Photography by Devin Hume and Abbey Koshak, courtesy of Abbey Koshak and The Love Waters.
When you develop a lifestyle that is based around the ocean, you tend to develop a deep appreciation and respect for its complexity and its beauty. It seems that there is a growing movement of people who are committed to sharing this appreciation for the ocean and inspiring people to work together for healthier oceans and a bright future for our delicate, interconnected ecosystems. Abbey Koshak is one of these people. This avid waterwoman and Co-Founder of The Love Waters combines her creativity, wanderlust, and appreciation of the natural world in a way that we have not seen before, and she continues to keep an ever-important glimmer of hope for it all. We are thrilled to share a bit of her story and have her as an Ocean Girl Ambassador.
You’re a photographer, videographer, free diver, and marine naturalist. Will you tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to this?
I’ve always had an interest in wildlife and the natural world. I grew up in Colorado on a campground where my dad was a park ranger, and I was basically surrounded by nature for the first ten years of my life. Growing up, I was also able to travel a bit with my family, and after visits to the ocean multiple times, I had discovered a newfound love for water that has stuck with me ever since. I moved to Northern California after high school to be closer to the sea and pursue a degree in Marine Sciences, Fine Art, and to learn how to sail. The Pacific Northwest will always have a special place in my heart. I decided to continue my studies in Greece, and it was there I learned how to scuba dive. This led to a thirst to explore life underwater that I still haven’t been able to quench. With my eagerness to learn as much as I could about marine life and share what I saw with others, photography became the medium to communicate that. For the past few years I’ve been focusing on on free diving to capture my images and found it is a more natural and intimate way to connect with the ocean.
How did you decide to start The Love Waters, and what is it all about?
The Love Waters began a little over a year ago when my boyfriend and business partner Devin – a film director, photographer, and diver – and I moved to the Big Island of Hawaii. We had been traveling for the past four years around the world, exploring the ocean and documenting it. We were traveling on a very tight budget, so we found work wherever we traveled. We taught scuba diving, filmed and produced promotional videos for diving schools, and photographed sailboat races, just to name a few. On our travels we were constantly meeting people who were water men and women, people who depend on the sea for their livelihood and had a deep rooted love and respect for the ocean. We wanted to share our love for the ocean with the world, and with thousands of images and videos in our portfolio, we formed a platform where we could use our underwater photography and videography as an avenue for ocean conservation and awareness. Our images and stories showcase the beauty and diversity of the marine habitat, as well as environmental pressures such as climate change, coral bleaching, over fishing and plastic pollution that impact global marine environments. One of the main goals for The Love Waters is to complement the renegade scientific research we do with visually compelling imagery that can lead to conservation and awareness about the marine ecosystem. Ideally everyone can become a Love Water, just by considering your impact on the ecosystem as an individual and by leading by example.
Why is protecting our oceans and getting people to appreciate and respect them so important to you?
The ocean is what makes human life on Earth possible! There are thousands of people who depend on the ocean for daily survival, millions for leisure, and every single one of us for existence. Covering over 70% of our planet, our seas produce over 50% of the oxygen we breathe and absorb most of the carbon from our atmosphere. It’s hard to consider the affect your actions have on marine life. It may not seem that way, especially if you don’t live by the sea. Even standing on the shore looking out at the sea, there’s not really any evidence that the oceans are in any peril. It only becomes clear when you decide to take a look at life beneath the waves, then there’s a whole universe of life that becomes incredibly captivating and important that otherwise goes unnoticed and forgotten.
Right now, the amount of trash in the sea is horrifying, and we have only ourselves to blame. Eighty percent of pollution that enters the oceans comes from land, and the majority of the trash we produce comes from single use plastics, like straws or to-go cups. The ocean is being choked by plastic, and every single piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists today, because plastic never biodegrades. Seeing first hand what humans have done to invade sea life with pollution resonated with me, and that’s why I’m so incredibly determined to teach people about plastics in our ocean, and the undeniable balance between man and nature that has gone seriously out of whack.
The Love Waters was formed to raise awareness for the protection and preservation of our oceans. I saw a chance to be an active participant in making our world a better place, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. This desire for positive change is something that is starting to build momentum all around the world, and it feels really good to be a part of that.
Can you tell us a bit about your micro plastics project?
Absolutely! Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) is an organization that started the Global Micro Plastics Initiative, to find out how much plastic is in in our world’s oceans. They asked volunteers from all over the world who lived near a body of water, be it a lake, river, stream, or ocean, to take a one liter sample and send it to their micro plastics researcher, Abigail Barrows, who will then use a scientific process to identify how many parts per million of micro plastics are in the sample. They are studying the sources, composition, and distribution of the micro plastics. This project stood out to me in a few different ways, one being that you do not have to be a scientist to participate. Your only qualification is passion for the environment, which is exactly what The Love Waters is about. It also occurred to me that this would be an excellent way to see if and how micro plastics are affecting the local Manta Ray species in Kona, Hawai’i. Micro plastics are small, measuring five milimeters in size or less, and are too small to filter out from water treatment plants, and eventually wind up in the ocean to be mistaken for food by animals. Not only are the animals eating the plastic, the organisms that are similar in size to the micro plastic, like microscopic plankton, which are the foundation of the food system in the ocean, are being fooled into thinking that the plastic is food as well. Plankton usually dine on algae, but with the eight million tons of plastic waste being dumped into our oceans annually, it’s no surprise that the little creatures are mistaking micro plastics and degraded plastic scraps for food. This plastic is so small is gets stuck in their stomach and makes digesting food more difficult. Chemicals from the plastic then leach into the animals body, and wind up transferring to whatever animal eats this chemical ridden fish next, all the way up the food chain.
We decided that we would take seven samples and focus on various sites where the manta rays are known to feed on plankton. Since we had been diving and filming these manta rays on a daily basis, we had all the means to collect some data. We took some samples at depth, some from the shore, a few off of vessels in deep water and secluded coves, and a few in more in more populated areas. Our samples arrived safely to the micro plastics researchers in Maine, and we will hear the results in the next few weeks.
What keeps you hopeful and motivated to continue doing what you do?
The ocean has become a huge part of my life, and for the past year I have been able to work as an underwater videographer, photographer and ocean naturalist, doing educational presentations on a boat in Hawai’i, a true dream job for me. I have the perfect opportunity to educate hundreds of people everyday, and thrilled to see people experience the feeling they inevitably get when the mysteries of the ocean are unveiled to them. I think it is key to understand how truly connected we all are, to realize that the Earth is a marine habitat, and the ocean is not an infinite resource. Knowing about the effects you have on the ocean, no matter where you live, leads to caring about our daily habits, and with caring there is hope that people will be motivated to take positive actions towards maintaining the health of the ocean and the planet for not only ourselves, but for future generations as well.
Maddie Buresh is a writer and photographer with an unquenchable desire to explore the great outdoors, from the ocean to the mountains. She finds joy in trying new things, living in community, and crafting stories that encourage people to go outside, have adventures, and enjoy this big, beautiful world.