Pete has given up everything to dedicate his life to making the world a better place. As the founder of Earthrace Conservation, Pete is a world record holder, circling the globe four times on his bio-fueled powerboat, Earthrace. His missions have seen him be shot at, run over by a Japanese security vessel, incarcerated in Libya and Japan, and held under armed guard in a Guatemalan Military camp.
Pete Bethune is selflessly dedicated to marine conservation, and we're extremely proud to call Pete a TracPlus customer. Here's his story.
Wireline to fire line
For the majority of Pete’s life, he worked in a ‘regular job.’ Pete was a wireline engineer in the oil industry, evaluating reservoirs to identify the best spots to extract oil. His exposure to this world sparked his interest in alternative fuels and the energy industry.
“All recoverable oils will be gone in 50 years, and we will just continue to deplete the Earth’s resources. When you're inside the industry, those facts start to eat away at you.”
In 2005, Pete did an MBA, and one of his papers was on alternative fuels for road transport. This project opened his eyes to biofuels and the role they could play in transport.
At that time, biofuels weren’t well known, so Pete took it upon himself to promote them. Pete built Earthrace, with the objective to circumnavigate the globe promoting alternative fuel sources. It was throughout this experience that Pete began to feel uneasy about the state of the environment.
“My passion for marine conservation was a gradual evolution. I remember once we stopped into Fiji as there was a cyclone coming and there were hordes of Chinese fishing boats who'd pulled into to shelf off the storm. They'd all been fishing inside Fijian waters — all illegally.”
Throughout his years on Earthrace he was exposed to hundreds of examples of the Earth being mistreated.
“There are endless examples. We were once near a little island in Portugal which had been completely depleted. I went diving and we didn’t even see small fish. I remember thinking, the world is heading this way.”
As Pete grew disillusioned with what he was witnessing, it became increasingly difficult for him to comprehend returning to a 9-5 job and his “old life.”
“These constant marine wildlife issues that I was witnessing were starting to get under my skin. There’s just too many big factory ships plying the Pacific and Atlantic and encroaching on areas they have no right to be in.”
Pete had a boat, and he certainly had the motivation, so he shifted his energy toward saving the oceans.
“It became like having a tiger by the tail. I was all in. I re-mortgaged our house and loaned over 1m USD. I was fully invested in this project, so I either had to make something of it or go bankrupt.”
Pete has not only put his money, but his life on the line on many occasions through his activist work. In November 2017 Pete's focus was on the illegal pet trade throughout the Amazon. Pete was attending a meeting in Santana when he noticed he was being followed. He went into a cafe and when he came out he was jumped on by two men, one with a knife. During the struggle, Bethune was stabbed.
“The blade went between my ribs so it got wedged in there. I've had a couple of difficult experiences but I really thought my number was up."
Pete has explored some of the most remote areas of the world, at sea, in jungles and rainforests. And what surprised him the most, is that even the most remote spots are now being pillaged.
“The thing that has depressed me the most is that what are supposedly the most remote jungles are full of people — people poaching and monetising wildlife and depleting the world’s most precious places. I do despair that we’re leaving it too late.”
Pete notes that you can buy almost any animal, dead or alive. Pumas, Jaguars, Anacondas — “all of these animals are for sale”.
Pete has spent time working in rainforests but he knows he’s just one man with one small crew, so he’s shifting his focus solely to marine conservation.
“Most of my time is focussed at sea — but when I look at our small team, and the vastness of these illegal vessels, I know it’s going to be a massive problem for future generations to face. There’s going to be major squabbling over our marine resources.”
The future isn’t so bright
These days, Pete’s primary concern is marine conservation, especially overfishing. He's spending his time educating countries that aren’t well-patrolled or don’t have strong resources, on the best ways to safeguard their waters.
Pete is currently getting factory training in Austria for 10 weeks to learn to fly military drones. These drones can fly 100 nautical miles from your boat and provide a live feed on any illegal fishing boats or activity.
He’s also working on refitting a former US Navy Ship, which is being equipped for fishery patrols which will commence in South America in June.
The best use of Pete’s time is to spend his energy educating ill-equipped countries on how they can protect their waters from illegal fishing, especially targeting foreign vessels. He trains their local units on how to do fisheries enforcement, coastal surveillance, how to board hostile vessels and gather evidence on fish crimes so it stacks up in a court of law. If he can educate and empower people to protect their waters, we might see some changes.
Not only does Pete educate people on how to monitor and catch illegal fisherman, but he also educates them on what to do once you’ve caught them.
“There’s money to be made when you catch people fishing illegally. Let’s say you catch a company with 40 staff on board —pretty soon these reps from countries will want these people out of jail. People on patrol need to prosecute these people correctly and send a message for other’s doing the same thing. And in addition, make money through these fines which will further pay for their patrol. You can easily get 100-200k from a large boat.”
How could we all make a difference?
Pete is not a man to beat around the bush. When I asked him what would be a way that the average person could help make the world a healthier place he answered with, “have no more than two children, eat less meat and dairy and stop buying so much shit.”
The planet pays a heavy price for the commercialisation of meat and dairy. Sustaining people with animal products requires more farmland than if we eat plants. As the human population increases, and the global average amount of meat eaten per person increases, the total area of agricultural land has to increase proportionally to meet demand. Meat production creates waste in many different ways. The most acute problems arise downstream from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Antibiotics, slurry, excess fertilisers, and transmittable diseases can wreak havoc on surrounding ecological systems.
“I am not telling people they need to be vegan, but it’s about being conscious. Even having one less meat meal a week makes a big difference to the planet.”
Another way Pete believes we can be more conscious is to eat and buy local foods. You can buy food from almost anywhere in the world now. He reminded me that First World countries are often very proud of the protections they have on their own jungles, national parks and native forests, but we’re increasingly eating foods that are coming from areas of the world that don’t have those same safeguards.
“We kid ourselves that we’re being good on the planet, cause we’ve saved the Yellowstone, but we’re busy eating pomegranates that have come from the Amazon basin, or palm oil come from South Sumatra.”
50 years ago South Sumatra used to be 60% jungle and swamp, and now it’s less than 10%. Pete notes that it’s not Indonesian people who’re consuming palm oil, or food that is planted in their backyards, it’s all going to the West. "We are part of the problem."
“Eat local foods, and certainly see if you can chop back on the meat a little bit and less dairy.”
Pete admits that he spent years denying that meat was an issue. “My brother is a dairy farmer! But I have been in this industry for a long time now and it’s true that meat is part of the problem.”
Pete has found purpose in his life. Saving our seas. He rescues dolphins, whales, pangolin and turtles. He runs patrols in the world’s most remote jungles. He knows it might take his life one day, and he’s okay with that.
“I wouldn’t swap my existence with anyone. Each day I stand up for a cause and make a difference. I have found my cause. Saving wildlife. I know it might one day take my life. And I am OK with that."