“We were diving in Sydney harbour, looking at seahorses,” says Silke Stuckenbrock, a photographer from Sydney, NSW. “But as we dived along the shark nets at Manly, all we saw was how much rubbish had collected there. We were finding parking tickets from Bondi, so it all comes through the harbour and gets washed around. You can dive along the net and pick up a strawer and another strawer and within two or three minutes, you can’t hold them in your hand.”
The keen diver and environmentalist and her partner starting picking up the rubbish and filling mesh bags with it. It was a spontaneous small act of help that was to inspire countless beach clean-ups around the world. She describes coming up from the water with a bag full of plastic waste and seeing crabs crawling amongst the strawers, caps, forks and plastic bags. While they disentangled crabs from the rubbish on the shoreline, passers-by stopped to watch. “They asked what we were doing and they offered to help in the water with us. We told them they can help on land, that’s where this stuff comes from,” she says. “We realised how powerful it is to have that display of rubbish and we asked ‘What if we don’t just show it to the passers by, what if you can spread that image worldwide?’”
The Two Hands Project was born. The essence of the initiative is to encourage people to get out into the outdoors and, using their own two hands, spend half an hour collecting plastic rubbish in the area. Participants are then asked to take a photo of themselves with all of the rubbish from their clean-up it and to share the image online. Co-founder Silke’s aim is to inspire people to pick up rubbish around them, anytime, anywhere.
They have since had tens of thousands of photos sent to them from individuals, groups, school children and clubs from all over the world, showing the plastic waste collected in just 30 minutes from public spaces, school yards, beaches and parks. The Two Hands Project has given rise to a Spanish version of the initiative, Dos Manos, as well as Responsible Runners in Australia. “It can be quite overwhelming when you look at the problem of pollution, but when you break it down into small things, we can all help,” says Silke.
One way to make a little change, she says, is look to our own habits, given most of the plastic she and her team finds in Sydney harbour comes from the immediate area.
“You always look for the message in the bottle, but most of what you find is local, it’s ours.”
She says she is driven by a bigger urge than simply helping, an instinct to protect the world around us, from the dry land to hidden underwater habitats. “It’s what we should be doing. We can’t be without the environment, we are connected to it, it’s the extended back yard of our lives and we need to look after it,” she says.
“The initial instinct when you see animals being affected is that you want to help them, but when you look at the bigger picture, it’s about survival. We cannot live without the ocean.”