Robby Seeger knows a good cause when he sees one—and that’s when he brings out his camera to film it. “There are so many far-reaching stories that start right here in the community,” he said. “I get to bring them to life.”

Seeger, a Realtor® with Coldwell Banker Island Properties, runs a professional video production company and routinely helps worthy causes tell their stories through film. Over the years, he’s used his cinematography skills to bring awareness to a range of societal and environmental issues worldwide.

Last December, Seeger bumped into professional big wave surfer and conservationist Torsten Durkan, who told him about a fundraising campaign he’d launched. Durkan is the founder of Athletes Be Cause, an organization comprised of professional athletes who create fundraising campaigns to support a variety of humanitarian and environmental causes. Last year, Durkan helped organize a coastal cleanup event at Peahi (more commonly known as “Jaws”). There, he says he and other volunteers collected an inordinate amount of plastic debris, including single-use plastic water bottles.

The statistics speak for themselves: Every year in the U.S., an estimated 50 billion plastic bottles are used and then discarded, but only 23 percent are recycled. That means 38 billion plastic bottles (and more than $1 billion worth of plastic) wind up in the country’s landfills in the space of a year. In the days following the cleanup, Durkan says the images of the plastic trash piled high at Peahi were seared into his memory. “It really bothered me,” he said. “But I also felt motivated to do something about it.”

And that’s when a plan began to take shape.

In November, Durkan paid a visit to his alma mater, Haiku Elementary School. He knocked on the vice principal’s door and pitched his idea: He would replace the school’s antiquated and dilapidated water fountains with two brand new filtered water stations. That way, the school could provide clean drinking water while eliminating the need for single-use plastic bottles. Durkan says it didn’t take much convincing. “They were on board right away,” he said.

Durkan partnered with fellow big wave surfer and environmentalist Rob Machado, who agreed to supply reusable water canteens for all 489 students at Haiku Elementary School if Durkan could raise the funds for the two water stations (roughly $4,000 per station). He also met with Maui-based zipline company Skyline Eco-Adventures, which offered to match donations up to $10,000. Then, in January, he kicked off the campaign with a fundraising video filmed by Seeger, who says he was captivated by Durkan’s mission from the start. “I value athletes like Torsten who have a connection to nature and see the bigger picture,” he said. “This is how we can create lasting change.”

As for his fundraising strategy, Durkan decided to do it the best way he knows how: with his surfboard. Donors pledge a dollar amount per foot of the tallest wave Durkan rides between January and Saturday, April 22 (Earth Day). So, if a donor pledges $1 per foot and Durkan rides a 60-foot wave, they will be contributing $60 to the campaign. Seeger encourages everyone to make a pledge, even if it’s 50 cents a foot—because in the end, it all adds up, he said.

Durkan hopes to exceed the amount needed to purchase and install the two stations at Haiku Elementary School so he can outfit other elementary schools with filtered water stations. “I want to continue this trend,” he said. “I’d like to see this in every school in Hawaii.”

Seeger says the water stations and canteens are a very simple solution to a very big problem. In addition to the environmental impacts, he also notes the potential human health risks associated with single-use water bottles. Some types of plastic bottles contain chemicals (particularly, the hormone-disrupting Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is found in bottles marked with plastic code “7”) that could seep into the drinking water.

Seeger and Durkan hope the four-month-long campaign will encourage others to be more conscious of their purchases and consider adopting a plastic-free lifestyle. “We have a huge responsibility when it comes to what we leave behind for future generations,” Seeger said. “Just ask yourself: What side of history do you want to be on?”

To learn more about Athletes Be Cause or to make a pledge, visit athletesbecause.rallyup.com. To view Seeger’s video about Durkan’s anti-plastic fundraising campaign, visit www.vimeo.com/199425820.

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – March 4, 2017

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