University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Biology students are cleaning up after you - on the seabed

Environment — The sea is awash with forgotten plastic bags and old car tyres. Students armed with nets and diving masks are removing some of the trash that otherwise would never see land again.

Three biology students go into a bar and start up an environmental organisation. So what happens?

Quite a lot actually, Back in January, the association Project OOH which in Danish is called ‘Os Om Havet’ or ‘Us About the Sea’ was founded by three biology students from the University of Copenhagen. The association organises events where volunteer divers and families collect trash from the seabed. They do it, because it is hard to get at the trash with traditional methods. And they love to dive.

So that’s two fish with one stone

The idea for the association popped up down under. Jamila Lilja, Maria Wagner Jørgensen and Marc Allen Toft-Larsen ended up living together by chance when they were on exchange in Tasmania. Maria was doing an assignment on plastic and seabirds in the Southern Ocean, and so plastics in the sea came up for discussion among the biologists in their little place – far away from Copenhagen.

If you can’t get three biology students who have studied plastic to go out and get the trash on a dive, then you can’t expect others to do it.

Jamila Lilja, founder of the Project OOH group

It was not until later that they decided to do something about it. In a hot bus somewhere on the Eastern coast of Australia they got the idea for the Project OOH group. Jamila had just taken her diving certificate, and with inspiration from the ‘Dive Against Debris’ initiative she saw the chance to combine diving with biology.

The only problem was that there was no organised collection of trash for divers in Denmark.

“We looked first for events where we, as divers, could collect litter. But there wasn’t, so we had to take the initiative,” Maria explains.

People want to help

For the two founders, it is important to give people specific opportunities to collect trash. The divers are a group of people who are already aware of the problem and who would like to help. According to Jamila, the Project OOH just helps them along in the process:

“If you can’t get three biology students who have studied plastic to go out and get the trash on a dive, then you can’t expect others to do it. That is why we have to help people who want to do it. This is what we are doing.

Project OOH is mostly about creating awareness about the trash at sea. But in order to do so, according to the founders, you need to give people an experience of nature and a sense of community.

About Project OOH

You can check out Project OOH on Facebook or contact them on The next event is on Sunday 30th September and everyone is welcome.

The Danish name of the association, ‘Us About the Sea’ was chosen to emphasize the community part of it. It needs to be fun to be environmentally conscious and not just a chore to get points on your moral account. Jamila says: “We don’t want to be the frowning school teacher. Or – to put it nicely – environment nannies telling people what they doing wrong. We want to show people the way instead. And give them a connection to nature, so they want to do things together at sea.”

It is all about showing that environmental awareness does not have to be “extremely boring“, but can easily be integrated in your everyday life. In a fun way.


We don’t want to be the frowning school teacher. Or – to put it nicely – environment nannies telling people what they are doing wrong.
Jamila Lilja, founder of the Project OOH group

It’s biology, stupid!

Biology at the University of Copenhagen was how the three founders found their friendship and their group. And the study programme has affected them and Project OOH. They understand the problems, can communicate them to others, and are self-assured in their cause.

Maria is an ecologist, Marc is a marine biologist and Jamila is a cell biologist. With their different academic backgrounds, they can together give a broad overview of the waste situation in the sea. From how plastic affects the overall ecosystem, to what happens when nano-plastics enter the brains of fish.

Of course, they don’t know everything, says Maria, but the studies give them a firm foundation when the problems are to be put into context.

Sure, it is a drop in the ocean. But when you do something it spreads like ripples in water

Maria Wagner Jørgensen, founder of Project OOH

This is an understanding that they can use in their plans for Project OOH in the future. One of them is doing courses for school students. They are wildly enthusiastic when it comes to the environment. The founders have experienced this at their diving events, which are like treasure hunts for children, with the pick up of everything from glittery car wheel rims to shopping baskets up off the sea sand.

Keeping their heads down

The founders are well aware that they are completely green (as algae) when it comes to associations. They say they really are three biology geeks who decided to do something, and they need a lot of help in terms of both social media, legal issues, and event managing.

And the project is not a big one, but small streams make great rivers. “It is definitely a drop in the ocean. But it spreads like ripples in water, when you do something. If we have one diver out there who has a cool experience, then they tell their friends about it, who retell it to others,” Maria says about the initiative.

Project OOH is not only for divers and biology students. The actual dive is only a small part of a diving event. The founders say the events should be seen as a fun day with the family. Mom can dive, while dad messes around in his waders with the children, and while the older brother collects garbage on his run along the beach.

“It is not the few events, which we set up during the year, that make the difference. It is people’s everyday lives, that we need to move“, Jamila repeats. One dive at a time.