Brittany and William Trubridge, a yogini and a freediver, share thoughts on how to save our oceans and beaches—and the endemic dolphin—from environmental threats.
Brittany and William Trubridge are masters at two very different practices: yoga and freediving. Yet they’ve found the synergies between their passions. Brittany shares the delights of practicing yoga in secret caves and on sandbars during her nature-based yoga workshops, and William introduces her students to freediving, an extreme sport that requires divers to breath-hold dive into the abyss to retrieve markers. Students in William’s elite Vertical Blue freediving school find the calming breath and meditation techniques that Brittany’s yoga (CaribbeanYogaRetreat.com) offers helpful in controlling mind and breath in the water.
The couple shares another passion: cleaning up the oceans and beaches that are their playground. They train and practice on beaches around the world, and they’re horrified at how much garbage they encounter. Determined to do something, they’ve organized extensive beach cleanups in the Caribbean that have collected literally tons of plastic, and they work to protect the critically endangered Maui’s and Hector’s dolphin, native to New Zealand, where he grew up.
What does it feel like to take an asana below the water’s surface?
Incredible! In the sea you are weightless, and when you are underwater you are also holding your breath, which stills the mind. Without gravity we are able to enter and soften more comfortably into an asana than on land. We can’t hold the posture quite as long, but there is a spark of magic that happens in that brief time. There is complete stillness, effortlessness and joy.
What is the story behind the photo of you practicing yoga on the beach covered with trash?
This is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, but it is covered with plastic trash that has washed up from the sea. I wanted to raise awareness of what plastic pollution can do to beautiful places like this.
Many people don’t realize how deadly plastic can be to marine life.
Sea turtles and sea birds and whales and all sorts of beautiful sea creatures mistake our plastic trash for food and eat it, and it kills them. Not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of marine animals, including close to 300 that are classified as endangered, die every year because of this. This is happening all over the world, and it breaks my heart.
The problem is so huge—but we can’t give up. With the many beach cleanups William and I have organized, we’ve cleaned up literally tons of plastic trash from the sea and shore. But with every wave, it just keeps on coming.
Is this why you choose to be a Yoga Ambassador for Yogasana mats?
Yes, this is what draws me to Yogasana (YogasanaMats.com) and why I feel great supporting the brand. They’re completely biodegradable. Plus, they’re gorgeous, and they’re hand woven from natural materials, which makes a big difference, energetically, when practicing yoga.
What are you doing to help New Zealand’s critically endangered endemic dolphins?
I created the TruBlue Foundation (facebook.com/TruBlueFoundation) as a way of helping to preserve, protect and respect the sea. It’s about representing the human connection to the sea and becoming one with the sea through yoga and freediving. Through TruBlue, we’ve partnered with Prawno (prawnoapparel.com) to create Maui’s dolphin T-shirt designs to raise funds. The design shows the last 55 Maui’s dolphins and together they form the shape of a Maui’s dolphin.
But as much as I love dolphins, I feel that every species on this Earth is equal and deserving of being here. It is our species that is wiping out others, so it is up to us to take a stand. We need to decide if we want to evolve in a noble direction, rather to continue down a destructive path that ends with multiple extinctions, if not mass extinction.
There is clearly some meditation or yoga present in your free-diving technique.
When I first began freediving in 2003, I began experimenting with different yogic exercises—mostly pranayamas, which improves breath holds by increasing tolerance to carbon dioxide and low oxygen. It also helps to create the mental control that’s necessary to stay relaxed within those sensations.
It’s one thing to feel that urge to breathe and to be able to carry on and not take a breath, and it’s another thing to feel that urge and be able to stay completely calm and focused and therefore use less oxygen in your body so you can release your mind.
You’re passionate about helping the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.
Hector’s dolphins are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world. They’re intelligent, friendly and beautiful, and they only live in New Zealand. Maui’s are a sub-species of Hector’s that live in a relatively small habitat territory on the West Coast of the North Island, and they’re almost gone. Under existing laws, the species will be extinct by 2030.
Since 1970, the Hector’s dolphin populations have dropped from 30,000 to just over 7,000. That’s more than 75 percent. It’s even worse for Maui’s; in 1970 were 2,000 and today there are only 55. There’ve been small gains for their protection, but nothing really significant and nothing that solves the problem.
Why are the dolphins endangered?
The primary threats are gill set nets and trawl fishing. Expert reports estimate that approximately 150 Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins die in commercial and recreational set nets every year. Secondary threats include boat strikes, pollution and developments along New Zealand’s coastline. Overfishing, aquaculture, gas and oil exploration, and offshore irons and mining are also serious threats to their vital habitat.
The issue of plastic pollution in oceans and on beaches all over the world—even remote islands—is also important to you.
If people in the developed world aren’t even aware that plastic isn’t biodegradable—and many people aren’t—imagine how poorly understood this problem must be in less-privileged nations, where the knowledge of how damaging plastic is on the environment is virtually nonexistent. In less privileged countries it is common for fishing boats, for instance, to dump their trash overboard and for coastal villages to simply let their trash be swept out to sea.
Plastic bottles and bags are two major offenders, and the situation is easily remedied with very little effort or cost. Bring your own drinking bottle and refill it, and carry a reusable bag for purchases you make along the way. Also, if I’m in a supermarket and they’re about to put an item I’m buying into a double plastic bag, I let them know that I’ve brought my own, and I also explain why I’m making the choice. I think that last step is very important.
Critically Endangered: Dolphins Down Under
The Maui’s dolphin population has plummeted from 2,000 in 1970 to 55 today. The species has become a poster child for “bycatch”—sea life that gets caught and drowns in fishing nets. To learn more about the Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin, check out Dolphins Down Under: Understanding the New Zealand Dolphin (Otago University Press, 2013), co-authored by Dr. Elisabeth Slooten and Dr. Steve Dawson, scientific partners who have studied New Zealand’s only endemic dolphins for more than 30 years. You can donate to NABU International (gofundme.com/Mauis-Dolphin-LDF) or join the Facebook group Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin SOS (facebook.com/groups/hectorsandmauissos).
Photo captions in order of appearance: Left to right: William and Brittany Trubridge, with a member of their team, after a dive.
Dean’s Blue Hole—in a bay on Long Island, Bahamas—is 668 feet deep.
Britta Trubridge, practicing yoga on a trash-filled beach, on a recycled plastic mat by Yogitoes.