Harriet Spark is the designer, content creator, artist and advocate behind Grumpy Turtle Design, SO Manly and Operation Straw. She’s one inspiring go-getting who’s on a mission to fight for our planet, and she does it in style. To celebrate Harriet’s first-ever photography exhibition, Reef, coming soon to Manly, she’s been kind enough to share some of her lessons and insights over the years.

10 Questions With Harriet Spark: Grumpy Turtle Design

NF: Where did your passion for the ocean and conservation begin?

    HS: The ocean has really given me a lot. When I was 19 I was going through a tough time, and long story short, decided to change my life up and move to the Whitsundays. I became a dive instructor and fell in love with scuba diving and the Great Barrier Reef. I taught diving on the Great Barrier Reef for three years, then lived in Tonga diving for half a year after that. This was where I really fell in love with the ocean, but I wasn’t really aware of what we were doing to it.
    My parents raised me as a vegetarian, so I’ve always been aware of the impact we have on the animals of this planet, but in regards to issues like climate change and plastic pollution, I was quite oblivious up until four or so years ago! When I returned from Tonga I started dive instructing at the local aquarium and this was where I learned more about plastic and decided to start doing something about it by running beach cleans. It was kind of a snowball effect, I learned one thing and this led to another and another.


    Tell us a little more about SO Manly and the STRAWkling community. How did it begin?

    I started SO Manly (Sustainable Organisations of Manly) with two of the most incredible women I know, filmmaker Danielle Ryan and Coral Doctor Alicia Lloyd, a few years ago. We wanted an umbrella platform that would allow us to link all of the great conservation work that happens in the Northern Beaches together. Operation Straw is an initiative of SO Manly, and it is a clean-up project we designed to tackle the prolific amount of plastic straws found in Manly and beyond. 

    A friend and I used to regularly snorkel in Manly Cove, where we run our STRAWkles, and the number of plastic straws we found there shocked us. I thought that if we could count how many straws we found over a specific timeframe, we could illustrate the impact a ubiquitous item like a plastic straw can have on our waterways. So, every weekend over Summer 2017-18, we ran an underwater snorkel clean-up (affectionately known as STRAWkling) with the community to collect and count how many straws were in the waters around the area. The project harnesses the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers to then go and engage with local businesses and provide them with the information they need to remove plastic straws from their operations.   Initially designed to run over Summer 2017-2018, Operation Straw has had such a great uptake by the local community that we’ve decided to continue running it – it’s so wonderful to get together with people who care about the ocean as much as you do.

    What tips would you give to non-locals hoping to make a difference? If they wanted to start their own STRAWkling or environmental project elsewhere would you offer any advice?

    Pick one thing and choose your why. There are so many issues impacting our planet, it can feel overwhelming and you want to just tackle them all. It’s really important to hone in on the thing you really care about and want to change, and stay focused on that goal. Find out what is happening in the local community, and don’t recreate the wheel if there are groups already working on an issue you care about. Two heads are better than one, so see if you can collaborate with other groups in the area.

    What do you believe are the 3 most positive lifestyle changes you’ve made for the benefit of the planet?

    1. Taking an interest in politics and making sure I’m aware of what’s going on in the world, so I can start meaningful conversations about it, and lobby my local MP.
    2. Reducing the amount of plastic packaging I allow in my life. Particularly, trading tampons for a moon cup and period undies. Honestly, it is a life-changing step not only from a sustainability perspective but also from a confidence and cost-saving angle!
    3. Divesting my personal cash from fossil fuels by choosing to bank and invest my super ethically.


    Image: Richard Woodgett, @drift.woody

    If there was one piece of advice you’d give anyone to reduce their footprint, what would it be?

    Make yourself aware. Find out where the food/clothes/products you’re purchasing are originating from and decide if you want to support that brand or business. Likewise, make sure you stay in the loop with what’s happening politically and in the news. Who we choose to put in power has huge impacts on the environment.
    Bonus advice: reduce the amount of meat and dairy you eat. This always seems like the issue everyone shy’s away from, but countless studies show that reducing the amount of animal products we eat has a huge impact on the planet.
    Who inspires you?
    Heidi Taylor from Tangaroa Blue. Heidi just gets the job done and works her butt off to make the world a better place! I’m a big fan of women who say it like it is and work hard, and Heidi is amazing.

     When was the idea of Reef first born? What are your hopes for it?

    The Great Barrier Reef has had such an impact on my life. It helped me deal with mental health issues, and it’s also where I met my fiancé. We hope that we can make people aware of the beauty still left on the Great Barrier Reef, and highlight the fact that it’s not too late to save parts of it – IF we choose to vote the right people in who make these important decisions.

      Can you tell us a little about the Australian Youth Climate Coalition? Why did you choose them to be the recipient of 10% of Reef profits?

      The AYCC do incredible work rallying young people together to create solutions for the climate crisis and hold our government accountable. They’re clever, innovative and fun and have been responsible for amazing campaigns like getting the big 4 banks to withdraw from the Adani coal mine. I used to volunteer with them, but as I get busier (and older!) I don’t have us much time to give, so I support them in other ways. 

      Do you have a favourite photo from the exhibition? Why?

      My favourite is of this clown fish. I love the vibrancy, and deep purples and pinks. Anemone fish are a symbol of hope for the Reef (thanks Finding Nemo!).

      What’s up next for you, beyond Reef?

        This is a big year for me! I’m continuing to run my business, Grumpy Turtle Design, and create more video work for people doing good stuff for the planet.  I’m also planning to get hitched on the Great Barrier Reef, so it seems the theme of 2019 is the GBR!    

        Want to get involved?

        Follow SO Manly on Facebook and check out their latest events and STRAWkles. The next one (Saturday, 2nd March 2019) falls on the same weekend as Clean Up Australia Day, so there’s no better time to attend your first STRAWkle!

        You can find all the details and RSVP to Harriet’s Reef exhibition here. The Great Barrier Reef themed photography exhibition will be showing from Thursday, 28th February – Sunday, 24th March at Sydney Road Gallery in Seaforth – it’s well worth checking out for some breathtaking ocean photography to leave you feeling inspired. Entry is free and 10% of all profits from sales will be donated to the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

        All photos by Harriet Spark, first image by Richard Woodgett. See more at their Reef exhibition!