Who We Are

The foundation and the people


By the Ocean
we Unite

image logo By the Ocean we Unite – by Arlette Beerenfenger

Plastic pollution has become one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. Worldwide, on average eight billion kilos of plastics end up in our oceans every year – that is 23.000 kilos every single minute(!). Those plastics – ranging from large to microscopically small – cause devastating effects on the environment, animals and possibly ourselves. We no longer want to be on the sidelines.

By the Ocean we Unite is a Dutch foundation with charitable status (ANBI) that contributes to preventing more plastics from ending up in our oceans. Through the organization of a variety of activities – sailing expeditions, lectures, documentaries & more (see below) – we conduct research, create awareness, educate and activate people, organisations and governments to make much needed changes. By joining forces with partners worldwide we increase our outreach and positive impact. Join us on our journey and help protecting our oceans, the animals and ourselves from plastic pollution.

”The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” – Jacques Cousteau
“..do something about it, a great begin is to start looking at your own behavior regarding the usage of plastic.” – ambassador Bouwe Bekking


 How it all started..

Our founder, Thomas van Thiel, has been a passionate sailor and lover of our oceans almost his entire life. In 2014 he fulfilled a lifelong dream: crossing the ”The Pond” (Atlantic Ocean) on a sailing ship. When the crew was ten days out, with another ten ahead before they would reach land again, Thomas saw a plastic bottle floating by. This hit him hard, something man-made, that far from civilization. His eyes were opened and from that moment on he started to see plastic pollution everywhere. His beloved oceans were sick and he wanted to do something about it: in the beginning of 2016 his foundation ”By the Ocean we Unite” was born.


Our vision is a world where no plastic ends up in nature anymore. A world with healthy oceans and animals (including ourselves) where we, as humans, collectively protect that where we came from: our oceans.


Our mission is to take people out to our oceans and seas, be it real-life or digitally, and make them aware of the plastic soup our waters have turned into. Through conducting scientific research we want to the increase knowledge on the causes and consequences of marine plastic pollution. To really prevent plastic from being discarded in nature we provide the general public with tips to change their behaviour. To increase our positive impact we combine forces with many individuals and organisations worldwide.


We’re currently an enthusiastic and dedicated team of 14 volunteers, trying to stop the flow of plastics to our oceans. Some of us are working (almost) full-time for the foundation, while others are working part-time next to their ‘real’ job. Our binding and motivating factor: a deep love for our planet, the oceans and all life within!

Wheelhouse (stuurhut)

Thomas van Thiel

Founder / president of the board

I’m a passionate sailor and traveler with a big love for nature. I was shocked and upset when I saw what is happening to our oceans. I needed to do something, so I started By the Ocean we Unite to combine sailing and the love for our ocean, to stimulate each other to take action. We’ve had a successful first expedition, that gave a lot of new insights. There’s still a lot to do, but I believe when we will all unite with eachother we can prevent plastics from coming into our oceans.


Karl Beerenfenger

Co-Founder & Expedition Leader

From fishing with my dad when I was a little boy to (free)diving and working on marine conservation projects in recent years, our waters and all life within have always had a huge attraction to me. By the Ocean we Unite combines adventure, profound experiences in nature and a lot of good people with actively contributing to the solution of one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. I’m happy and proud to use my broad background in among others the fields of events, PR, sustainability and tourism to work towards our goal: stopping the flow of plastics ending up in our oceans.


Maarten Erich

Scientific Research Coordinator

Water has always inspired me. Growing up next to water I was fascinated with everything in and around it. This curiosity made me study the research Master, Freshwater and Marine Biology, which revealed all the fascinating processes in this beautiful environment. Unfortunately, it also displayed the impact we humans have on this system. One of the rapid emerging problem affecting our waters is the plastic pollution. Seeing plastic in nature saddens me. ‘By the Ocean we Unite’ offers me the beautiful opportunities to work with likeminded people to counteract this problem. Conducting research to generate knowledge and communicating this is one of the key elements setting this in motion. A little thing can already achieve a lot. For example stop using single use coffee cups. Bring your own lightweight bamboo cup to reduce your impact.


Nella van Braam

General Manager / Events & funding

Well, what can I say…. I am a sailor, love skating in the wild and it just feels so right to commit to this cause. A devastating scenario for our beloved earth unfolded to me and having had the unpleasant situation that faced me with mortality, I decided to swiftly switch my career. So, since June 2017 I am happy to use my skills to support this fun, (earth) loving, hard working and impressive group of people. I am dying to talk to everyone who would like to have a life changing event organized. Call me!


