Talking plastics with Floris van Hest

Plastic pollution is a growing problem for the oceans and might also have its consequences for large predatory fish like sharks. Here in the Netherlands and on the beaches of the Dutch Caribbean islands you still find a lot of plastic on beaches and in the sea. The North Sea Foundation organizes the annual Boskalis Beach Cleanup Tour to do something about this pollution. Together with partner organizations and many volunteers, the North Sea Foundation aims to clean up the entire Dutch coast in separate stages. And now, Save Our Sharks, the North Sea Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund Netherlands are teaming up to bring this cleanup to the Dutch Caribbean islands. We spoke with Floris van Hest, director of the North Sea Foundation about his biggest ambition, sharks, and why it is so important to work with Save Our Sharks for this goal.

Can you tell us a bit more about the North Sea Foundation and about yourself?
“The North Sea Foundation started about 35 years ago and the organization is committed to conserve the North Sea and work towards a healthier sea. We do this by focusing on four major themes: sustainable fisheries, clean sea, eco friendly energy and nature conservation. Together with a passionate team, I am committed to working towards a sustainable future for the North Sea for both nature and humans.

I am the director of the North Sea Foundation for two years now. Before this, I was working for an equity fund for which I was also focusing on the oceans. In my time off I try to be as much on or near the sea as possible. Fortunately, I live very close by the North Sea and I really enjoy kitesurfing. The sea is a very welcome change after having worked behind a computer for a while!”

What is your biggest ambition for the North Sea Foundation?
“My biggest ambition is to reach the condition of a healthier and cleaner North Sea within a couple of years. With the energy transition on our doorstep, the North Sea is about to experience a big change. Are we going to use the sea for industrial purposes? Or do we choose a more sustainable, thriving North Sea with space for nature and sustainable use? As a foundation, we commit to the latter option, and personally, I am convinced that we can accomplish this in one of the wealthiest regions of the world. And a healthy North Sea needs predators like sharks and rays!”

What do sharks mean for you, and what is your most memorable experience with a shark or ray?
“I think sharks are really cool animals! Especially thinking about the fact that these animals have been around for such a long time is really fascinating. I have snorkeled with stingrays and nurse sharks in Belize and for me, it was a very surreal to see how big these animals are. We also saw a small eagle ray on the bottom there, which was even a surprise to our guides!”

Why do the North Sea Foundation and Save Our Sharks team up for the Boskalis Beach Cleanup Tour 2017?
“It is our mission to work towards a healthier sea, and obviously plastic does not fit in that equation. Of course, we should also focus on the source of the pollution. By organizing this national cleanup, we clean the beaches and simultaneously generate awareness for the problem of plastic pollution. By working together with Save Our Sharks, we expanded the cleanup efforts to the Dutch Caribbean.”

Which shark tops your bucket list?
“It would be amazing to see a porbeagle or thresher shark, but of course, it has to be in the North Sea!”