Meet Bonnie Combs, our 2019 Ocean Spirit Award winner! Bonnie lives in Blackstone, a small Massachusetts community on the border of Rhode Island. Her journey to ocean conservation started years ago with a love of food and continues today with big ideas that exemplify how an army of one can influence two states and multiple communities, inspiring them to join the fight to protect our blue planet. When Bonnie tells her story, it’s best to have a map of Massachusetts and Rhode Island on hand! Her life has crisscrossed these borders and each state could claim her as their own ocean hero.
Bonnie’s motto is “be the change you wish to see” and believes everyone can make a difference when it comes to saving the planet. “Some people are just too shy or scared but I say if you just try and get out there, you never know how your efforts might make a difference,” she muses. Always a nature lover, Bonnie had her awakening to conservation while working as a chef at Whole Foods and was drawn into the company’s sustainability mission becoming Community Relations Team Leader. This work, in locations in MA and RI, became her conservation training ground and solidified her interest in working locally to spread the message that you too can choose healthy for your family and in turn, make our world a better place.
Bonnie is often using her skills as a trained chef to make sustainable meals or is firing up her sewing machine, stitching up t-shirts for reusable bags, sewing remnant fabric for cutlery wraps and repurposing animal feed bags. A creative energetic change maker, Bonnie is regularly organizing river and beach clean-ups across both MA and RI, teaching folks how to reuse and repurpose everyday materials to mitigate waste, and sharing her talents with the community by empowering others to learn how to make creative choices when it comes to refusing single-use plastic pollution.
Her life is bursting with community activism and her reach is wide. As Marketing Director at the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, Inc, she has developed and designed the Trash Responsibly and Fish Responsibly campaigns, making sure that waste and monofilament fishing line is recycled properly. A co-worker and volunteer coordinator of the Corridor, Suzanne Buchanan, describes Bonnie’s enthusiasm for her conservation work as contagious. “People stop by to donate feed bags for repurposing and you would think that she is being given a bouquet of flowers given her outburst of joy and the hugs that follows,” says Suzanne. “Bonnie is generous above and beyond as she gathers people together to think about their consumption and choices. She can’t go to bed until she has filled up a trash bag on one of her walks and on those walks she is stopping for conversations, inspiring others to join in.” Suzanne adds, “She makes me a better person and I am not the only one that would say that.”
Bonnie loves networking, outreach and the community participation in the building of a movement. She thinks big! Her newest project takes this concept on, literally. Bonnie is currently a “3D Resident Local Artist” at the Providence citywide public art initiative, The Avenue Concept, collecting a rainbow of plastic containers from across Rhode Island for an enormous public sculpture that will be assembled and constructed on site by famed New York artist Steven Siegel. The entire structure will be assembled from plastic waste including laundry jugs and personal and household cleaning products. The sculpture will be held together by discarded fishing nets and Bonnie hopes the art will spark discussions about how to protect marine life from entanglement and keep plastic pollution out of our waterways and ocean.
“The ocean to me (blending my passion for the environment and cooking) is the soup of life,” says Bonnie. “We all play a part in the recipe. If we want a well balanced, healthy and life-sustaining soup, we need to change our mindset and think of our daily actions as ingredients. Are we adding too much to the soup? If ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ we must be mindful of our individual impact and how collectively we all sit at the same table and share the same meal.”
Congratulate Bonnie on May 21st at W2O’s On the Brink: Saving our Right Whale, Saving our Ocean. Bonnie will be presented the 2019 Ocean Spirit Award at this event that will educate the public about the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Find out how we can save this species, thought of as the “ocean’s canary in the coal mine,” and join us to take a closer look at how we can protect our blue planet. Click Here for Tickets!