Cabin (kajuit)

Paul Konijnendijk

Social Business Officer

I love to sail or surf the oceans. By the Ocean we Unite reflects a lot of my interests and life goals. Oceans need to be kept clean, free from further plastic pollution – something I like to contribute to. My vision is that future generations have the same rights to a beautiful planet as we have. We cannot leave our rubbish behind. Instead we should eliminate all waste. Through my work in leadership and organisation development, I make people aware of how to become more conscious of the impact they can make. With behavioral change for the better as a result. By the Ocean we Unite allows me to use my experience and work for a cleaner ocean!

Nanne van Hoytema

PhD Coral Reef Ecology & Scientific Advisor / secretary of the board

Having recently finished my PhD in coral reef ecology, I felt that more effort should be taken in bringing scientific knowledge to the general public. There are a number of major problems in the oceans and the general public hardly hears what scientists are discovering about them. Through a shared acquaintance, Thomas got in touch with me and told me that he was looking for a marine biologist for a new foundation which would spread the word on the issue of marine plastic pollution through sailing expeditions. I was happy to join him and the other enthusiastic team members of By the Ocean we Unite and I can not wait to see where this rapidly growing adventure will take us.

Sanne Bakkes

Facebook & Instagram Manager

It’s crazy to think that back in 2017, I was completely unaware about the plastic problem we’re facing. From the moment I had my first meeting with Karl and Thomas, I started seeing it everywhere. The problem quickly became more prominent in my life. During surf lessons in Cape Town, I used to stick plastic pieces in my wetsuit so I could throw them away after. The ocean is my happy place and I’m very sad it is in such bad condition. That’s why I’ll do everything in my power to help save and preserve both marine life and our underwater ecosystems. I’m happy to combine my passions for content creation and the ocean in managing the Social Media and show you all what we’re up to. Don’t forget to say hi on Instagram or Facebook!


Noortje Schrauwen


I have the privilege to live close to our beautiful North Sea. I try to enjoy the sea, the beaches and dune areas as much as I can by foot, bike, boat or by swimming. It’s an incredible piece of nature! It often surprises me how we lost our connection to our natural surroundings. We leave so much trash on our beaches and do not see it as our responsibility to keep it clean. As an anthropologist, I’m interested in people’s behavior. I love to explore ways to invite people and organisations to get connected again to their natural environment – and to find ways to take responsibility. I enjoy setting up projects to include people and companies in our voyage to cleaner oceans and experience our passion for our oceans!


Roos Swart

Marine Biologist

My love for the ocean and urge to explore yet protect it, made me study Marine Biology. I love to learn about the underwater world and to be able to explain how ecosystems work. My latest research was conducted in warmer waters with lots of diving. Every day in the field we would kayak to our research spot. During these kayaking trips I saw a lot of plastic floating in the water, which was easily mistaken as a food source by turtles. I realized that my research was fun and interesting, but I missed action and a greater goal. I am happy that I can join this crew of like-minded enthusiastic people while using my scientific knowledge, and hopefully feel more useful in our battle for cleaner oceans.

Laurien Eblé

Political Advisor

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead. I am 25 years old and a law graduate. I am in charge of organizing screenings for the documentaries of BTOWU and providing legal assistance. From a very young age I have been passionate about preserving the nature our precious planet holds. Industrialization and the rapid increase of our population have created many challenges that may feel insurmountable at times. One of those challenges is the plastic pollution of our oceans. I am very glad that I was able to join the team of BTOWU, which is full of inspiring people. It has opened my eyes to see that together with all the like-minded people in the world, we can come up with more solutions than there are problems. Positivity and awareness together are the key.

Pommeline Prey

Juridical support

Hi! My name is Pommeline and I’m currently studying law in Leeuwarden. I grew up in Friesland, so I was always surrounded by water. My love for the environment and the water has brought me by By The Ocean We Unite. I didn’t just wanted to sit on my couch and wait for other people to do something about the plastic problem, but I wanted to help and play my part in it as well!
I am grateful to be part of this journey and will do my best to help and motivate others as well!

Jasper Godschalk

Project Support

“We didn’t inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children” – Chief Seattle. As a great lover of the sea, the ocean and the earth it hurts me intensively that littering plastic has disastrous consequences for nature and wildlife. Through my commitment to By the Ocean we Unite, I hope to make young people aware of the fragility of our planet and to inspire them to transfer this wonderful structure with the greatest care to our children. Do you stand up for the earth with us?

