The coronavirus pandemic may have upset world champion stand-up paddleboarder Brianna Orams’ plans to compete in the sport’s 2020 Euro Tour – but the USC Environmental Science student refuses to see it as a setback.
Instead the 19-year-old is using her time in lockdown in New Zealand to develop a project which uses ocean-based sports as a platform for climate action and marine conservation.
Her Blue Carbon Project focuses on “blue carbon” environments – marine locations, such as mangroves and seagrass meadows, that absorb considerable amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“This project is really a fusion of my sport competing on the ocean and my USC Environmental Science studies,” said Brianna, who won a gold medal at her first world SUP championships in China last year.
“Sport can bridge the gap between science and local communities, and I think that is what sets this project apart,” she said.
“There is a huge population of outdoor-loving enthusiasts like me who really care about the places we compete at and enjoy for recreation, so why not use this to our advantage to promote the restoration of blue carbon environments as a pathway to a sustainable future.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Brianna was in Bangkok completing an internship as part of her USC studies and training to compete in the 2020 SUP Euro Tour from April to July. She quickly returned to stay with family in New Zealand, and into lockdown.
“Blue Carbon Project was an idea in the back of my mind for a while, so with the huge movement in lockdown around exploring inner passions that you previously haven’t had time to pursue, I was inspired to launch my first environmental project,” she said.
“The water sports community spends countless hours out on the ocean and sees first-hand the impact of issues such as plastic pollution, climate change and decreasing species abundance.
“Imagine the environmental benefits if every outdoor enthusiast lent a hand to plant a tree and restore blue carbon environments.
“Although these environments may cover a small portion of our planet compared to some of the large rainforests such as the Amazon, they sequester carbon dioxide at a much faster rate, while providing us with the oxygen we breathe.”
Brianna is a member of USC’s High Performance Student Athlete (HPSA) program and said the scheme was a massive support as she juggled online studies and an interrupted training schedule from “across the ditch”.
“The HPSA program offers me so many opportunities and without it, I don’t believe I would be where I am today,” she said.
Under the guidance of USC Sports Clinic Assistant Aaron Turner, Brianna is currently focusing on cross-training to avoid overuse injuries and maintain intensity without having races to break up her training blocks.
“I refuse to see the pandemic as a setback,” she said. “I didn’t feel prepared going into Euro Tour 2020 and needed time to knuckle down to learn how to properly train. COVID has given me that opportunity.
“As well as trying to suck it up and brave the cold Auckland weather and get out on the water a few times a week, I am also working to transform Blue Carbon Project into a reality.
“It’s a steep learning curve. I’ve had little experience with starting not-for-profits, let alone creating logos, websites and getting funding, but I love to learn and love a good challenge.”
At her first event, ‘Blue Explore’, over 50 people paddled in the middle of winter and planted 500 native grasses to help prevent coastal erosion and stabilise dunes at Long Bay-Okura marine reserve.
“I’m not sure where this will all lead, but I plan to work with events in New Zealand and Australia to help them focus on climate positivity, develop a community of citizen scientists, and carry out expeditions to benefit scientific research in blue carbon environment.”
Brianna Orams training during lockdown at the Long Bay-Okura marine reserve near Auckland