Chris Shearman, Principal at Miramar Global interviews Mathilda Dsilva, the founder of Ocean Purpose Project (OPP), a charity supported by Miramar
Mathilda has an impressive background – from her Singpore Idol days, to being a TV Producer and later head of Community, social media for Media Corp and StarHub DBS. We wanted to find out how Mathilda came to start Ocean Purpose Project, her successes and some of the challenges she is currently facing.
What is the Ocean Purpose Project and how did it come about?
We started Ocean Purpose Project not wanting it to be yet another beach clean-up awareness engine but something that bridges action, awareness, and actual deployment. Due to the complexities of ocean pollution, we have created three pillars to our charity which tackle each of the areas of concern. The first addresses how we clean ocean plastic at scale. We convert ocean plastic, collected through beach clean-ups, into low sulphur fuel and hydrogen. With limited grants that support us and everything we earn from our beach clean-ups helps us to stay afloat. The second pillar deals with chemical pollution through a low-cost, low-tech solution which is bioremediation. The aim for this is to work with fish farmers to grow seaweed and muscles which will absorb chemical pollution and eventually turn this into a new form of bioplastic. I was directly affected by ocean pollution when I represented Singapore in a Dragon Boat race in Boracay in the Philippines. I developed three autoimmune conditions from being exposed to toxic algae bloom which is caused by a high volume of nutrients in the water. Boracay had been pumping raw sewage and chemicals into their tourist beaches and millions of people are being exposed to similar conditions across the world. The third pillar focuses on education and behavioural change through online and offline campaigns. We’re shifting mindsets of key decision makers responsible for developing new products for blue carbon and we’re helping those who are looking to incorporate sustainability within their own organisation.
What is one of your major successes and can you tell us about the challenges you’re currently facing?
In 2018 we were in talks with islanders of Medang, Indonesia who wanted to take action to solve their ocean plastic problem and turn this into something they desperately needed – fuel and electricity. We raised money from the Singapore Dragon Boat community and the Pilates community in Singapore and the UK and worked with the University of Gadjah Mada and a motorcycle repair company to create the first plastic to fuel (PTF) unit. During COVID, Medang was totally cut off from everything; they received no PPE or medical supplies and didn’t have access to the vaccine until recently. On the positive side, families were able to continue putting food on the table and stay connected with the world during the pandemic due to the PTF unit turning their plastic into fuel and electricity.
Our biggest challenge has been staffing and finding the support we need to take the charity to the next level. Another challenge we’re facing is securing funding to run our programs; for us to successfully enter the plastic to hydrogen market, which is our ambition, we need engineers who are at the top of their field, we need an office space, and we need buy-in from 115 fish farms. We currently have just one on board. We want to grow but without more investment we’re currently at a sticking point.
What are your hopes for Ocean Purpose Project in the future?
As well as my own Ocean Purpose Projects, I want to help other start-ups, products or services move forward to create a regenerative blue economy and support them through similar struggles I have faced. Plastic to hydrogen is a totally new market and I want to see us produce multiple PTF units. We want industries to take our ideas and drive it forwards as that would be the solution of ocean plastic in this lifetime. I don’t want to solve just one problem with one solution, I l would love to have these ecosystem solutions that help educate others and encourage them to think outside the box regarding their impact on the blue economy. Speaking at COP27, many activists from Morocco, Africa and South America found our work very appealing and partnerships are underway to begin dynamic collaborations and capacity building.
Miramar Global have run several events in conjunction with OPP and have been amazed by the impact these projects make towards solving ocean pollution. For anyone who would like to be involved the next Singapore beach clean it’s on 26 Feb, 9:00 am – 11:00 am, meeting at Pasir Ris Park Carpark E – 125 Elias Rd, Singapore 519926. We look forward to seeing you there!