Coen Koetsier

Graphic Designer

Hi, my name is Coen Koetsier. I’m passionate about sailing and nature. A few years ago I met Thomas on a sailing boat, when my family and I did a course and Thomas was the instructor. At night, Thomas told me he was setting up a foundation to fight plastic pollution. A couple weeks later my Dad and I went to the first information evening of newly born By the Ocean we Unite, where the crew told us about their first expedition to Norway. My dad decided to join, I couldn’t make it unfortunately. Now, several years later, I am a skipper with the youth department of the Huizer Botters and I’m studying graphic design, leading me to do more and more designing for the foundation. And now I’m part of the team. Awesome. 😊

Fabiènne Doveren

Marine Biologist

”In the spring of 2012 I started diving on a 2,5 month trip to Cambodia. Although the beauty of the underwater world and its inhabitants instantly enchanted me, I was also confronted for the first time with plastics floating in the water. Many dives followed and sadly everywhere I went, there was plastic as well. Once you’ve seen it, you cannot unsee it! This inspired me to study the master ‘Freshwater and Marine Biology’. As a team member of the BTOWU science department I’m able to not only inform people about plastic pollution but also to share stories about the all the beautiful things that are present under water. Education is the key to create awareness and by spreading the love for our ocean I hope to encourage people to open their eyes and counteract plastic pollution.”


Zsaklin Szánto

Project support

Growing up in Hungary I only had access to rivers and lakes, so the first time I finally saw the sea I was completely mesmerized. As a kid I always enjoyed watching documentaries about our environment and as time progressed the tales about the future of our planet turned more worrisome. While being impressed by the diversity of the creatures and habitats that surround us, I began to be more concerned about the protection of these vital ecosystems. Therefore I decided to study environmental law with the hope to make a difference for future generations and in the meantime contribute to projects that tackle such urging environmental challenges.

Anne Gierveld

Online marketing

As a passionate kitesurfer, I love the sea. I have been travelling along quite some coastlines, and even had the chance to dive with whale sharks at the coast of Mozambique. Where I saw those amazing creatures eating plankton by filtering the water that besides plantkton also contained plastic particles! However, it is not only a problem ‘’far away’’, also in the Dutch beaches and North Sea you can find plastic litter. Once you become aware of it, you see it everywhere! What I like about being volunteer at BTOWU, is that we are all like-minded and passioned people with the ambition to go for cleaner oceans. Working as an International Marketing Manager (B2B), I have experience in scaling-up companies. I use my experiences to contribute in the online marketing strategy, but also to inspire organizations to contact us for a lecture or to join us on a sailing expedition!  You contact me at anne@bytheoceanweunite.org and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn 🙂

Marijn van Doorn

Marine biologist

Water has always played an important role in my life. Water is essential for my recreation through sport, for my education and in my work. But the need for water goes much deeper than this. We need water to stay alive! Without drinking water we would not last long and without our oceans the world can not exist. Working as a marine biologist for By the Ocean we Unite offers me an incredible chance to increase awareness about the current status of our oceans. Together we can start healing wat is most important to us. By starting from the source and changes our own behaviour we can inspire others to join, let’s unite!


Martine Vos

Events, sales & Twitter


Marieke den Ouden


I’m graduated graphic and social designer from Willem de Kooning Academy, and the new photographer. On weekdays I work as a designer at What Design Can Do. When I’m not on land, I’m sailing the world’s waters. Last summer I was a mentor on the Windseeker expedition around Norway and the UK. I live in Rotterdam.

Alberto de Kroon

Financial advisor / treasurer of the board

As a sailor and fan of the Wadden sea and islands (north of the Netherlands) I was confronted with the effects of plastic pollution in our seas, when a container ship lost lots of its freight early 2019 . Partly, this generally plastic freight stranded on the beaches of the beautiful Wadden islands and coasts of the Netherlands. But lots of it end up in the waters and threaten sea life.
That was the moment I realized we have to take action to do something about this!
I joined an expedition of By The Ocean We Unite and got affected by the immense problem we create as humans and the good work this foundation brings about.
I decided to contribute BTOWU with financial expertise and join the board as treasurer, in order to stimulate their goals maximally!


Amber van de Klippe

Press officer

Being close to the ocean has always given me a feeling of peace. As a child my favorite holidays were spend in the tide pools of ‘Zeeland’ looking for the most beautiful shells and fishing for little shrimps and in the last year I have have made that my official job: I teach diving and manage the dive department of a conservation NGO in the south of Madagascar. Everywhere around the world where I dive, kite or swim I see plastic in the water and on shore. Everywhere. When interested in the problem of plastic pollution, the name of By the Ocean we Unite often comes up and having the opportunity to do my bit in fighting this plastic challenge with this organisation makes me proud and motivated!



