were feeling and they in turn were able to share, discuss and paint their own feelings. We were finally able to begin a dialogue around the enormous and diverse subject which is cancer. It can be healed, cured, lived with, avoided; you can have episodes of cancer and still have a good quality of life, and yes, it is a reality that you have to deal with those who die from cancer as well. Dying is part of all our lives and is not an individual failure to die of cancer. The advances in the treatment and care of cancer have been remarkable over the past twenty years, and this progress will continue, its success giving hope and solace to many.

Part of Brighton Science Festival, A Cancer Landscape is not just an amazing exhibition, it has a partnership of terrific people: Lauren from ONCA, Richard and Mark from Macmillan, Mark, Eva W and Eva C from Brighton Therapy Centre, The MAP Foundation, Meghan from Wellcome Images and Catherine and myself from Sussex Community Health NHS Trust. A series of art workshops for people affected by cancer held in October, November and December has provided us with new images not seen before. There will be information available on a range of cancers, screening and risk reduction and all the exhibition staff are being trained to be supportive of those viewing the exhibition.

With regard to the Wellcome and MAP Foundation, when Michele died in 2007 the MAP Foundation inherited Michele’s archive pertaining to his cancer work, sketch books, all previous information on workshops with patients, evaluations of exhibitions which toured all over Brighton and Hove and East Sussex and images relating to his own cancer journey. This whole archive of over 100 sketchbooks is now with the Wellcome archive waiting to be catalogued and digitalised.

A Cancer Landscape with all our partners presents a very exciting coming together of a rich, and valued body of work from passionate professionals, presented with compassion for everyone to see and add to creating a living landscape.

Sea Blog

A Remembrance for Lost Species ceremony on board as the crew find microscopic plastic pieces in the sea…

30th November 2014

19 40.70 N

49 19.10 W

The morning was greeted with an incredible sunrise and the company of a mixed pod of dolphins, including both clymene and spotted, entertaining us with their antics at the side of the boat for at least a quarter hour.

The winds have died down to 10 to 15 knots necessitating the use of our engine. With the calmer conditions, our resident Koala Bear, Shanley attempted an assent of the mast and captured some incredible images of the boat and surrounding sea. Yikes, she’s a brave one, as the sea still tossed her back and forth from the height of nearly 96 feet.

Temperatures have also increased on board, as the crew seeks out small areas of shade from the intense sunshine. No complaints here though as winter has come to many of our homelands, bringing very low temperatures and snow. The water temperature also continue to rise as we head further south, and is now measured at 82.5 F!

We were able to do more trawling today and found a few pieces of plastic amongst the varied marine life, mostly invertebrates and a few larval fish, captured in the net. Some plastic pieces are only visible under the microscope, pointing to the great potential for ingestion by marine fauna.

Laura introduced us all to a Remembrance Day ceremony for threatened and endangered species, organized every 30th of November, to commemorate the loss of species on our planet. On board Sea Dragon, we decided to conduct our ceremony by releasing paper cut-outs of a variety of marine animals off the side of Sea Dragon. As the paper silhouettes drifted away we were all silent and contemplative, considering the various impacts and contributors to extinction and the very real toll this is taking on those beings with whom we share this planet.

Discussions on board have also centered on making visual the problems we are facing with plastics. This was further emphasized in the evening presentation by Maria, our other on-board artist Maria shared with us pictures of her many dramatic sculptures and installations that capture the impact of humans on the environment. She has no shortage of creative raw materials and easily collects several bags of plastic daily from a small patch of beach. At a distance her art work is alluring, with a range of colours and shapes, but as one gets closer, the image sharpens and we are faced with the unsettling evidence of our daily consumption and careless waste. She highlighted her passion for making visual the footprints we leave behind as we discard many of the trappings of everyday life, much of which washes up on the shores of the river near where she lives and works. Maria’s work will no doubt continue to provoke further thought an d consideration of our management of waste.

Our evening watches are now shared under a startlingly bright moon, which lights up the surrounding sea, and provides a guide on our journey. And as the chocolate supplies are running low, we are all keen to reach Martinique. Seven hundred nautical miles to go!

Sea Blog

Buy Nothing Day and Malin’s Norwegian environmental activism

20’ 44,13 N
46’ 47,16 W

Today all 14 of us succeeded in the International Buy Nothing Day mission by not buying anything! Easy!

Another day in Sea-She Dragon has passed.

