The Proclaimers said they would walk five hundred miles, and Vanessa Carlton promised to cover one thousand, but daredevil Antonio de la Rosa has them both beat by a long shot. He set out to cover an almost unimaginable distance, though he wouldn’t exactly be doing it on his own two feet.
Along the way, he wrestled with doubt, all kinds of adversity, and one horrific sight that broke his heart. The adventurer swore he would try and make it right — if he ever finished his journey alive.
To call Antonio de la Rosa an athlete would be an understatement. The Spaniard was hungry like the wolf, hunting down whatever mad goal he set for himself. And no other predator on Earth could pursue like Antonio.
He was into extreme sports, but rather than launch himself off a ramp or parachute out of a plane, Antonio preferred the long burn of endurance events. His activity of choice was paddleboarding, which had already seen him cross the Atlantic Ocean in 2014.
Five years later, Antonio felt ready for a bigger and bolder adventure. The 49-year-old plotted a course to paddle nearly 3,000 miles between California and Hawaii. Before he could take on the relentless Pacific conditions, however, he needed the right gear.
The paddler was used to close quarters on such voyages, but this particular challenge would require more than an ordinary board. Without any assistance or pit stops along the way, the vessel would have to account for Antonio’s every need.
Facebook / Antonio de la Rosa
He commissioned a custom paddleboat that could withstand severe currents and haul several months worth of supplies. It measured out to 24 feet in length, far beyond the normal size. But it made up for any bulkiness with a few gadgets.
Facebook / Antonio de la Rosa
Thanks to an array of solar panels, Antonio had access to state-of-the-art lighting, GPS, and communications. The only electronic gizmo he left behind, naturally, was a motor. He would be the only thing keeping the boat on course.
Once Antonio loaded up his hi-tech paddleboard with all of his gear, it came out to a ton and a half. Though it seemed hefty, the adventurer knew he’d be grateful for the surplus of provisions if he veered off-course.
Instagram / Antonio de la Rosa
From there, there wasn’t much left for Antonio to do but row — a lot. He set out from San Francisco on June 9th. Glancing back at the picturesque skyline behind the Golden Gate Bridge, he wondered if he’d ever glimpse dry land again.
Facebook / Antonio de la Rosa
Antonio’s first leg of the trip was nothing short of triumphant. Surging with adrenaline, he left the West Coast in his wake and paddled up to fifty miles each day. He made a point of enjoying the easy going while he could.
As the days turned into weeks, Antonio’s morale took a dip. His meager diet had him shedding pounds. He hadn’t spoken to another human being since he left, and the beautiful ocean vista was becoming shockingly disgusting.
Instagram / Antonio de la Rosa
Though there wasn’t land around for miles and miles, Antonio saw entire islands of garbage floating by. Tons of plastic waste floated along in the Pacific, and some sea life was tragically entangled in the mess.
It upset the paddler so much; he just wished he had someone to vent to about it. Perhaps part of him wanted to pull a Castaway and befriend a lost volleyball that washed up alongside him. Soon, however, Antonio had more pressing problems than loneliness.
The New York Times
Though he passed his halfway point, he officially entered stormy season. Hurricane Flossie rolled in without warning and forced Antonio to take shelter inside his tiny boat. He could only hope it didn’t drag him out to uncharted waters.
When the skies cleared, Antonio indeed struggled to get back to his planned route. The current still swirled from the storm, limiting him to a sluggish ten miles per day. He slept only in small amounts, as he couldn’t afford further delays.
One morning, it occurred to him that it was his birthday. Antonio hit the big 5-0, so to celebrate, he set aside a couple minutes to enjoy a single cookie. Then he got to work covering the home stretch.
He’d dropped 25 pounds and gone months without any communication, but when Antonio spotted Honolulu, he found himself paddling with more energy than ever before. The champion raised his arms in triumph as his team rushed over to meet him.
Adventure Sports Network
Elated, he kissed the dock the second he stepped off the paddleboat. It was his first taste of land in 76 days! He planned to relieve his exhaustion with a beer and a hamburger, but he did have a message to share first.
