Run takes aim at ocean plastic

David Pennington is running for cleaner oceans and communities, one kilometre at a time.

David Pennington of Duncan helps clean up plastic waste on the beaches of Waisai, Indonesia.

David Pennington is running for cleaner oceans and communities, one kilometre at a time.

The 30-year-old Duncan man, a co-founder of the Friendly Drifter Foundation, will be raising awareness and funds for a waste management facility and program in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, an exceptionally biodiverse coastal group of islands dealing with massive plastic waste problems.

“I’m trying to set up a waste management in this remote area,” said Pennington, adding that he hopes to raise $25,000 with his run.

Pennington’s Ocean Rescue Run will start April 18 at the United States-Mexico border and then follow a 2,700 km route up the Pacific coast to Vancouver, taking the Pacific Coast Highway whenever feasible. On the Ocean Rescue Run, he plans to run 62 km per day, with his girlfriend Kate driving in a camper van alongside. Pennington estimates the run will take him two months.

“We’ll try to go on the highway whenever we can just to promote awareness as much as possible,” explained Pennington, who completed an Ironman triathlon in Mexico three years ago encompassing a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike ride and 42 km run.

Ahead of the run, Pennington has been training daily and averaging around 70 km in running per week, a remarkable feat given that just three months ago he was suffering from malaria and didn’t know if he would end up doing the run.

“In January, 2016 on my last visit to Indonesia I contracted malaria. I lost a lot of my energy and power and muscle and lost about 20 pounds in about a week and a half,” Pennigton said. “But about a month and a half ago I decided to continue with it.”

Friendly Drifter originally arose out of Pennington’s travels to Indonesia and seeing the waste problem.

“When I first traveled there I realized the need for it and I met people with the same kind of concerns I had, one person in particular is a local guide called Ranny,” Pennington explained of his Friendly Drifter co-founder Ranny Tumundo. “When you go to any beach at high tide it brings all this plastic in on the beach and it just sits there. And every tide it gets washed away and new stuff comes up,” he added.

The town of Waisai, where Pennington plans to build the facility, has a population of approximately 20,000 and further land and population lies in Raja Ampat’s extended archipelago area. The town is a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride from the nearest major city of Sorong. Pennington said Raja Ampat residents dispose of waste through streams and rivers that then find their way into the ocean, and with his run he hopes to fundraise enough to build a waste facility to run garbage collection services, recycle all the plastic and run on energy from incineration of non-plastics.

“We want to do pickups weekly or on a regular basis throughout the islands on a barge that we want to buy as well,” Pennington said. “The waste management facility will recycle all plastic and then the non-plastic we will incinerate and then we’ll use that incineration process to power the facility itself.”

The facility is still in the pre-approval stage and being costed out, but Pennington said he hopes his run will provide more awareness and momentum.

Pennington said he’s already been contacted by other municipalities in Indonesia interested in exploring similar options and he hopes a successful model can be replicated around the world in communities struggling with waste and plastic pollution in their oceans.

“Our goal is to do the same thing that we’re doing in Raja Ampat throughout Indonesia,” Pennington said, adding that he hopes to eventually have large traffic and revenue generated by his site decrease fundraising needs. “We’ve spoken to other tourism department heads and they’ve requested us to their area of Indonesia and do the same thing already, so this thing could be huge. If we could kind of streamline this process that we’re doing in Raja Ampat and replicate it all over Indonesia it would be amazing.”

For more information on Friendly Drifter and supporting Pennington’s cause visit www.friendlydrifter.com.

Cowichan Valley Citizen

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