Gillian Burt ’08 and Sarah McCusker ’08 spent the last year travelling the world, filming their documentary, Tied to the Sea – a call for greater protection of the world’s oceans. With a Ridley education deeply rooted in community service and global outreach, it is no surprise that these alumnae reconnected over their shared passion for changing the world.
Gillian Burt ’08 grew up with environmentally and socially conscious parents, instilling in her a lifelong commitment to community service. So much so, that when she graduated from Upper School, she had completed over 300 volunteer hours. She spent her final year of high school at Ridley; actively participating in sports, such as swimming and activities that focused on bettering the environment and the world. Her Ridley experience influenced her long after her graduation – increasing her global-mindedness and inspiring her to follow her dream of entering the education sector.
Upon graduation, Gillian went on to study Sociology and Anthropology, with a focus on International Development at the University of British Columbia Kelowna. She even volunteered abroad in Haiti and Uganda. She began her career working for notable non-profit organizations such as Right to Play, Engineers Without Borders and The Centre for Social Innovation. Gillian also spent time in Korea teaching English.
Coming from a long lineage of Ridleians, Sarah McCusker ’08 was well-acquainted with the school before even attending it. She began her Ridley journey in 2004, spending her entire secondary school career on campus. While at Ridley, Sarah was a part of the Environmental Club with Gillian and was a devoted Tiger athlete – leading the First Girls field hockey team and playing on the soccer team for all four years.
Like Gillian, Sarah also attended the University of British Columbia, where she studied Art History, before completing a programme in Communications Design offered by Emily Carr University and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Sarah currently works as a graphic designer in Vancouver, British Columbia.
During their time in university, these Ridleians remained good friends. When Gillian left the West Coast, they lost touch; not reconnecting until 2016 through social media. While catching up on lost time, Gillian shared her vision for a short documentary she was eager to create. Soon enough, Sarah became a member of the team and they were aboard a flight to Thailand, beginning their Tied to the Sea journey.
Tied to the Sea is a short documentary that explores the negative impacts that humanity has on our oceans. Through personal narratives, science and shocking footage, Tied to the Sea aims to evoke a sense of urgency and illuminate what we, as citizens of change, can do to protect the world’s marine ecosystems and water sources.
The idea for this documentary transpired while Gillian was teaching and living in Korea. She was spending most her time in or on the water and began to take notice of the marine devastation that was lying just below the surface.
“I had always been aware of the vast amount of pollution in the ocean, but I don’t think it fully hit me until I was up close to it on a regular basis and began to see, firsthand, the devastating effects on the environment. My inner academic started researching the problem and watching every documentary on the topic. I found that there were gaps in information covered by other documentaries and I recognized a need to speak directly to young people, equipping them with the knowledge and resources necessary to take action,” explains Gillian.
Over the course of the last year, Gillian (Co-writer, Director and Producer) and Sarah (Visual Designer) – along with their team – travelled to nine countries, across four continents to speak to scientists, activists and individuals with a commitment to defending the future of our planet.
“From Coastal First Nations groups in B.C. to scuba diving instructors in Thailand to marine scientists in Australia, everyone has a story to share and ideas on how we can take action.” – Gillian Burt ’08
The state of the environment is at a tipping point and an urgency exists to act now. Through their travels, the Tied to the Sea team discovered just how detrimental plastics and pollutants are to the health of the ocean. Speaking with concerned citizens around the world, Gillian and Sarah devised a plan of action to reverse these negative effects. Equipped with the knowledge of both the problems and the solutions, they hope to educate and raise awareness before it’s too late.
Returning home, the alumnae are now focusing on sharing their message on a global scale. To complete their film, the Tied to the Sea team has started a crowdfunding campaign, seeking support from friends, family and those who believe in the cause. The finished product will be shared online, at festivals and in schools around the world.
“We want the film to act as an educational tool to use in schools as well as a catalyst for change, inspiring young people to take direct action… we are the generation with the greatest capacity for bringing about positive changes in the world.” – Gillian Burt ’08
The dedication and determination to changing the world shown by Gillian and Sarah are true traits of a Ridleian. To their fellow Tigers, Gillian and Sarah left this advice:
“Be patient with yourself and stay open to opportunities you wouldn’t normally go for – as you’re starting your career, no job is “beneath” you and you never know where you’re going to find your passion. Don’t be afraid of an unconventional path. And pay as much attention to the person you are becoming as the career path you want to take. A strong character will often take you farther than academic achievement or bullet points on a resume… Do what you love, take time to figure that out, explore all your options and always remember you have the power to make a difference.”