THIS AUSSIE ENTREPRENEUR IS TRYING TO SAVE THE OCEANS ONE BIKINI AT A TIME!
Queensland entrepreneur Steph Gabriel has come up with a unique way of helping to save the earth's oceans and build a successful business -- by selling bikinis made from recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles.
" I started OceanZen when I was a full-time Uni student so I was a little bit poor at the time as most uni students are," she told The Huffington Post Australia.
"With all sustainable products there's always a lot of time and cost that go into it because they are so unique as well.
"It's pretty exciting that they can recreate discarded waste into something as awesome as this Italian lycra. It's pretty cool."
Gabriel says she was inspired to do something to help the marine environment while working as a backpacker in the Cayman Islands and seeing firsthand how marine life and coral reefs were suffering as a result of tourism.
"For my job on a yacht, we were trained to swim down and lure the stingrays up to the surface of the ocean where the tourists could then pat them and get their photo," she said. "That's what sparked it because I was all of a sudden exposed to all of these human impact and threats we were facing -- not just the stingrays but the coral reefs over there.
"That sparked this journey with marine conservation, environmental science and OceanZen because at that point I wanted to do something."
Gabriel said the 30-40 Southern Atlantic stingrays that would gather at a sandbar called Stingray City were being overfed, losing their predatory instincts and getting sick as a result.
Gabriel returned to Australia and enrolled in uni to study environmental marine science but mid-way through her course grew impatient and began to brainstorm.
"I am always surfing, I am always in the ocean and I care so much about marine conservation -- that is my heart and soul," she said.
"My entrepreneurial mind was ticking and I really wanted to do something different in my own way for marine conservation."
Among her ideas was a David Attenborough-style TV show on the Sunshine Coast to talk about environmental issues, but OceanZen was her final inspiration.
Gabriel, who works part time in marine education in schools with Queensland-based program Ocean Life Education, is passionate about educating her followers on current marine issues and uses her social media to get the word out.
"Since I launched I have always done posts on social media updating all my followers on current marine conservation issues," she said. "So on my Instagram I'll post if I have had encounters with whales or sea lions -- all sorts of animals who are facing some kind of threat.
"I always get on there and I share my experiences and knowledge to my followers so they can be aware because, to be honest, there are so many things happening and people just don't know about it because it is not being spoken about.
"I think people really appreciate it as well. It is a point of difference and it does make it not always about bikinis. There is a purpose behind OceanZen and there is a soul to it."
The next step for Gabriel is to build her business to a point where she can share a percentage of its profits for eco-friendly groups and causes.
"OceanZen already is a sustainable product and having the posts, the scientific updates is really awesome but I think if I was to organise a not-for-profit it would make it a whole sustainable brand," she said.
"I would love to be able to donate a percentage of profits to a new organisation each year of my choice that from my scientific background that I think is going a good job or that really needs funding for a real issue."
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