In the search for Shetland Stories

posted on November 07, 2019

After almost a year of planning the Arctic Whale expedition the team was ready to set night sails on a 2 months expedition with the arctic expedition yacht Barba. Our goal was to highlight the threat of plastic pollution and human impact on our oceans. As a small but global and highly devoted team, our toolbox consisted of journalists, scientists, professional sailors, communication experts and high skilled photographers to raise awareness to protect the oceans on “top of the world”, the arctic. Photo: Tord Karlsen /

Photographer Tord Karlsen testing his camera just before departure to Shetland. Photo: Owen Vachell

Captain Andreas B. Heide doing his final preparations before departure. Photo: Tord Karlsen

The co-founders of the arctic whale project had two very different backgrounds. A marine biologist famed for his high arctic expeditions with the research yacht Barba and diving with orcas in the arctic & the other with an experienced background from communication & working for sustainable impact within different organizations in the shipping industry. The combination underlines that bridging the gap between nature and business realities is a necessity for creating a conscious society as a whole.

Our first destination was the northernmost section of the United Kingdom, the Shetland Islands, a couple of degrees of the Arctic Circle. With a hundred islands in the Shetland Islands, there sure is a lot to explore. But first, a challenging North Sea crossing awaited.

Co-founder & Captain Andreas B.Heide, Sailor & Biotechnologist Diane Seda at the wheel and Co-founder & Impact Manager Sandra C. Ness on the North Sea Crossing. Photo: Tord Karlsen /

Peter Svanberg, a great sailor and member of the Barba team!

Andreas navigating us safely across the Atlantic Ocean. Photo: Alexander Thorsen /

Biotechnologist Diane Seda on night shift at the North Sea Crossing. Photo: Tord Karlsen /
Biotechnologist Diane Seda on night shift at the North Sea Crossing. Photo: Tord Karlsen /

Travelling long distances with various sailing experience left a lot of responsibility on the captain and a tremendous amount of learning, especially for the less experienced sailors. On a stretch like this, everyone needs to stay active for a safe crossing and we all did what we could to make sure we would reach Shetland, safe and sound. We experienced the highs and the lows of sailing, including sea sickness but also the humbleness the ocean made us feel. Being one with nature reminded us how important it is to take care of it.


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Co-founder Sandra C.Ness on her first North Sea Crossing. Photo: Tord Karlsen /

After 36 hours at sea it was great to see the charming and authentic houses of Lerwick. Photo: Tord Karlsen /

Photo: Tord Karlsen /

After a well deserved rest we woke up to a morning coffee with journalist Andrew Gibson, Creative Director behind Millgaet Media. We ended up with an interview with II Shetland and live interview on STV News Aberdeen on the 9th of May, 2019 highligting our work:

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Moreover, we were warmly welcomed by RNLI. RNLI is the charity that saves life at sea.Their lifeboat crew and lifeguards provide a ring of safety around the UK and Rol. RNLI personell rescue an average of 22 persons per day. You can read more about their heroic work here. RNLI kindly shared their knowledge on how to safely operate in the waters around Shetland but they also shared their own experience on how plastic has impacted their local community. It was facinating to hear their true hero stories on lives they have saved at sea.

Two inspired co-founders visiting RNLI’s rescue boat in Lerwick. Photo: Tord Karlsen /

Photo: Tord Karlsen /

Their stories included one very lucky bird, a gannet stuck in a fishing net with no way of making it out on his own. During an operational assessment in thick fog, their trained eye managed to spot him and after their heroic efforts the gannet was free at last. Meeting up with these heroes and gaining local ocean knowledge was extremely valuable and we send them our greatest appreciation for their hospitality towards our crew at Barba.

Photocred: RNLI Lerwick

A lucky gannet enjoying life at Noss Island. Photo: Tord Karlsen/

The beautiful gannet survived it’s fatal destiny but the fact that 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs reminds us that there is no time left to wait to stop plastic from entering our oceans. Every action starts with a single person or a small group of people deciding that the time to take action is now.

A big part of plastic debrees comes from fishing nets. Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear probably represents the largest category in terms of volume and impact out of all sea based plastic sources. In addition, it is estimated that 80% of plastic in our oceans comes from landbased sources, you & me. This has negative impacts on our oceans inhabitants and species living in it. We have managed to create a material at an uncontrollable scale with no plan on how to manage it afterwards. Using plastic that lasts a matter of minutes will not break down for hundreds of years. Walking on the ground cigarette buns, bottles and plastic bottle caps it can seem like we are literally drowning in plastic. Waking up in the outskerries, Shetland Islands, we did a a one hour clean-up after the enormous amount of fishing net debrees meeting us at the harbour.

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Photo: Tord Karlsen /

Photo: Tord Karlsen/

A gannet carrying a fishing net, most likely to build a nest is a contrast to the otherwise fairytale like scenery. The island of Noss is renowned as one of Europe’s finest wildlife sites. Its 180 metre high sea cliffs – dramatic at any time of year – come to life in summer when tens of thousands of seabirds return here to nest.

Mr Seal approaching us at the harbour. Be careful of the orcas our friend!

Photo: Tord Karlsen/

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Mr Seal. Photo: Tord Karlsen/

Puffins are under increasing pressure of the effects of climate change. Even on the amazing scenery we find here on Shetland.

Photo: Alexander Thorsen /

Observing the beautiful wildlife here at Shetland we feel in tune with nature, however there is a clear paradox luring. The wildlife below the deck are being polluted by plastics being produced at a dramatic scale and humans have no action plan as to how to handle it.

In the next blogpost, we will share stories from our plastic trawling at the Barba Ocean Lab, our visit on Hillswick Sanctuary and takeaways from our time at Shetland to spark enthusiasm and knowledge on plastic pollution prevention.

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Two happy sailors, Diane Seda & Peter Svanberg at the beautiful Eshaness! Photo: Alexander Thorsen/