Bringing the Ocean to Society
17 Jul 2018
Meet Albert Ross, The Albatross
Check out the work of the artist Nicola Leigh and how it can be used to inform and excite the youngest generation about the ocean.

Nicola Leigh does her best to lead an extraordinary life full of wonder. She adopted the life of a digital nomad and worked for herself while travelling around the world as a teacher and freelance designer. As such she has lived in some interesting places, on her boat in Liverpool, in the forest in a three sided house, with a circus, on the side of a mountain and as an au pair in New Zealand to three kids where ‘Blue Spaghetti’ was born.

Current working with Skeleton Sea on making art from the sea as an art handler and restoration artist on new pieces. She has been selected as a Guest Speaker at the Portugal Surf Film Festival on a panel discussing plastic pollution in our ocean and she also organised free public screenings of Chris Jordan’s new movie "Albatross" at the Ocean Spirit Festival in 2018.

"Albert Ross, The Albatross - Blue Spaghetti" is a fascinating book she released earlier this year. It's aimed at 6-12 year old and purpose is to open up a conversation between adults and young readers so they can discuss what's happening to the kids favourite forms of life in the ocean. "Sometimes adults can't find the words to explain the tragic situation in the waters when kids ask about it, either through lack of knowledge themselves or being emotionally invested - either way it can be hard". Reversely, children might even know more about this and by reading this together with a grown up, might be able to educate some adults into better weekly grocery purchasing.

EurOcean met Nicola some months ago at an ocean literacy event in Lisbon where we got to know more about the project. And today when we are once again shocked with the marine litter reality, here is something to keep hope high:

When did you have the idea to write the book?

It started with a spelling mistake. I was working as an au pair in New Zealand to twin sisters Lucy and Nina aged 7 and their big brother Luke, aged 9. One night we were doing Luke's homework which was about his favourite animal - the albatross bird. He's obsessed by them and has posters up in his room and all kinds. He asked me how to spell albatross; I was really tired as looking after three kids is tough right?! So half asleep I said it wrong, "It's A-L-B-E-R-T-R-O-S-S, like a name, Albert Ross", which of course was totally wrong, but gave us a great character to write about. We started the story, and I found I had a heavy conscience because I had seen the harrowing photographs of dead albatross birds with plastic in their guts that made them starve on full stomachs of trash. Yet I wanted Luke to know what was really happening to his favourite animal but didn't want to upset him. Thankfully in New Zealand people are really aware of the dangers of plastic pollution and work hard to spread awareness and fight it. So I asked him if he wanted to learn about how the birds are in danger, but that it might upset him and he bravely said yes. Since then, I developed his homework into a paperback which has just been published. Luke, Lucy and Nina did all the illustrations inside of it and are working on some more for the website now.

What do you hope the book achieves?

I hope the book acts as a tool for young readers and adults to open up a conversation about plastic pollution in our ocean and its impact on marine life. Animals are very important to children so having older people answer their questions on this topic is important. I say animals, because plastic isn't just killing the albatross birds, it also entangles sea turtles and seals and is present inside so many other species, ultimately they drown, choke or die of starvation. The only way to fix a problem is to know there is one, so educating kids to make good decisions about how they use single use plastic is key to stopping this getting worse. By the time they themselves have kids it's estimated that (in 2050) there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Think about that! What are our grandkids going to do with all the plastic our generation was responsible for, then? That's why this book is important and why I felt like if my au pair kids knew about this problem, and told other friends in school, it might help keep people talking about this problem for a while - you don't forget images like that of the dead birds.

Tell me a little more about what the book says, the story it tells, etc…

The rhyming story is about the biggest of all the albatross birds, Albert Ross The Albatross. He's the only one big enough to scoop up enough fish to feed all his mates on his island, but one day he finds new food floating about which he calls blue spaghetti. The soon finds out that plastic is not food, and while trying to clear the sea of it, dives in to 'the deep spot'. This is meant to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” one of 5 trash gyres on our planet. The GPGP is a floating collection of plastic waste that measures at twice the size of Texas State. While down there, Albert rescues a bunch of other animals in realistic danger on the way. There are “how you can help” and 'facts for grown ups' sections at the back too. It's intended to be part of a series where young readers can follow Albert Ross as he keeps on explaining to them what's happening in the oceans and how they can prevent harm to the animals too by using less plastic.

What did your background - spending lots of time on a boat - tell you about plastic?

My parents both served in the Royal Navy so of course I was born on the south coast, lived all along the Cornish coast until I was 5, then lucky for me my family moved back home and I was raised in the best of all coastal cities, Liverpool. My parents finally bought their long awaited barge while I was away in New Zealand and after a few years back home, I ended up getting my own boat too here at Liverpool Marina. The funny thing is, even though I love it so much and want to protect the sea and keep it clean, I'm absolutely terrified of water! There is a real sense of community at the Marina, everyone practically lives on their boat and you see all the same faces. We've spoken about the plastic pollution a lot and sadly we've all seen it floating around before, even in our marina. We are lucky in Liverpool because the Mersey is actually one of the cleanest rivers in the UK, but if you put your head over any dock wall, you'll still certainly see plastic waste. One sailor told me recently that he was shocked at the sheer amount of polystyrene he saw sailing his way to the Isle of Mann last month and another found plastic sheeting nearly 3 meters in length next to his boat. Plastic doesn't go away, it breaks down and the smaller it gets, the more chance it has of getting in to our food chain, so we eat it too. Getting it while it's not gone microscopic is imperative. People are helping, there was a big beach clean-up in Liverpool recently and a crisp packet from 1990 washed up, it really still is all out there, it's not just happening to tropical far away coastlines, it's happening right here.

What do you like about spending time on the boat? Does it keep you in touch with nature etc? Is there a nice community of boat enthusiasts?

There are so many great things about being on the boat, the swans knocking on your window for their dinner, when the thousands of jellyfish swarm it's beautiful and if you want to go on holiday you don't even need to pack! But best thing about being on a boat is how simple and quiet everything is (not including winter!). I like how even if you're only at the Albert Dock, the rocking of the boat reminds you that you are part of nature while you are bobbing about on that little wave.

You can follow Nicole's art here and email here.