Shani Meintjes is a young South African volunteering in Costa Rica on a project very close to her heart, a project aimed at decreasing the impact of the vastly polluting cargo shipping industry. You might ask how this is even possible given that 90% of all cargo globally is transported via cargo ship and that changing the mindset of this industry would be a slow and lumbering process. But read Shani’s article on Sailcargo Inc – an amazing undertaking where Shani and a number of other volunteers are building a carbon-negative sailing cargo tallship on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
When you awake at first light of day under an already warm sun, pick a juicy, bright orange mango from the nearest branch and sit down under the shade of the cashew tree for breakfast and a cup of biodynamic Costa Rican coffee, you want to say yes without hesitation. This paradise of a budding carbon-neutral shipyard sits on the edge of the evolution of the shipping industry, an example of change that could be replicated worldwide to combine our efforts, come together and create a cleaner future for these special oceans we so greatly depend on.
So arguably, the short answer is, yes. She and other ships like her, as well as adapted modern cargo ships, will have to become the norm for trading goods across the ocean at the rate we do now if we want to see a sustainable future for the shipping industry.
Around 90% of all cargo is transported globally by shipping (International Chamber of Shipping) and it accounts for 1000 million tonnes of CO2 annually, or nearly 2.5% of all total greenhouse gas emissions (3rd IMO GHG Study). This is not a huge amount but, as it is said to increase by between 50-250% by the year 2050, it becomes a problem because this does not meet the internationally-agreed requirement for the planet to avoid passing above the 2°C temperature increase (European Commission Climate Action).
Considering, as well, all the other negative impacts shipping is having within the natural world, it is a major concern due to the amount of reliance that weighs on the continuance of the industry. Currently, the world’s 15 largest container ships burn as much sulphur oxide as 1.2 billion cars. Unfortunately the issues associated with the maritime industry don’t stop there, with air pollution levels threatening to overtake all land-based sources altogether by 2020 in Europe alone; oil spills from tankers accounting for some of the world’s largest; and bio-acoustic pollution causing major interference and deaths among the oceans’ populations of whales and other marine life relying on sonar communication – all of these and more play major roles in the negative effects shipping is having on the natural environment. However, cargo ships are the backbone of the world’s trade, unexchangeable if we wish to continue to enjoy the luxury of globalisation and free movement of products as we’ve become accustomed to today.
These days it often sounds like it’s all doom and gloom when it comes to environmental issues and perhaps seems too difficult to achieve all the changes required to see the preservation of nature and also the survival, in this case, of the shipping industry. But this just means that we need to see shipping change.
This is why project Ceiba, born through SAILCARGO INC. is so inspiring for the future. It’s happening right now, on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Volunteers and professionals, local and international, are coming together to begin the build of a carbon-negative wooden three-masted square-topsail schooner on a beautiful eco-shipyard here in the tropics of Central America.
The vision is to construct the ship using old-world shipbuilding techniques cohesively combined with the help of modern technology and knowledge, with as much locally-sourced materials as possible and with strong connections in the surrounding community. This means that not only is the actual running of Ceiba environmentally-friendly and regenerative, but, based on a triple bottom line (TBL) financial strategy, the company must equally consider their environmental and social responsibilities, alongside economic, directly from day 1. This is in order to ensure a more holistic approach to business and the people and places it affects.
The idea is to be the missing link in the carbon neutral trade line of many already environmentally-responsible companies, to connect the ethical producer with the ethical consumer, making the entire process, start to finish, ethical, economical and sustainable for everyone involved.
The aim is to sail Ceiba along the Pacific Exchange (PAX) Line – from her home port in Costa Rica up to Hawaii, shipping Macadamia nuts across to Canada, smoked Canadian salmon down to the USA, American barley for the growing Costa Rican craft-beer market, before sailing to Mexico, to pick up some organic avocado oil before heading back to base – throughout using only the power of the wind or the 100% self-sufficient solar and battery-powered electric engine.
This project has been created because a gap in the growing ethical consumer market has been noticed, and founders Danielle and Lynx would like to help bridge that gap in a way that matches up to those keen and connected responsible producers and consumers.
Basing the project in Costa Rica is strategic geographically because of the proximity and access to both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, as well as the entire continent of the Americas, and environmentally by helping Costa Rica achieve its goal of becoming the first carbon neutral country by 2021.
You may wonder how this one small ship alone will really make any difference (in comparison to the average cargo carrier) to help change the huge sustainability issues of the maritime industry. Ceiba will be able to carry 250 tonnes (350+ cubic metres) of cargo at up to 14 knots using only clean energy, making her a reliable, financially competitive and combustion-free option.
Any negative carbon footprint that is created throughout the building and running of the ship will be offset by the planting of thousands of trees annually to offset any pollutant outputs created through unavoidable processes. However, most of the timber has been sourced from windfallen, non-native or plantation-grown trees and 10% of the trees that grow as part of the reforestation programme will be able to be used by the shipyard to build more ships in the years to come.
Once Ceiba is at optimal operation, 10% of the profits will also be donated to environmental societies in Costa Rica. Essentially, the base purpose of her existence is simply to provide a carbon-free alternative to existing routes to give producers and consumers the choice in favour of the world they want. So it’s possible, it is just the beginning and Ceiba is only the first ship in a fleet that aims to change the minds of the industry to adopt more sustainable, long-term practices to help gain momentum towards a more sustainable future. It’s about pushing out the boat of example, showing the world that there is an alternative and it’s in our hands to make change happen.
This project is moving with the flow, as money comes in, progress steadily comes out. But this has only been possible because of people like you, investing in shares. If you would like to get involved, but are unable to become part of the team, then investing in the project to help it grow to completion may be the option for you. The project is entirely funded by people investing in shares, which start at a value of $100 USD (roughly 1,200 ZAR).
8 hours later, the work day ends. It begins to cool down as a coconut is pulled from the tree, split open, the water shared, and as the crew ambles slowly to Playa Blanca the coconut meat is quickly devoured before they dive into the shallows of the Pacific to wash away the hot dust of the day.