The ray protector

Photo: Hansi Heckmair

An underwater encounter turned Tim Noack into an activist. After observing rays next to plastic waste while diving off Indonesia, he began campaigning for their protection from Germany – with the help of baseball caps.

Tim Noack never imagined that he would fall in love underwater. But that’s exactly what happened. His beloved manta rays float through the oceans with wingspans of up to seven meters. In 2014, the Munich native learned to dive and met the sea giants for the first time. “There are very few people who just pass it by when they see a manta ray for the first time. “It’s just a crazy experience,” says the 28-year-old. During a semester abroad in 2017 in the Indonesian Komodo National Park, he trained to become a dive guide, a kind of diving instructor and underwater guide, and became more and more intensively involved with the rays: They eat plankton, have – contrary to all rumors – no poisonous stinger and, according to Noack, are “the most peaceful ones creatures at all.”
He was actually studying economics in Munich at the time and playing beach volleyball professionally. But then he discovers something in a remote corner of the national park that shocks him: the ocean is full of plastic waste! And it ends up in the stomachs of the more than 1,200 manta rays that live in the protected area. The animals glide through the water with their mouths open to eat plankton. According to studies, the rays ingest up to 63 pieces of plastic per hour during the rainy season, often smaller than five millimeters. “That’s when I realized I had to do something!”

Baseball caps for the seas

Back in Germany, Noack doesn’t immediately get around to putting his plan into action. It wasn’t until a bad sports injury that he actually took action. He is forced to sit still and finally has time for his project. “Already from the hospital, I skyped with friends in Komodo and told them about my idea.” His plan: He wants to sell baseball caps made from yarn made from recycled PET bottles to raise money to protect the rays. Just six months later, in March 2018, he opened his online shop Mantahari Oceancare. The name Mantahari means “ray day” in Indonesian. For every cap sold, ten euros go to the Indonesian marine conservation organization “Marine Megafauna Foundation” (MMF). “I quickly noticed that the first 50 caps were selling extremely quickly and increased production.”
Today Mantahari Oceancare also offers sportswear made from recycled fibers; 10,000 euros have already gone to the MMF. This uses the money to train young people who work on the plastic problem in scientific internships. “I think it’s important that there aren’t strangers standing there telling you what to do. That’s why, in my opinion, the most sustainable thing is to carry out educational work through the local population,” says the founder.

Education in Germany and locally
The MMF also goes to schools, like Tim Noack here in Germany. He attends classes from elementary school to high school and talks about the rays and the flood of plastic. The students are often euphoric afterwards and no longer want to use plastic. “Especially in elementary school, they always have a lot of questions. For example, whether the rays’ food wouldn’t be too salty because it swims in salt water,” says Noack with a laugh. “If sustainability is important to a child, it is more effective than if the topic comes from the parents.”
So that he can also send donations from private individuals to Indonesia in the future, Noack wants to set up an association for the manta rays this year. He doesn’t believe in finger-wagging and prohibitions. “I can understand anyone who doesn’t have the issue of microplastics at the top of their priority list. But it’s about just getting started.” Because he is of the opinion that every action, no matter how small, can have a big impact. Like the 50 caps that started his project to save the rays.

The article comes from the 10/2020 issue of natur, which you here can order. In the future, we will feature young people who are actively committed to nature, the environment and the climate in every natur issue and on our website. Suggestions are welcome to redaktion-natur@konradin.de.

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