Even with no more fresh fruit on board (eek!) we are still enjoying this amazing bold adventure all together in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Today we spotted a whale on our horizon – was that fin a shark or what? – but then we saw the unmistakable blow as she came up to breathe which clearly defined her identity.

Sadly she passed us in a few minutes without stopping for a chat.

We are still enjoying the amazing crew members’ talks, and yesterday evening we heard from the Norwegian environmental activist Malin.

Malin started her environmental activist career at the early age of 14 and then by 18 she was named Norway’s Environmental Hero after succeeding in her work to stop Hydro’s oil drilling off the southern coast of Norway.

Even at her young age, her work has consisted of intense involvement at the intersection of environmental activism and political participation. Questions of where our energies are best directed arise directly from this. Her talk has kicked off an active discussion on board about how individual actions can move and inspire bigger decisions even at higher political levels.

Malin has a unique way of combining laughter, crazy ideas (rollerblading across the Lofoten Islands anyone?) and a driven, serious determination, all with a dash of punk rock. All great ways to change the world.

A wind of active positivism has blown directly on our sails last night.

Listening to Malin’s story has brought an inspirational mood on board, fuelling thoughts and ideas about our eXXpedition mission to make the unseen seen.


Sea Blog, Uncategorized

Our director, Laura gave a talk about Wayra the puma as well as the ONCA Gallery!

27th November 2014

22 36.10 N

42 05.69 W

Happy Thanksgiving America!

We celebrated this holiday with three of our American shipmates – Diana, Shanley & Jenna. For many, it was their first Thanksgiving and although there was no turkey or “tofurkey” in sight, the occasion was complete with pancakes and the last of our fresh fruit (Eek!). The day ended with a bright moon on the water and each of us sharing what we are grateful for. Reflections on our current journey as well as tributes to family and friends were recurring themes. Also, our gratefulness to each other for creating an environment of support, caring and harmony in our floating shelter, very far from home.

But wait! We are getting ahead of ourselves here. Due to continued conditions at sea making trawling impossible – we were able to have two talks today instead of one. So, in our ‘hour of science’ we heard from our resident aquatic toxicologist, Diana, about her amazing career pushing boundaries and exploring endocrine disrupters in fish habitats throughout the US. Her typically infectious smile and laugh ebbed as we discussed the seriousness of the situation. However, her passion and energy for action was inspiring to us all, emphasising that we must adopt a whole system view to combat the problem – not just focus on the impacts that humans alone will experience.

The focus on animals continued in our evening talk, given by one of our artists in residence, Laura. She spoke of an animal that changed her life – Wayra – a puma saved from the Bolivian black market that she has helped to rehabilitate in an animal refuge over the past 8 years. Laura returned from her initial time with Waora to a very different England from the one she’d left. She found herself changed and with a new passion to share her experience of connecting with nature through art. She created an amazing gallery space in Brighton, establishing a charity – ONCA – and has since worked with over 1,000 artists to explore our multifaceted and complex relationship with the world around us.

It was after this that we gave our thanks, and she finished the evening with a quote from Keri Hulme’s ‘The Bone People’. It is incredible, that one quote can encapsulate so much of how we feel about what we are doing here, in the middle of the Ocean:

They were nothing more than people, by themselves. Even paired, any pairing, they would have been nothing more than people by themselves. But all together, they have become the heart and muscles and mind of something perilous and new, something strange and growing and great.

Together, all together, they are the instruments of change.


Why Organic? The Big Picture – a review

A recent local event hosted by Brighton and Hove Organic Gardening Group addressed the question Why Organic? Emma reports back on the discussions.

The Brighton and Hove Organic Gardening Group is a community organisation that is composed of local gardeners and allotment owners. They are intent on raising awareness on the importance of preserving our natural environment, and the value of employing organic growing methods. They regularly meet up so members can discuss, share and develop their skills; transforming their share of land into beacons of biodiversity.

The particular talk I attended focused on the sometimes-contentious discourse that organic is better, and whether this is true. The main speakers that discussed this issue came from Pesticide Action Network and the Biosphere Partnership. The talk was interesting in that it looked at issues on multiple levels, from the global to the national, from the local to the particular. It revealed how a wider issue affected and involved us personally, and exposed what we could practically do. Indeed, the speakers called upon us both as citizens and as humans – creatures of the planet that cared what happened to our social and natural environment.

