To celebrate World Turtle Day 2017 we asked Christine Parfitt, marine biologist and founder of Bottle for Botol, what inspired her to work with turtles?
Where you always interested in marine animals?
As a kid I always wanted to be a vet, but while studying at Murdoch University, I bought my first goldfish, set up a freshwater fish tank, then a marine tank and eventually I started breeding clownfish and seahorses. During this time, I developed a strong interest in the ocean, I transferred over to Marine Science and never looked back!
I actually graduated from Uni absolutely petrified of the ocean, but I was a diver and a life guard. After graduating from Uni I took up surfing to get over my fear. The ocean is now one of my favourite places to spend time be it running on the beach, surfing, kitesurfing or swimming.
When did you become interested in turtles?
My interest in turtles also developed at Murdoch University, where I was introduced to a turtle conservation centre just one hour drive south of my house. I began volunteering weekly and also went to Barrow Island off the North coast of Western Australia to undertake turtle monitoring activities. I managed to combine my passion for travel as well and found myself in a remote community in Costa Rica in 2008. I lived with no electricity for six months, learning to speak in Spanish and doing nightly patrols for turtles.
How did you start volunteering at the turtle conservation project in West Bali?
In 2013 I got the opportunity of a life time, as an AYAD volunteer with the Australian Government, to work for a year at a turtle conservation project in rural West Bali. This opportunity was really exciting for me because I was able to combine my passion for travel, languages and turtles and begin a PhD on the topic.
While in West Bali I had the privilege of working with an incredible teacher, Pak Yasa Tenaya, and his students. They ran the environment club, SISPALA, at their local junior high school. They invited me to join their environment club activities which involved planting mangroves, attending birdwatching competitions, cleaning up plastic from the beach and composting to name just a few.
Where did you get the idea for Bottle for Botol?
One thing I noticed during my time there was that these students, while some of the most environmentally active students I have ever met, didn’t seem to know that plastic was any different to a banana leaf or an apple core and I was shocked to see that while they were spending their time cleaning up the local beaches, they were also using and throwing away hundreds of plastic cups each week in order to access clean water. Together with Pak Yasa, I developed an education program where students could learn about the difference between plastic waste and a banana leaf, in addition to the impacts of plastic on our health, our oceans and our marine life. This education program became the basis of Bottle for Botol and has been adapted now to suit all age groups at schools in Bali.
Written by Catherine Elliott, Dode Gargitha and Alice Sainsbury.