Naude Dreyer paddled his kayak off the coast of Walvis Bay, Namibia. The water was calm, clinging to his oar with each row. But beneath the silken surface, a creature was fighting for its life. Suddenly, a bundle of netting burst into view, revealing a distressed seal in its clutches. Dreyer hauled the entangled pup to the shore. After cutting it loose, he watched in awe as it swam away. “It was then that I realised I had found my true life’s calling,” Dreyer says. “Saving marine wildlife.”

Ocean pollution is one of the greatest threats sea animals face today. From discarded fishing lines to shopping bags, an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris are currently floating in the water. Taking hundreds of years to decompose, the litter latches onto marine creatures, claiming over 100 000 lives each year. With thousands of Cape fur seals breeding along the Namibian coastline, Dreyer became aware of the cruel fate these animals endured. Naturally inquisitive mammals, they often ingest debris or become twisted in it, resulting in starvation, suffocation, and death. To put an end to this suffering, Dreyer vowed to make their plight his priority and co-founded Ocean Conservation Namibia.

Seven years later, Dreyer and his team have freed over 800 seals from insidious debris. Whether using his bare hands or a specially designed net, Dreyer secures the seal before cautiously removing the hazardous litter. Filming each rescue and sharing it online, the environmentalist alerts people to the deadly consequences of our behaviour. “When you see an animal wrapped in plastic, it’s clear that keeping our oceans clean is not a suggestion, but an absolute necessity,” Dreyer says. His team recently took on the 100 Seals for Time campaign, where they successfully disentangled 100 seals in just 30 days. “We’re trying to reverse human-inflicted damage,” Dreyer says. While it was an impressive feat, it’s also a stark reminder that Dreyer’s conservation efforts are crucial for the survival of seals. “Our oceans are teeming with all kinds of wildlife,” he says. “It’s up to us to keep it this way.”