The essential principles of growing food in an organic method demand that the process is free of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, as well as a conscious effort to cycle resources, conserve biodiversity and maintain an ecological balance. This practice is regulated and farms must meet national and international standards to obtain the ‘organic’ label. As such, private gardening and allotments are technically and often not registered ‘organic’, yet technically fit the criteria. Registered label or not, a strong relationship is created between the farmer, the gardener and their land: one of respect.

What may seem like the simplest and most mainstream way of growing ones food has actually become a minority practice, and thus it is deemed it requires the differentiating label when sold to the public. The consumer must be warned that nothing potentially harmful was used when growing and packaging their product. On the other hand, the ‘conventional’ way of farming does not impose these regulations stated previously, or any particular labelling. This conventionally grown food is presented to the consumer as the most reliable and secure source, and resultantly doesn’t necessitate any particular notice – it is your generic choice on the supermarket shelf. Ironically perhaps, ‘conventional farming’ allows the use of GMOs, chemical pesticides and, or herbicides, and chemical fertilisers.

With such a seemingly explicit title, I expected the talk to revolve around the positive results of growing food organically. Quickly, as we looked into what organic farming actually implied, it became clear the talk would delve into another issue as well – the use of pesticides. Just like the word ‘pesticides’ was hidden away behind a question mark in the title of the talk, they are equally invisible in our everyday lives. They are implicitly referred to when we talk about ‘conventional farming’, and remain unlabelled in our markets despite the invisible coating they leave on most of our foods.

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is an organisation concerned with not only raising awareness on a public and individual level on the dangers and effects of pesticides, but are also intent on working on a political level, lobbying the European Union with the goal of changing policies.

The PAN representative revealed to us firstly that we need to reconsider our trust of pesticide safety assurances for our health, as the companies manufacturing the chemicals often funded the scientific studies set out to establish their safety. He went on to question their actual impact on our livelihoods, as he had seen many repercussions on people’s health, such as respiratory deterioration and ailments. These chemicals were not tested on a long term scale, over a lifetime, which is cause for concern. Their effects were also highlighted on ecosystems as they are now a confirmed cause for hundreds of thousands of bees and similar pollinators dying, as well as small creatures, most notably hedgehogs and birds. As PAN stated, “pesticides are poisoning us and our environment for profit.”

The representative pointed out all the different spaces one should know are treated with these chemicals – roads and public spaces in urban spaces, which included schools, conventional industrial farming, and your own garden if you had purchased products such as slug killing pellets.

This is also an issue that the Biosphere Partnership feels strongly about. Indeed, the Biosphere Partnership defines a UNESCO designated reserve of the “living skin of the Earth”, or a ‘world biosphere site’. This particular Biosphere Partnership not only includes the Downs, the white seaside cliffs and other nature and wildlife conservation spots, but also the urban spaces, showing how they interact with the various environments surrounding them. These spaces have been greatly affected by the widespread use of chemical pesticides, as it infiltrates aquifers, in other words polluting our drinking water. Indeed, the soil is saturated with chemicals that inevitably trickle into our water system and other creatures (such as fish). This affects us directly financially as it takes thousands of taxpayers’ money to clean these waters, ironically using more chemicals for this process. On the other hand, organic farming facilitates a healthier soil, which captures more carbon and kills off more pollutants. The Biosphere Partnership speaker presented both the beauty and complexity of our environment, the association of organisations that had assembled to preserve it, and the impact (good or bad) our human needs had on this.

In light of this information, the speakers clearly set out some practical steps we could take as citizens and humans to free ourselves from these harmful substances. They advised we, as consumers, should contact and demand from supermarkets and retailers that they stop selling or at least reduce their use of pesticides globally. The speakers also called upon us to lobby our local politicians to stop spraying our roads and cities with chemicals, stating that over 300 cities in France including its capital, Paris, had stopped this practice. Finally, they advised that we should above all support local farms that were growing organically, even though they probably couldn’t afford the “organic label”. Small ‘organic’ farmers are increasingly pressured and we should support them. These are the actions to take if we care for the environmental and the social well being of our community, country and world.

Emma Pavans de Ceccatty is a History graduate from University of Sussex currently in post as ONCA Gallery Assistant.

Sea Blog

Leaving the Tropic of Cancer behind

Wednesday 26 November

23 00.36 N

40 55.11 W


Today is a very special day: we have reached the half way point in our journey! 1300 miles crossed and we have officially entered the tropics, leaving the Tropic of Cancer behind. Funny enough we were greeted with strong winds, choppy waves and frequent squalls that brought back memories of the beginning of the journey. The helm required a lot of concentration, as the 4 metre waves swiped us sideways.

