How I Sea: Harriet Collins

Harriet is a dive-master and business owner who turned her talents to the fight for a clean ocean. After witnessing firsthand the problems happening to the world’s coral reefs, Harriet became involved by creating her own eco-friendly and plastic-free sunscreen.

Tell us a bit about yourself, and what connects you so innately to the ocean.

I was born in the UK, but moved to the US at an early age which gave me the advantage of growing up with two cultures. University then took me to the south of France for 3 years where I made friends from all parts of the world with different backgrounds.

I have a degree in business and have combined that with my passion for the ocean. I now own 2 companies, ScubaGirl, which is a lifestyle brand and publications site for female divers, and I’ve just started #SUNSCREEN which is a truly eco-friendly sunscreen that is chemical and plastic free:

My connection to the ocean, I feel, is quite special. Family holidays were always spent at the beach, and with my parents being avid snorkels, often involved a snorkel trip. I was about 5 when one of the trips went awry and the boat was struck by lightning.

After that moment I was hesitant to go back in the water. My mum eventually had to carry me into the sea while I kicked and screamed my head off. Fast forward 8 years and my older scuba diving brother was convinced that I should go with him to see the underwater world. But that required a boat. I didn’t do boats after that snorkel trip. Somehow he convinced (bullied) me into going with him and the rest is basically history.

I came back from the dive and that was it. I was addicted. I told my dad I was going again the next day and I certified the next year. Now, 8 years later, I’m a PADI Dive-master and own a company all about diving.

I don’t think my 5-year-old self would have ever imagined that I would call the ocean home, and a place that I truly feel at peace.

What motivated you to start #Sunscreen? And what are some of your goals for the near future?

#SUNSCREEN started from a variety of different factors that all came together.

I had been aware of the negative impact that chemicals in sunscreens were causing our coral reefs and for my company ScubaGirl wanted to review ones that are chemical free and couldn’t find any. I also started reef/beach cleanups with my family and friends, trying to collect as much debris as possible and was amazed at how much we collected in short periods of time and in such a small area.

The Chasing Coral film (on Netflix) also really influenced me to start #SUNSCREEN. Watching it was both heartbreaking and inspiring. Seeing all of the coral bleaching and how fast that it takes place motivated me even more to encourage the use of chemical free sunscreens.

Combining the knowledge of the chemical free sunscreens with this plastic free mentality that I had slowly been developing (I started using a reusable water bottle and reusable bags a few years ago) #SUNSCREEN developed.

Getting #SUNSCREEN to market is the first goal. The crowdfunding campaign is currently on going, and it’s essential to making #SUNSCREEN a reality. (

For the future, I’d love to have #SUNSCREEN be successful and be able to see it in large stores next to all the big sunscreen brand names. That would mean not only a lot to me, but the ocean I’m sure would be very happy as well because it would mean that people are changing the products that they use and are more conscious about what they are doing and how it affects our oceans.

How have you seen the marine environment that you study change in your lifetime? Both in general and in the context of your work? And how do you think this compares to the larger timescale (ex: your parent’s and grandparent’s generations)?

Thinking back to when I started scuba diving, I have seen quite a change in bleaching that has been occurring in our oceans due to climate change, chemical toxicity, etc.

The reefs are definitely less colorful than they were 8 years ago. I have been fortunate enough to dive in a lot of national parks, so plastic pollution is something that I don’t come across very often on a dive, but in the few places that I have been where no protection is in place, I have been shocked and horrified by the amount of rubbish sitting at the bottom on the ocean.

Compared to older generations, I think that the rate at which destruction is happening in our oceans has greatly accelerated. Society itself has changed to an on-the-go, convenience mindset, which is held together by the relative cheapness and at-hand reliability of single use, plastic goods (water bottles, straws, coffee cups, bags, utensils, etc.)

We are all guilty of participating in this in one way or another, but this mindset of everything is replaceable and wanting new all the time is truly damaging. We use things once and get rid of them 5 minutes later not thinking about the consequences. Instead of planning like older generations (time, money, etc.) today we are focused on the now and in the moment. We don’t think long term anymore, which is why I think we have arrived at this point where we are now realizing that the damage has been done and now we need a way to stop it.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the marine environment? And why?

All threats to the environment, both on land and in the water are huge. We are part of an environment that must work together to coexist. Without any one piece, the rest of it crumbles.

That being said, to answer the question of what I think is the most threatening to the ocean, waste.

We are building ourselves a plastic ocean, and it’s only getting worse. There is an area that is called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. If that isn’t worrying, I don’t know what is. If we don’t combat the plastic, there won’t be an overfishing problem because the fish won’t be safe to eat, the invasive species may not be able to live with plastic inside of them and will disappear, and habitats won’t exist for them to be destroyed because the plastic is already killing them. The only thing making and using that waste that is destroying our environment is us.

We can’t blame higher ups and different organizations because we are all contributing to this. If everyone reading this looked around them right now, they would notice their own plastic consumption. Their single use water bottle next to their laptop, their morning coffee from down the street with a plastic lid, the plastic bag they brought their lunch in. It’s everywhere. And it won’t stop unless we all take at least one small action. It’s our issue, and it needs to be tackled collectively.

How does #Sunscreen work towards solutions to these issues?

#SUNSCREEN looks at not only at what is on the inside of the bottle, but at what surrounds it.

The chemical toxicity in our oceans is affecting the coral reefs, but the amount of plastic in our oceans is staggering. Plastic breaks down into micro pieces which never disappear and are being eaten by fish, which we then ingest as well. Saving our oceans is so important because it affects so much of our lives. Without it we lose food, air to breath, coastal protection, medicine, and so many other things.

#SUNSCREEN aims to reduce both the chemical and plastic pollution. Sunscreen as a product is an everyday product, and the idea of #SUNSCREEN is that it’s not something that people need to super change regarding habits. Everyone goes to the store or online to buy their sunscreen anyway, we just need to pick up one that doesn’t harm the ocean. It’s all about the little changes. Changing a brand from one to another is practically insignificant to us, but for the ocean it’s a huge win.

What’s one everyday thing that you think normal people could do better to conserve the marine environment?

Obviously I’m going to say to change the sunscreen they use to #SUNSCREEN!

But really I think that just noticing how much plastic you use on a day to day basis. When you actually start looking at it and noticing, you realize how much of it you can actually live without, or change to reduce it.

Replacing your plastic water bottle with a reusable one. Refusing plastic straws and using ones made from bamboo, stainless steel or glass. Taking canvas bags with you to the supermarket. It’s the little changes that can make a difference. If everyone takes small steps, a lot of change can be made.

How I Sea is a new effort by The TerraMar Project to dive into the minds of our global ocean community. We highlight opinions on conservation issues such as: marine pollution, overfishing, drilling, climate change, marine protected areas, scientific discoveries, and much more. Stay tuned for more.

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