When Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the marine biologist legend Jacques Cousteau, says he sees more and more garbage and less and less fish every time he ventures into the ocean, it is time to worry. Cousteau, like his father, spends most of his time and life on the sea so he is really in the know. At the recent Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Hawaii, he stated,”We are using the oceans as a universal sewer.”
According to recent studies, the amount of plastic being dumped into our oceans has increased about 100-fold in the last 40 years. The predictions are for wide spread ecological impacts with global consequences for tourism, fisheries, ocean life and human health. This tragedy is further complicated and discouraging with a recent investigation report by a team of Australia researchers that found “humans have put so much plastic into our planet’s oceans that even if everyone in the world stopped putting garbage in the ocean today, giant garbage patches would continue to grow for hundreds of years.” Research done by the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Climate System Science declares, “There are five known garbage patches in the subtropical oceans between each of the continents. Each contains so much plastic that if you were to drag a net through these areas you would pull up more plastic than biomass.”
We humans are creating a plastic ocean. By the time we get around to cleaning up our mess, it is going to be too late. The whole world needs to stop and choose to put this planet first. Every leader of every country needs to enforce a planet clean up day where every citizen of this planet does their part to begin a massive effort to change the course of this inevitable, potentially irreparable fate for mankind and our world. And if the leaders cannot seem to get it together, then we the people must. I am inspired and grateful for men like Tim Silverwood who saw the problem in his backyard ocean of Australia, and has dedicated his life to doing something about it. His wonderful article is below along with some other resources.
I am currently living in Miami which is home to one of the most beautiful Caribbean oceans in this country. I go to swim in this magnificent, clean, warm, turquoise water a few times a week. I am blessed. But the problem for all of us who go to the shore is that we rarely see this level of plastic pollution so out of sight, out of mind. It is only when it finally hits home that we feel compelled to take action. This has to change, or we will be leaving this huge task to only those who have it in sight. And they need our help. Now.
After reading Tim’s article, I went for an early morning walk on the beach where I am usually shell hunting. Finding shells, not trash, is where my mind has been. But this time, I mindfully looked for the plastic trash instead then started collecting pieces. I was stunned by how much plastic was on the beach buried and hidden in the seaweed. This is what I collected, what I could carry. I took a photo then put it in the recycling bin. This opened my eyes.
End Plastic Pollution: Pick it Up. Bin it. Take Three for the Sea
by Tim Silverwood
Plastic… it’s everywhere. We sit on it, we eat from it, we spend with it, we wear it, we complete surgery with it. In fact, the device you’re reading this from now probably has plastic in it. The uses for plastic are endless. This remarkable substance has quite literally shaped our future—we live in the “Age of Plastic.”
For all the positives, there are serious downsides to the “Age of Plastic” too. Depleting fossil fuels used to make plastic (yep, plastic is made from oil and gas derivatives), climate change, and uncertainty about the human health impacts of plastic (for example BPA, phthalates, etc.) Of course, there’s another big downside—the pollution of our planet with plastic trash, and how this is impacting ecosystems, including our oceans.
Anyone who hasn’t heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be astonished to hear that our continued abuse of plastic—in particular disposable plastic products—has led to the gathering of astronomical levels of plastic debris in our oceans. Sometimes wrongly referred to as “floating islands of rubbish,” these large networks of ocean currents called “gyres” are incredibly big, and incredibly complicated.
In fact, there are no islands of rubbish in our oceans, it’s more like a giant plastic soup. Any plastic we allow into the sea gradually breaks into smaller pieces but never truly “biodegrades.” What we see in the five gyres is a denser accumulation of debris transported by the slowly circulating currents, but in fact, there’s plastic in every corner of the ocean.
The majority of the problem is actually microplastic (less than 5mm) and depending on its density, some sink, some float, and some just hover in the water column. This is where it gets scary—because the plastic resembles food, it is eaten by a huge range of animals throughout the food chain, including fish, birds, turtles, whales, and even microscopic plankton.
It would be great if crazy inventions (eg. Boyan Slat’s Ocean Array) could clean plastic from the gyres, but it’s impossible. The ocean is too big, too wild, too deep, and the plastic is too small, too dispersed, and home to way too many creatures to make it possible. We have to instead focus our efforts on stopping more plastic getting there in the first place.
As part of Take 3, an organization based in Australia, we have developed a novel approach to education around the impacts of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways. In doing so, we are asking the world’s population to help prevent it by calling on everyone to simply take three pieces of trash with them when they leave the beach, waterway or… anywhere!
The ocean is downhill from everywhere so people all over the world can pick up trash and be part of the solution. Imagine if one million people took three everyday… the world would be a much cleaner place.
To prevent pollution, Take 3 also asks people to re-think using plastic. By refusing disposable items (like plastic bags, cups, straws, coffee cups, plastic cutlery and, of course, plastic water bottles), and using reusable alternatives instead, we can all help reduce the waste we create.
Help us at Take 3 continue to do GOOD things, by sharing a photo of your “Take 3” to our Facebook and Instagram pages. People have already submitted pictures from faraway locations including Mount Everest and Peru, so get picking, and show the world that you’re part of the solution to marine pollution.
Tim Silverwood is Vice-President & Co-Founder of Take 3.
Capt. Charles Moore on the seas of plastic
Charting The Garbage Patches Of The Sea