Antonio wanted the world to know about how serious the Pacific’s trash problem was. Maybe litterbugs didn’t care about their pollution because it seemed so far away, but Antonio promised to set an example.
Twitter / Doop
He displayed all the packaging he used throughout his voyage. Not one lid made it into the ocean waters. Instead, he proudly dropped each container in the recycling bin and urged others to do the same. After all, saving the ocean would be a more daunting task than paddling across it.
Facebook / Antonio de la Rosa
Luckily, Antonio wasn’t the only one dedicated to that mission. At just 18 years old, Fionn Ferreira was an aspiring scientist from West Cork, a region in southern Ireland. While there, he became all too familiar with a certain substance that was threatening his home.
See, the ocean was a big part of Fionn’s life, but you don’t have to live on the coast to understand how truly enormous the ocean is. Covering a staggering 139,434,000 square miles, the waters of our ocean account for more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that 80 percent of all life on our planet is found in our oceans. Given that we’ve only explored about 10 percent of these waters, there’s no telling how many creatures actually call the ocean home.
But despite the seemingly unfathomable amount of aquatic life here — recent estimates place the number at upwards of three trillion organisms — each and every creature that swims in our oceans currently faces an enormous threat. This danger was the substance that threatened Fionn’s home.
The Nature Conservancy
Large quantities of microplastics, which are fragments of plastic less than five millimeters in length, are turning up in environments all over the world. These bits of pollution are the product of larger plastics degrading in the ocean, though they also originate from waste water treatment centers that are unable to filter them out.
Unlike standard plastic pollution, microplastics are small enough to be absorbed into the environment, mixing with sand, rock, and even the water itself. These particles are then consumed by aquatic life, becoming part of the creature and poisoning them as a result.
In many cases, these fragments also make their way back to us in the fish we consume. It’s estimated that Americans consume up to 52,000 microplastic particles each year, though as of now, their effects on us remain unknown.
One fear, however, is that some of these microplastics may contain toxic chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA). These substances have been linked to cancer and reproductive issues in humans, giving us yet another reason to keep our oceans clean.
bartholemews1000hats / Imgur
To Fionn’s dismay, these microplastics aren’t just found in places where humans reside: they’re beginning to turn up in the farthest reaches of the globe. Just recently, in fact, samples taken from Arctic glaciers revealed that microplastic particles are present there, too!
Removing these fragments from our oceans has become a top priority for scientists, though the process isn’t so clear cut. Because the average bit of microplastic is about the size of a sesame seed, even the world’s brightest minds have struggled to find a way to get the job done. Until Fionn noticed something.
But while kayaking one day, Fionn came across several microplastic fragments acting in a peculiar way. After a recent tanker spill had washed oil onto the rocks of a nearby island, Fionn found that plastic stuck to the oil almost like metal to a magnet.
Because both plastic and oil are non-polar, they’re more inclined to stick to one another in nature. A lightbulb went off in Fionn’s head, and after returning home from his day at sea, he hopped online and Googled the name “Steve Papell.”
A NASA engineer in the 1960s, Papell was tasked with finding a way to make rocket fuel magnetic so it could survive zero gravity during the Apollo space missions. He did just that in 1963 by producing ferrofluid, a liquid that becomes strongly magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field.
Today, ferrofluid can most commonly be found in speakers and other electronics, where it’s used to help control vibration and seal out debris. But could the key to saving our oceans really be found in the iPhones and tablets we use every day?
La Jolla Mom
Rather than smash open a few laptops, Fionn opted to create his own “ferrofluid” using magnetite powder and vegetable oil. Not only would this be a cheaper alternative to the real thing, but it would also pose no risk of releasing harmful substances into the environment.
The Irish Sun
Fionn was so confident in his experiment’s effectiveness that, in 2019, he resolved to enter it in the annual Google Science Fair in Mountain View, California. Before a panel of top judges, Fionn wagered that he could remove at least 85 percent of microplastics from a polluted water sample.
