The People Project: Jeremy Brown, Ocean Protect

29 Aug 2019

In this series, we shine a spotlight on the incredible individuals working hard to shape the sustainable transformation of our built environment. Meet Jeremy Brown, Ocean Protect Co-Founder, who is crusading to protect biodiversity in our waters.

What is your professional background and how did your experience contribute to the launch of Ocean Protect?

I’m originally from New Zealand where, growing up I took our clean, green lifestyle and environment for granted. It was only when I stepped out to see the world that I realised how poor the condition of the planet was elsewhere.

I first learnt about all things stormwater from a friend in Auckland before moving to Australia where I went on to meet my now business partner. Learning about stormwater was eye opening for me - the impact of the problem on our environment is alarming and yet, solutions exist!

Is the built environment’s impact on our oceans underestimated? If so, why?

We commissioned third party research earlier this year that shows marine and waterway health is the number one concern for Australians in regard to population growth – ahead of housing density, reduced water supply and increased traffic. The survey of 1,000 Aussies also showed the nation is largely unaware of the impact urban stormwater has on the environment. Almost half of all respondents (49 per cent) thought the leading source of pollution in urban waterways is illegal discharging and dumping, when in fact, stormwater runoff is the largest source.

Part of the reason for this is the focus on single-use plastics, but few people think about how plastic ends up in our waterways. They’re also less aware of the other pollutants that are carried to our ocean via stormwater runoff such as sediments, heavy metals, nitrogen, phosphorous and cigarette butts.

A key reason for the under-estimation of the problem is that stormwater is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – it flows down the gutter and into a pit, and then it ‘disappears’. 

How is pollution from the built environment threatening biodiversity in our oceans?

Stormwater from the built environment (if untreated) contains a lot of pollutants, including plastics, sediment, heavy metals, and bacteria.  These pollutants invariably result in reduced ecological biodiversity – due to disease and death to ocean life.

For example, researchers have found that 30% of dead sea turtles in Moreton Bay were “full of plastic”. Scientists also estimate that 80% of seabird species have plastic in their stomachs, which means that they are likely regurgitating plastic into their chicks when feeding.

Stormwater is the biggest source of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans which, along with other pollutants, is killing marine life around the globe.

What are some of the solutions that Ocean Protect have come up with to tackle this issue?

Reliable stormwater infrastructure works to stop pollution entering our oceans and upstream waterways.

At Ocean Protect, we install and manage stormwater treatment assets that capture pollution and prevent it from flowing into downstream waterways. We see first-hand how effective these assets are, which is probably why we are so passionate about what we do.

We also have an advocacy program where we share much needed funds to grass-roots charities on the frontline of protecting our oceans. In 2019, we have donated $50,000 to not-for-profits to support their collective conservation efforts (Sea Turtle Foundation, Take 3 For the Sea, Plastic Free Foundation, Australian Seabird Rescue and Australian Association for Environmental Education NSW).

And perhaps most importantly, we are a leading voice for education around urban stormwater. Through our own podcasts and in partnership with Keep Australia Beautiful we are sharing facts and solutions with the youth of NSW and the world. It will be the power of the younger generations who expect a better environmental outcome then we currently have and it is critical that they understand what we can do to protect our oceans.

What are some of the roadblocks you’re currently facing in terms of completely eliminating water pollution from the built environment?

The biggest roadblock to protecting our oceans is the fact the government is not enforcing the appropriate maintenance of stormwater infrastructure.

Without proper maintenance, all stormwater treatment assets become ineffective and ultimately, our waterways pay the price. We estimate that, if just the existing stormwater treatment assets within Australia were appropriately maintained, this would prevent around 500 standard wheelie bins of pollution (240 litres) flowing into the ocean every day.

We are investing significant time and resources into speaking with local, state and federal governments to promote a movement to zero litter to oceans – something that several large jurisdiction in the USA (including the state of California) are already actively working towards.

How can sustainability practitioners get on board with protecting biodiversity in our oceans?

I’d highly recommend leading by example – reducing their own personal use of single-use plastics, reducing their own personal carbon footprint, eating less animal and fish products, and ‘taking 3 for the sea’ – picking up three pieces of litter (and putting them in an appropriate bin) when they are out and about.

Lastly, they could ask their local councilors and politicians about what they are doing to reduce the amount of pollution entering our ocean and waterways (such as ensuring stormwater treatment assets are appropriately maintained), and see if they would support a ‘zero litter to ocean’ target.

You can hear more about Jeremy's incredible work at Ocean Protect at our upcoming Biodiversity Spotlight Seminar