Saving the Seas With Carli Teteris

Carli serving warm, freshly made bagels for the Sunday Bedding team.

Carli Teteris of Silk and Salt Images cannot stand being away from the ocean. She’s dived in it, lived beside it, felt trapped without it, and now — she fiercely protects it. For Carli, championing sustainability is all about walking the talk. She doesn’t just call people out on their wastage of single-use plastic, but participates in beach cleanups all around Singapore, whenever she can make time away from her photography business.

We popped by her place to chat about her love for the ocean, and to find out how we can come together as a community to fight for sustainability. Just between us, we also really wanted to visit her adopted cat, Sanna.

Carli greeted us with a platter of freshly made bagels topped lavishly with cream cheese, tomatoes, and bawang goreng (fried shallots).

You’re very vocal about your love for the ocean and actively try to do your part to protect them, whether through advocating against single-use plastics or participating in beach clean-ups. Have you always been drawn to the ocean?

I do love the sea… a lot! It’s always been a part of my life — I grew up near the ocean — and I’m emotionally dependent on it. Most of my favourite childhood memories are of the beach or being out on the water on boats of all shapes and sizes. When I was a teenager, my family moved to a town located hours away from the ocean and while we were living there, I always felt unbearably claustrophobic. I don’t think I could survive living that far from salt water again. All the moments of my life I feel truly, completely happy and at ease are always near or in the sea.

“Advocating against single-use plastics” sounds a bit gentle… I’m more into public plastic shaming! I figure if we’re not making people uncomfortable, we’re never going to push people and companies to drastically change their ways before it’s too late. We casually produce way too much garbage and it’s destroying every ecosystem on the planet. It’s incredibly stressful to watch people just carelessly use plastic, trash it, think it’s gone and that it isn’t their problem any more. I can’t understand why Singapore is especially indifferent to the problem. It’s really shameful to hear people actually defend their “right” to the convenience of single-use plastic when it literally poses an existential threat to humanity.

While the plastic crisis makes our oceans a pretty miserable place for wildlife or human recreation, my emotional connection to the sea isn’t really what makes this crisis such a concern though! I’m not even that concerned about microplastics making its way through fish and seafood into our bodies. Sure, it’s gross — and devastating for the creatures we’ve put through this — but we only have ourselves to blame for those plastics getting into our bodies.

The real issue is that all life on the planet is dependent on the ocean. The ocean is a major carbon sink and produces most of the oxygen we breathe. Once we destroy the ecosystems and balances that keep that in check, we won’t be able to recover. The damage we’ve already done through chemical pollution, overfishing, plastic waste destroying species and increasing atmospheric temperatures is already creating dead zones and species collapses in the ocean, and it’s going to get a lot worse. It’s terrifying.

For the uninitiated, could you share with us why it’s important to participate in beach clean-ups?

Considering the sheer quantity of plastics already in the ocean — and arriving in it every day — beach clean-ups are mostly symbolic. I’ll still continue helping out whenever I can though! I try to do better by reducing the waste I produce, but I still have a long way to go. I consider cleaning public places the very least I can do to make up for the garbage that I produce with my consumption habits. It’s my responsibility.

Personally, I believe it’s most practical to organise clean-ups in highly visible locations. If the goal is to get people thinking about the problem of trash, setting the example by getting your hands dirty and getting out in public where you can be seen is a great way to do it. When you’re out cleaning with a group, others often join in. I also try to make a point of helping out when I see NParks workers cleaning up our beaches. Their job isn’t easy; maybe someone out there will get the point that it’s not the government’s job to hire people to clean up their mess for them and we’ve all got to help out. Also, they’ve always got bags they’re happy to share for cleaning trash if you need one!

It’s not hard to normalise the concept of public clean-ups. On Koh Lanta, it has become the most normal thing to do. A fabulous grassroots organisation called Trash Hero (they’re in Singapore, too, look them up!) started with weekly clean-ups on beaches around the island and now every day different groups get out and clean the beaches. Everyone gets involved: businesses, locals, expats, tourists, the schools, and even government groups. It’s become a regular, normal activity on the island. It takes the burden off any single group, keeps the island beautiful, builds a great sense of community, and creates an awareness of the trash issue which then helps businesses and individuals on the community to make better, conscious choices to reduce waste at the source. That’s the world I want to live in.

Manta Ray sighting from one of Carli's diving adventures.

Sights from one of Carli's diving adventures. Image courtesy of Carli Teteris.

You have two lovely homes, one in Singapore and one in Kantiang Bay. Does each home serve a different function for you?

Both of my homes — and lives — are equally important to me. They balance my financial and mental wellbeing. I don’t think I’d be able to maintain one without the other. Every time I leave one for the other, I always feel both excited and a little sad!

My Singapore home is where the real work gets done: I’m usually focused on running my photography business, keeping up with clients, while still trying to fit in a few personal projects and convincing myself to make more use of the food photography studio (formerly known as my living room).

My Kantiang Bay home, located on Koh Lanta, Thailand, is where I run off to when I need an escape. I finished building it a year ago. Before this, I used to travel when I needed a mental break. Now, my Kantiang Bay home has become my home retreat where I can really clear my head of the demands of city life and get to do more fulfilling things: managing village cats, planting trees, drinking chocolate milk in my hammock chair, supporting community projects, having real conversations, having ridiculous arguments with my gardener in my inadequate Thai, or even spending time wondering if I should get a goat or just borrow one from my neighbours.

You’re an amazing host. If you could ever throw your dream brunch party, who would make your guest list and where would you host it?

Without hesitation, I know it would have to be at the future section of my island house. Everyone’s always surprised that I built a house without a kitchen. I know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I have my reasons though! I plan to build a much bigger section in a few years — once I’ve got a bit more cash in the bank. I dream of a 20-seat long table where I can cook ridiculously indulgent feasts for everyone I love.

The who... I’m a little more flexible on that. I’ve got several groups of really close friends, and I love when they meet, but sometimes it’s just easier to be with groups where everyone knows everyone and can properly relax… be themselves without worrying about awkward conversations or being unnecessarily polite. It’s not that I don’t like getting to know new people, I just don’t want to be forced into it… especially at brunch! When I host, my only expectation is that everything looks beautiful, tastes awesome and everyone shows up on time.

We’re in love with your beautiful Sanna. What is she like and how did she come into your life?

My little kitty girl, Sanna, is the best partner-in-crime a girl could ask for. There’s really never been a better human-cat pairing: we’re both over-confident, opinionated, stubborn, social only on our own terms, and love fish. She’s about three-and-a-half years old and I’ve had her since she was two months.

Carli's Singapore home and her favourite roommate, Sanna.

I adopted her from SPCA in 2016. I grew up with cats — and I had always wanted one back in my life — but it took years of my life before I felt like I was in a place I could commit to a pet. Finally, when the timing felt right, I went to SPCA to meet the kitties and bring one home. My only criteria was I wanted a cat who wanted to be with me. If there were two, and they got along, that would have been fine. I actually would have preferred it if it was an older cat or one that might have had a harder time getting adopted than a cute little kitten. Sanna had other ideas, though. She’s a cat. What do you expect?

She was obsessed with me from the minute she saw me, and in no uncertain terms informed me that she was my cat and that we were going home together. She’s been bossing me around ever since. Sometimes we like to wear shark onesies together.

Pillow Talk is an interview series done in collaboration with Public Culture, an editorial experience studio that believes in connection over communication. This feature was photographed by Christopher Wong for Sunday Bedding and Public Culture. Special thanks to Carli Teteris for sharing her personal images with us.

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