Renowned for his surf exploration throughout Indonesia’s Mentawai island chain, these days Captain Martin Daly is focusing his attention in the Pacific Ocean, specifically in the Marshall Islands. And nearly a decade in the making, he's just opened an off-the-grid, sustainable surf resort on Beran Island.
For over 30 years Daly has been sailing the high seas, and has experienced both paradise found and paradise lost.
“I just came back from the Mentawais and I saw the biggest swell I’ve ever seen,” Daly tells ASN. “Places were breaking I’ve never seen before. It was an extreme event, and it seems that everything is bigger and stronger and nastier. The storms are getting worse, just as everyone predicted. They said that we would get more extreme weather events. And, it’s true. It seems to be happening.”
With so much experience in, on and around the water, Daly’s keenly aware of the changes that are occurring within our oceans and has an experienced perspective unlike most.
“We were in the Pacific two or three years ago, and the trades reversed for the whole season. Instead of northeast it was blowing southwest,” says Daly. “And these countries, these little atolls, like the Maldives, Marshalls and in the Tuamotus and all these places, in the lagoons everyone’s built their stuff where the wind blows offshore into the lagoon.
“But can you imagine what happens when they’ve got a 20-mile lagoon and the wind switches direction? They’ve got two- to three-foot surf breaking on the houses, the docks and where they keep their boats for four or five months at a time. It’s just not normal.”
“I spoke to local guys that were 85-years old and I said to them, ‘Have you ever seen this happen before in your lives? Where the trades change, to blow southwest for four months.’ They said they’ve never seen four days of it in their lives, let alone four months,” adds Daly.
Extraordinary weather patterns and storms are just part of the impact of climate change that Daly’s seen. It's also having dramatic effects under the water.
“This part of the Pacific is one of the most remote parts of the world, and one of the reasons I ended up here,” Daly tells ASN of his Marshall Island retreat. “Because it was so pristine, and untouched. And, in fact, the coral had not been bleached. Then, two years ago … boom. Even there. That last bleaching event didn’t get a lot of news, but it was actually one of the most comprehensive bleaching events the world has ever seen.
“The Barrier Reef, Hawaii, all of the western Pacific, all the west coast of Indonesia … I don't know about the Maldives, I think they missed out this time,” says Daly. “They got smashed before. But, yeah, it was tragic. I think the coral bleaching is a symptom of a greater problem.”
“We’ve even seen in the Maldives, when we were doing the crossing and had the marine biologists on board, we found a place where the coral had evolved to live in 95-degree water. It was all completely lush. And yet, on the outside of the lagoon the reef was all dead, like everywhere else, down to 40 feet. But because this one type of coral had always been hot inside this lagoon, it had evolved specifically in one location to survive.”
“Plastic has always been a problem, particularly in Indonesia. We saw it coming,” Daly adds. “But now, I think over the last five or six years, people are really understanding how big of a problem it is. It’s not getting any better. It’s getting significantly worse.
“People are just dumping plastic in the ocean. Like, we’re up in part of Indonesia and we had one of the big super yachts up there and they asked us to get rid of their rubbish for them. We went into town, to the village, to see what was happening and discovered that, essentially, they just put all their rubbish into the ocean.”
The problem is hardly relegated to Indonesia. Ocean currents carry plastic pollution around the globe.
“In the Marshalls we get a lot of stuff from South America, from Inca Kola and water bottles and stuff that are from Peru, Mexico. Just the currents I guess,” Daly tells ASN. “And then, when we had this big change in the trades we got Asian rubbish, from Indonesia mainly. The Marshalls haven’t got as much rubbish as most places, but we still have to clean our beaches up.”
It goes without saying that addressing these issues requires a massive global effort. Thankfully, people have the ability to change. Even Martin has evolved over the years. When he first started sailing he worked as a salvage diver who was more after fortune and glory than saving the world. Today, he’s much different. He’s much more aware of the footprint he leaves behind.
“I started off being of the mindset that nature was this bottomless pit of resources for us to exploit, and I used to basically be very happy to shoot big gropers and fish, and blow things up, and thinking that we couldn’t make an impact on it,” recalls Daly. “But, in the 45 or 50 years I’ve been in the ocean, it’s become really, really apparent that we have a huge impact on it. And, if we don’t stop doing what we’re doing, our kids are going to see dead oceans.”