This weather also meant we couldn’t put the manta trawl out so we had a documentary afternoon session instead. The theme was on endocrine disruptors and we screened “Endocrination”. We watched carefully as we followed the amazing lobby power of the pesticide and chemical industry in Europe, defending their interests. This investigative film clearly shows how this industry has been successful in highjacking the scientific process undertaken by the European Commission’s environment directorate to regulate endocrine disruptors.

Although it is no surprise of how short-term economic benefits are still prioritized over long-term human health and well-being, it is still troubling to see it so clearly. It also means that consumer education was never so important. Our individual choices are still ours to make. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are present in all sorts of industrial, agricultural, household, cosmetic and food products to name a few sectors. Many of their harmful consequences on our environment and our health are beginning to be understood. So while these substances continue to be unregulated, if there is one message that should be passed on to each of us it is to “learn more, use less”.

As the evening came along, we all jumped outside to get some fresh air of hope and listen to the story of the night. This time it was Sue’s turn. She spoke passionately and beautifully about community spirit, drawing on her experience at the all-women’s protest in Greenham Common in the 80s. Her presence here is like an embodiment of the endurance of female power, and she eloquently helps us all to feel the strength that can and needs to be drawn from our shared journey. She reads us Joanna Macy and Anita Barrow’s translation of Rilke by moonlight, and we all get goosebumps…

And yet, though we strain

against the deadening grip

of daily necessity,

I sense there is this mystery:


All life is being lived.

Who is living it, then?

Is it the things themselves,

or something waiting inside them,

like an unplayed melody in a flute?

Is it the winds blowing over the waters?

Is it the branches that signal to each other?

Is it flowers

interweaving their fragrances,

or streets, as they wind through time?


Is it the animals, warmly moving,

or the birds, that suddenly rise up?


Who lives it, then? God, are you the one

who is living life?


We have truly formed a community on board Sea Dragon, one where we ebb and flow around, about and amongst each another. The quiet strength that comes from us all is growing day by day, forming something that feels new and brave and exciting. This contrasts starkly with how the trip was often perceived before we set sail. Each and every one of us heard comments like, “A boat of all women – a cat fight waiting to happen! Why would you want to do that?!”

Comments that came from both men and women. Where does this come from, and why is it being perpetuated, when our experience here and Sue’s knowledge of working with women’s groups, indicate something far from that.

For photos and a video with crew member Sue visit the exxpedition blog

Sea Blog

Pangaea eXXpedition resident engineer, Jenna, geeks out on Sea Dragon’s infrastructure, specifications, and operations.

There are fourteen of us living on the 72 foot sailboat, with about 600 square foot of living space below. The deck, made up of a large cockpit area near the center, also contains the main sheet (rope for moving the main sail that goes through three pulleys and is wound around a winch). With the winch and pulley system distributing forces, any one of us can pull in or let out the 2800 to 4000 square foot sail that rises 96 feet up the mast (unless there is a reef in it, which will be explained later).  Towards the back of the boat is a smaller area containing the binnacle (frame to hold the compass) and the helm (steering wheel). The boat is steered like a car, you turn the wheel the direction you want to go; however, very small movements turn the boat and often you turn the wheel father and come back to middle.


Some other terms we have been learning…


Yankee sail, the sail at the very front of the boat that we furl in and out from the forestay (front mast) with the furling lines connected to winches near the helm The yankee sail can provide extra surface for the wind to push, provide balance or contribute to proper aerodynamics when the wind is at the front of the boat (when the boat gets propelled forward from changes in air pressure, somewhat similar to an airplane).

Starboard = right side of the boat and Port = left side of the boat.

The ropes that run up the main sail are called halyard lines and they are held in place by clutches (clamps) and can be manipulated with three winches near the bottom of the mast. There are eighteen of these lines all neatly coiled when not in use in our “snake pit.” In front of the snake pit is the foredeck. These areas are not really places we hang out, but are used for adjusting configurations for efficient sailing. We position the main sail for optimum wind speed without compromising control. When it is out far and the wind is variable, there is a preventer line on it so it doesn’t accidentally come towards the boat or gybe. A controlled gybe is when we pull the main sail in to the middle and switch the side the wind is on. An uncontrolled or accidental gybe would be dangerous (so we use the preventer line).