By the Ocean we Unite is made possible by a lot more people!


These guys have contributed to the foundation enormously in the past.

Alexandra Atalita

Instagram Manager

Having been born and raised on the island of Curaçao, the ocean has always been a part of me. As Miss Earth Curaçao 2018, I was able to raise awareness on the biggest problem our earth is facing today: Plastic. As an earth warrior I focus on protecting our ocean from plastic pollution and ban single-use plastics. By hosting various beach clean ups, seminars and publishing articles I was able to convince many consumers and government officials in Curaçao to reduce, re-use and recycle their items. Now that I’m in the Netherlands, I can successfully continue my mission with By the Ocean we Unite. I’m happy to contribute my knowledge and experience in the field of Instagram marketing to the team, to inspire others to make a change. Only together we can all combat plastic pollution and protect our ocean! Like our Instagram!

Johan van der Hulst

Social Media Manager

I’m passionate about sailing, flying gliders and nature and dedicated to growing the BTOWU online community. I want to create more awareness for plastic pollution and seek more interaction with our followers. Small actions from many people can change the world, if we unite, share our knowledge and take action.

Fabio Bartali

Graphic Designer & Videographer

Being a water and boat dweller I coincidentally got to know By the Ocean we Unite and embarked on the first expedition ‘Up to Norway’ as an expedition member. Along the way I not only got to know the foundation and its members, but also the goals, views and beliefs they share. Instinctively I knew this expedition wouldn’t be the end of it. From contributing with my own views and opinions as a fairly level-headed outsider, to carrying out the message and activities of By the Ocean we Unite as a videographer and graphic designer from within the organisation, I’m more than happy to be part of this incredible team.

Anouk van de Beek

Filmmaker & Director

I am a filmmaker with a background in social sciences and anthropology. When I met Thomas, it all came together: my goal to contribute to a new collective consciousness, my love for the ocean and my wish to experience sailing at open sea. I so much enjoy using film as an instrument to raise awareness and inspire people to take action. Together with our team I make sure we communicate By the Ocean we Unite’s message to the world and give people the tools to contribute to cleaner oceans.

Krisje Tellers

Project Support

Hi there! My name is Krisje and I am one of the newest team members of By the Ocean we Unite. Since my childhood I am very concerned with how we treat mother earth and the impact of our human behavior. To create as much awareness as possible, I found out that even with sharing stories and little actions taken by a few, a movement starts and the crowd will follow. This is how I got intrigued by event management with a focus on sustainability, which ables me to engage people. I was involved with the WWF Plastic Free Ocean Accelerator program at Impact Hub, where I met Thomas – who was one of the participants – and his story really hit me. From that moment, I immediately offered him to support the team of BTOWU and well.. that’s where we are now. Interested in organizing an event with us? Let’s grab a coffee!

Martina Vilhar

Project member Eco-island Silba

Born and raised in Slovenian countryside, among thick woods, mountains, cleanest rivers, lakes and Adriatic sea, I grew up with a strong sense of consciousness about unspoiled nature. City life in one of the most densely populated areas in Europe has made me realise even more of the impact we have on the planet and the urgency of preserving the nature and its diversity. In one of the public events in Amsterdam, Thomas, Karl and Nanne presented BTOWU and I immediately got hooked on their contagious enthusiasm. It’s amazing to be a part of this fantastic team, where scientists, activists, dreamers, environmental enthusiasts share the common passion and search for ways of protecting our planet.

Franka van den Berg

Office Manager / treasurer of the board

My name is Franka, 30 years of age and I am responsible for all financial and back-office related activities. My official job description is to be the treasurer of the foundation. I love doing this for By the Ocean we Unite because our volunteers are working hard to reach our goal; to stop plastic pollution. It’s my job to make sure everybody can do his or her part by enabling them financially or by being a communication channel for the board.
And of course I am responsible for all financial matters, and to communicate our financial statements to the public.

George Aguado Sánchez

Facebook Manager

The environment status quo is something we need to face today. That´s why after studying journalism and making a science communication research, I decided to join BTOWU. I got in love with the idea, the project, the people and the spirit. Fighting plastic pollution is a way of taking action towards a better world. My job? To make people know what our mission is about, bringing knowledge about plastic contamination and to tell how to help battling the 8 billions tons of plastic entering our oceans every year. Should we begin? Find more on Facebook!


By the Ocean we Unite is made possible by a lot more people!