Swimming with My Thoughts

September 13th, 2022
Reading time: 4 minutes

I am an environmentalist at heart. My journey, personally and professionally, has led me to a path of ensuring we leave this earth in better shape than we found it. It began with my grandma at her home in Georgia, and it’s why I founded Brightmark: to find ways to make our mark on the only planet we get to call home.

A few months ago, I had the absolute pleasure of going on an adventure with my daughter and our partners at GHOF to Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, for a rare opportunity to swim with the whale sharks—in the waters around the isle that are home to these magnificent creatures.

If swimming with sharks sounds risky, it isn’t with whale sharks. Some sharks (like bull or white) you want to be a bit more cautious of. However, whale sharks feed solely on plankton, so humans are not in danger when they swim in the same waters as these majestic creatures.

To say it was a thrill would be downplaying the emotion I felt while swimming among the sharks. It was an experience I will never forget.

The reason whale sharks are critical to ocean life is that they feed on plankton—often gathering together in areas where this food source is plentiful. And since plankton is sensitive to changes in the nutrient levels in the water, more plankton equals healthier waters. Thus, more whale sharks mean healthier waters.

As I looked out the airplane window as we left Isla and banked over the crystal blue waters I had swum in not 24 hours earlier, it wasn’t lost on me how everything on this planet is interconnected.

Recently, we announced a partnership with NOAA, teaming up with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to help them properly recycle challenging buoys and downlines that historically end up in landfills at the end of their useful lifecycles. These hard-to-recycle plastics will be turned into new circular plastics. It’s a first-of-its-kind collaboration to divert plastics from our oceans, and I am so excited to see where this can go. I genuinely believe we are scratching the surface as to what we can do and cannot wait to progress further.

It’s surreal that I am fortunate enough to say one day I’m swimming in the ocean with sharks that act as a barometer for the health of our oceans, and a few days later, we announce a partnership that will allow Brightmark to clean up our waters further.

To say we’ve come full circle is perhaps a bit misleading, but it feels more than serendipitous to me. Because when you boil it down, Brightmark is about environmental stewardship.

Our waste processes create circular solutions to some of the world’s most pressing waste challenges. They are game-changing technologies impacting how we think about waste, circularity, and fighting climate change. They will only become more effective as we break ground on new facilities and build more relationships with our farmer partners.

However, when you boil it down, everything we do is done with our mission at the helm: Reimagining Waste. Whether we turn plastics into eco-wax, convert cow manure into renewable energy, or recycle buoys into new circular plastic products, everything we do works toward that goal, with the ultimate reward of creating a world without waste.

Sometimes you find inspiration in the most unexpected places. I never expected to find confirmation of the work we are doing swimming with whale sharks in the Caribbean Sea with my daughter. Still, if I don’t put myself out there, I remove any possibility of understanding the greater world around us and our place in it.

Just keep swimming, my friends.

Bob Powell

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