When we have had large gusts (30 knots or higher), we have had to put in reefs. A reef is when we shorten the main sail so that it has less power (and more control). We can put in up to three reefs. Also on deck, above the helm are two solar panels and two micro wind turbines generating renewable electricity for the boat (they charge the battery we use to run all power on the ship). The energy they provide is about 2 amps. The instruments used in the helm tell us both true and apparent wind speed, wind direction, ship speed, ship heading and ships log (total distance traveled). The angle of the wind direction is critical to our heading and sail configuration. For example we are now heading 265 to get to Martinique and the wind is behind us at 71 degrees. The neuston net trawl that we used is stored on the foredeck and deployed with the spinnaker poles, which are available for either side of the boat. In terms of safety on deck, safety always comes first and everyone puts o n a life vest with a tether that hooks on jack lines running along the deck. There are also four life rafts stored behind the helm that hold 6 people each (for a total of 24, more than our capacity). We have gone through safety briefings on all emergencies as well The very back platform holds Jenna’s bin of science equipment and lines above allow us to hang laundry to dry after washing in fresh water in a bucket on deck. The boat weighs 38 tons (displacement) and although we tip nearly vertical, especially in our first few days of heavy winds and high seas, we cannot tip with an 10 foot heel and 10.3 ton ballast.


Ship life below…


At the front of the boat is an area called the forepeak. This area stores extra sails, equipment and our trash and recycling. Next back are the “heads” which are the bathrooms. We are told they are called the heads because historically they were at the head of the ships underneath the traditional figurine off the bow… And they were just holes. Now we have toilets in a small room that also doubles as a shower. There are two separate heads. The toilets are manually flushed (using seawater) with a hand pump that must be pumped about 20 times to get through all the piping to discharge the waste, which is allowed into the ocean per international regulations. Nothing goes out but human waste and small amounts of biodegradable toilet paper. The systems are easy to operate and work well even in the roughest conditions. After the heads, there are two sleeping quarters that are also large enough to store our produce and science and filming gear. Beyond those are the galley (kitche n) and salon (sitting area). These are heavily utilized and provide all the comforts of home. All our meals are made in the galley and we often gather in the salon to chat. Food scraps are saved in a small pail in the galley and dumped over the side to feed the fishes per regulations. The stovetop is gimbled so that it stays level as the ship rocks from side to side. There is also a small library in the salon with sailing and marine life identification books and also other relative books to our trip like, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story and Garbology. We normally eat our meals on deck in and around the cockpit and the helm. Beyond the galley and salon is the navigation station and wet locker. The navigation station contains a vhf radio (CB), which is set on the universal communication channel of 16. There are displays that show our current position, heading, wind speed, battery monitor (charge and voltage), and the amps from our solar and wind inputs. There is also a radar for looking a t weather and a paper chart for our journey. The log book is at the nav station as well, we write a log every single hour (it is the responsibility of the watch team on duty). The log includes position, course, bilge check, log number (distance), person at helm, battery level and voltage, the day tank (fuel pumped up from storage), wind direction and force, and weather conditions (barometer, conditions, sky, visibility, and temperature). To identify boats in close proximity, there is an AIS system that tells us an incoming boat’s position, heading and speed. At night, the boat is lit with green LED lights so our night vision is not compromised.


The wet locker holds all our outdoor foul weather gear, life jackets, and shoes. It also contains the water maker which turns seawater into fresh water used for drinking, showering, and cooking. The water is filtered through 20 micron and 5 micron filters, then drinking water through an additional carbon filter. Beyond the wet locker and nav station are more sleeping quarters. Everyone has their own bunk and cubby. There is also a small computer station (which is almost directly under the helm).


Below the living quarters are the mechanics of the ship and bilges. The fuel is also stored below. The engine is a Perkins Sabre 130 horsepower engine, which is only used if absolutely necessary. Diesel also runs the Fisher Panda 12 Watt generator, which charges our battery bank as needed.


Some halfway statistics:

1 bag of recycling (stored)

2 bags of trash (stored)

7 buckets of food waste to the fish

An estimated 280L of wastewater (2L/person/day)

637L of diesel fuel used (for the generator and for powering the boat in too little wind)


This post is dedicated to the students in the Environmental Engineering program at the University of Georgia, especially those in ENVE 3320, Urban Systems.