He began by injecting his “ferrofluid” into the water, which immediately turned the sample completely black. However, after placing a magnet next to the solution the sample cleared, revealing a nearly crystal-clear glass of water.
In the end, Fionn actually exceeded his own expectations: he was able to remove 88 percent of the microplastic particles from the water sample. For his incredible efforts, the 18-year-old was awarded first prize at the fair and received $50,000 to continue his research.
Shortly after his amazing win, Fionn began studying at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, one of the world’s most prestigious research universities. Here, the budding scientist hopes to perfect his experiment so that it may one day help save our world.
But according to Fionn, it’s going to take more than just a little vegetable oil and magnetite to fix the damage we’ve done: “I’m not saying that my project is the solution… The solution is that we stop using plastic altogether.”
The Southern Star
Reducing the world’s plastic usage to zero would certainly help to quell the growing microplastic threat, and many countries have already come out in support of this proposal. However, when the United Nations Environment Assembly met in 2019, their primary concern involved a different problem entirely.
Among the smorgasbord of environmental issues, deforestation posed a particularly large threat to the international community. The Earth was losing over 18 million acres of greenery each year.
Skeptics will downplay the effects of this trend. Wood is a major resource; how could we just stop harvesting it? How much harm could a few extra logs do to the planet? Well, even in an urbanized society, forests remain one of our most valuable assets.
Of course, these wooded areas serve as the habitat for countless plant and animal species. Without a stable home, these creatures could be in danger of going extinct. But deforestation is also a problem for humans.
Twitter / global canopy
It’s no secret that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide are permanently raising temperatures all over Earth. It’s unclear if we can turn back this tide, but without robust forests, we do not stand a chance.
Unsplash / Roman Khripkov
Areas of dense vegetation serve as a sort of sponge for carbon dioxide, plus they also help keep moisture inside the soil. But with their influence shrinking, climate change is brewing strange weather patterns that are endangering people everywhere.
Unsplash / Boudewijn Huysmans
NASA has monitored these effects using satellite technology. Years of data from MODIS — Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer — have shown unexpected shifts in greenery over recent periods.
For most of the 21st century, the drop in trees has allowed temperatures to rise and water to escape, thus transforming lush agricultural areas into virtual deserts. This process has forced entire communities to leave their homes.
Particularly in China, which contains a small percentage of the world’s forests compared to its massive size, desertification became an incredible danger. If the dust storms in center-city Beijing were any indication, the Chinese were quickly losing their country.
YouTube / Info Desk
Zhang Jianlong, Director of China’s Forestry Administration, understood the dire situation required an immediate response. Pulling a few strings with friends he had in other parts of the government, he set a bold plan into action.
The rest of the world, however, wasn’t aware of the Forestry solution at the time. They only noticed it in 2019, when NASA’s satellites picked up on a startling find on Earth’s surface below.
Thanks to the work of concerned environmentalists everywhere, greening was on the rise. All of a sudden, however, about one 25% of that growth appeared to be coming out of China. Only a few years prior, it looked like it was on the verge of becoming a sandbox.
Clearly, this was no happy accident. With the trees sprouting in such neatly organized rows in many of the most vulnerable regions of China, only a human operation could be responsible. But how did this all happen so quickly?
State Forestry Administration
It turns out that Zhang convinced the government to lend him the assistance of 60,000 soldiers. Instead of carrying rifles, however, these troops trudged out to the environmental battlefield with shovels and gardening tools.
When the first spade broke through the dirt, the Three-North Shelter Forest Program was underway. The troops got to work planting thousands of trees to form an artificial forest. Ultimately, the plan was to build a “Great Green Wall.”
Naturally, the strategy isn’t a guaranteed success. Ecologist Jiang Gaoming pointed out that the government has planted much of the greenery in spaces not capable of sustaining plant life. Many of the trees will die out before too long.
