See how two entrepreneurs took on marine litter
by Kevin Majoros
The natural tendency to have far-sightedness is a gift that successful business owners use to fulfill their vision. Many entrepreneurs will tell you that their inclinations began at an early age.
Such is the case for the two millennial founders of 4Ocean.
The entrepreneurial spirit lived inside of them early on whether it was hawking candy bars in high school, selling coconuts on the beach in college, captaining boats or running fishing charters.
The self-described ‘boat ramp rats’ had an epiphany while on a surfing trip to Bali. Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper were just graduating from Florida Atlantic University with marketing and entrepreneurship degrees and knew they wanted their life paths to involve working on the water.
“On that trip to Bali, we watched local fishermen wade through piles of trash to push their boats out, only to return with no fish to sell,” says Cooper. “Someone pointed out that fishing is their living – it’s what they sell. That sentence resonated and we wondered, ‘what if we could get people to buy the trash.’”
Removing the trash that ends up in our oceans
4Ocean is based in Boca Raton, Florida and is dedicated to removing the trash that ends up in our oceans. After 16 months of prepping and quantifying, the company was launched in January of 2017.
In their first seven months, 4Ocean has collected over 90,000 pounds of trash. The company started with two employees and has grown to a staff of 40 which includes boat captains who operate five cleanup vessels, seven days a week.
Their cleanup focus is on beaches, offshore and intracoastal waterways and the primary location for the ocean cleanups is currently on the East Coast of Florida. Through partnerships with other organizations, 4Ocean has hosted cleanups in Canada, Bahamas, Montserrat, Haiti, Norway and the Philippines.
The concept of getting people to buy the trash has been accomplished through the sale of 4Ocean bracelets. The bracelets are made out of 100% post-consumer recycled material. The beads are made from recycled glass bottles and the cord is made from recycled plastic water bottles. Every bracelet purchased funds the removal of one pound of trash from the ocean.
The trash collected by 4Ocean is sorted in their 8,000-square foot cleanup warehouse and then taken to waste processing centers. Their bracelets are made from recycled materials from an outside facility.
To keep the concept fresh, 4Ocean launches a new campaign every six to eight weeks and ties it to observation events such as Shark Conservation Week, Earth Day and World Oceans Day.
Looking back and into the future
Andrew Cooper was raised in Orlando, Florida and says the ocean has always been near and dear to him. “My mother once said I was born an hour too far away from what I really am,” Cooper says.
He is a 100-ton sea boat captain, sailboat captain and has worked on yachts. Along with Alex Schulze, he has traveled for freediving, surfing, scuba diving and spearfishing in locales such as Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Indonesia.
“My time spent on the water exposed me to trash in weed lines along with dirty intracoastal waterways,” says Cooper. “It was a precursor to this path of conservation.”
There has been a lot of discussion among ocean conservationists regarding cleanup efforts versus fixing the source of the problem. Cooper is quick to address that topic.
“When a sink breaks and water flows, you aren’t going to just mop it up, you are also going to stop it at the source,” Cooper says. “The reason for the bracelet is to encourage people to join the movement. We are hoping to showcase a lifestyle of being socially conscious by being proactive and reactive.”
Alex Schulze grew up on Marco Island in Florida and says he was fortunate to grow up on the water. When he was five, a 16-foot Carolina Skiff was given to his family and he was ‘hooked like a maniac’. He became a licensed captain and began running fishing charters while fishing, surfing and scuba diving became a daily part of his life.
When it came time for college, Schulze knew it would be near the water and he continued to run charters while attending Florida Atlantic. Just like Cooper, ocean conservation has always been a passion.
Support from the community
“What has resonated with both of us is the amount of support we have received from our customer base which has exploded with growth,” says Schulze. “People are becoming more aware and we want to educate on simple actions such as changing daily habits.”
Because of the bracelets, 4Ocean has struck a chord with the millennial generation and the organization has had great support at beach cleanups.
“Our methods for cleanup are to attack from all angles which includes the captains of the boats picking up floating debris along with workers diving down for trash,” Schulze says. “We are using every piece of our skill sets.”
Those skill sets have come from a life spent on the water that Cooper and Schulze acquired both above and below the surface.
The two ‘boat ramp rats’ have come full-circle.
“We are literally living the lifestyle we always wanted,” says Schulze. “It’s time to make cleaning the ocean cool.”
Adds Cooper, “There is a human responsibility in raising awareness for ocean conservation. Doing this work is a dream come true.”
visit www.4ocean.com to learn more.
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