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Surf & Beach Life

Operation Umi: Making a New Kind of Wave + 5 easy ways to live an eco-friendly life

Operation Umi: Making a New Kind of Wave + 5 easy ways to live an eco-friendly life

The ocean is sacred. It is majestic, powerful, and connects us to each other from any part of the world. It often feels like home to us wander-obsessed and especially to those of us in a constant love affair with waves.

The ocean’s massive size might make it easy to assume that it’s powerful enough to handle what we throw at it, but by now we all know that’s not the case. We as humans have created “plastic islands” in oceans around the globe that are super harmful to sea life and even to ourselves. The biggest one is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and it’s more than twice the size of the state of Texas! Micro-plastics make up the majority of the plastic within the patch- 94% to be exact!! These little fragments are sometimes even as small as the microbeads in our face scrub- but millions of them really add up. Fish eat them thinking they’re plankton, we eat the fish, voilà. A major epidemic.

Microplastics | Arisa Yoon Photography

The real bummer is that there are still tons of people who have no idea that their single-use lifestyle has negative impacts- so it’s important to be aware of what’s happening so you can spread what you know! We’re here to help.

Meet Arisa Yoon- an adventurous, environmentally-inspired chick from landlocked Charlotte, North Carolina. Arisa discovered her passion for saving our seas in high school when she begged her parents to allow her to take scuba lessons for the first time. The experience rocked her world and she began spending all her free time scanning books about the ocean and watching documentaries of the beautiful landscapes we might lose if our behavior doesn’t change.

Belize Plastics Research | Arisa Yoon Photography

Studying environmental science and film in college, Arisa got the opportunity to take rad trips for plastic pollution research off the coast of Belize and North Carolina. Her camera and artistic eye were present for all of it. She deeply believes that one of the most effective ways to get people to care about something is to get them to see the beauty of it so that they feel something- which will bring them to act.

After years of research and seeing the giant heaps of plastic first-hand, Arisa decided it was time to start her own project: Operation Umi. Her goal is to reveal the beauty and life in our world’s oceans through film and in doing so connect people back to what they love. She also intends to aid people in transitioning their lifestyle to a more sustainable one. She and the Operation Umi team believe that the first step in improving the situation is educating, and they are hoping their photos inspire people to look deeper.

Belize Plastic Beaches | Arisa Yoon Photography

Arisa gave us 5 easy ways that ANYONE can follow to change their lifestyle from single-use to eco-friendly:

  1.    Educate yourself.

Today there are so many resources out there to teach about the environment. In our opinion, Netflix or Amazon documentaries are the easiest place to start. After that, check out a book store. Knowledge is power and you can only develop your own voice on issues once you truly understand them.

  1.    Avoid.

Single-use plastics are absolutely everywhere, and it can take some courage to politely decline a straw or bring your own cup or bag! But after you do it once, you will feel like you are making a tangible impact and it will really impress people around you.

  1.    Come Prepared.

This one can be scary, but it will also make you stand out from the crowd- in a good way! Bringing your own set of utensils, to-go food containers, water bottles, mugs, etc…can make a serious wave in the single-use plastic world. Some environmentally conscious shops will even give you a discount for bringing your own cup or bag. Not to mention- how much cooler is bamboo than plastic anyway?

  1.    Realize You Are Making a Statement.

This one is ultra-important. Sometimes taking part in these small-scale, individual choices can feel pointless when you are “just one person.” In reality, you are making a huge difference! You are single-handedly saving our seas from even more plastic AND you’re making a statement to the people around you! That is how radical change is done.

  1.    Everything in Moderation

You gotta start somewhere. Even Arisa doesn’t expect plastics to be ruled out of society all together- but we can try to do our best with the plastics already in circulation! It’s hard to stop using plastics entirely, but let’s start by saying no to single-use ones. Follow along with Arisa and Operation Umi for actionable ways how.

Manatee | Arisa Yoon Photography

If you’d like to donate to the cause or check out some of the photography prints for sale go to


Written by Isabella Smith

Read next:   Q+A with Jo Anna Edmison (@joloswag69)

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Q+A with Jo Anna Edmison (@joloswag69)

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