For the short term, at least, China’s forests have boomed. The renewed greenery elongated the growing season and lessened the severity of dust storms. Best of all, the program inspired similar efforts worldwide.
India suffered from many of the same industrial and ecological problems as China, so they too turned their attention to forestry. Summoning a huge number of volunteers, the country managed to plant a record 66 million saplings in just half a day!
India also upgraded its irrigation systems nationwide, bringing water to previously dried-out areas. While this process does siphon moisture away from other areas, it’s been effective at fighting back against desertification.
Given the current state of our planet, a ton of work is necessary to keep our world beautiful and liveable. But whether you’re a soldier or a civilian, anyone can make a difference.
Unsplash / Noah Buscher
For instance, Sebastião Salgado, a Brazilian photojournalist, made a huge impact, after spending years abroad highlighting injustices across the globe. When he saw the effects of deforestation, he and his wife cooked up an unbelievable scheme to help out.
See, the Earth mattered a lot to him. He took photos that told stories about war, famine, poverty, disease, and violence. But fans of his work found relief in Salgado’s nature photos, which portrayed the power of our planet.
His wife, Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado, wrote and edited the context to his photography books and produced a documentary about her husband’s work called The Salt Of The Earth. Together, they saw all there was to see — or so they’d thought.
Back in 1994, the couple spent months documenting the Rwandan genocide. Understandably, the horror left them feeling broken, and when the war was over, all they wanted was to rest up in their hometown in Brazil.
After having been on the road for years on end, seeing Minas Gerais, Brazil, felt like huge relief at first. That was until the Salgados began to notice the change in the landscape around them; their home hardly looked familiar anymore.
The trees outside of their land had vanished, and all that remained were empty stretches of dirt. While this region is not part of the Amazon rainforest, its flora is supposed to be quite similar. Clearly, that was no longer the case.
Deforestation has plagued South America for decades now, as the demand for wood just keeps on rising. In fact, Brazil specifically has seen the highest deforestation rates of natural forests in the continent, and most of it is done illegally.
Between 2000 and 2008, both legal and illegal deforestation turned Brazil into a shell of its former self, with satellite imaging picking up less green year after year. Sebastião and his wife recognized this — and it broke their hearts.
“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” Sebastião told The Guardian in 2015. “Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees.” Without drastic intervention, he knew, that number would likely soon be 0.
“Suddenly, my wife had a fabulous idea to replant this forest,” Sebastião recalled. It was a tall order, one the couple wasn’t even sure was possible. Could they even put a dent in deforestation’s impact? They knew they had to try.
So they gathered all the manpower they could get and went to work. The plan was to gather the remaining seeds from the local region and carefully plant them, one by one, to get natural fauna to return to the area as well.
Every day for years on end, the Salgados and a few volunteers woke up, put on their gear, and worked for hours to undo the damage and rebuild the forest that once adorned this province.
Trees and plants needing a little extra TLC were grown in several greenhouses the Salgados built. There, Lelia looked after them with the help of a local gardening expert. The more flora that survived and grew, the more land they could recover.
And as time went by, seeds grew roots, roots grew branches, and branches grew leaves. It was difficult for the hard workers to not see their progress overnight, but after several months, their blood, sweat, and tears began to pay off.
As the trees grew, Sebastião felt peace. “All the insects and birds and fish returned and, thanks to this increase of the trees,” he said, “I, too, was reborn – this was the most important moment.”
“We need to listen to the words of the people on the land,” Sebastião explained. “Nature is the Earth and it is other beings and if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised.”
Over two decades, the 1,700-acre forest was almost completely restored by planting nearly 300 different types of trees and plants, which caused a whopping 172 of bird species to return to the area.
Along with the birds, 33 endangered mammal species and 15 endangered reptile species were welcomed back into their native home. This meant the world for animals like the orangutan, who suffered greatly from deforestation.
The Salgados’ work was unbelievable, and they proved small groups can make a huge difference. Planting more trees, plants, and flowers is a fantastic place to start, even if you don’t have many resources!