A Plastic Ocean

We are drowning in it.

The ocean accounts for 90% of our habitat; most of it is unexplored, imagine all the jungles, deserts and all the mountains. The ocean accounts for 9 times more of what we see on land. The possibility of having an ocean that is 50% fish and 50% plastic in just 30 years is sad, alarming and devastating. There are no ocean trash deniers, it is right there in front of us - every time we go to the beach and every time we swim in the oceans. Plastic is there and will stay there for at least 100 years to come, and that is the evil side of plastic. It takes centuries to decompose and will still be present way after we pass away.

Whether they are getting stuck in fishnets, dying from plastic shards lodged in their intestines, or getting straws stuck in their nostrils, too many marine species are suffering from a material we created; the ocean is no longer their home, but a dangerous minefield. Imagine eating something that does not nourish you and ends up killing you instead.

Photography by: JOHN CANCALOSI

Photography by: JOHN CANCALOSI

Our plastic problem only gets worse when we take a closer look at it. World plastic production has increased exponentially from 2.3 million tons in 1950 and grew to 448 million by 2015, but the math does not seem to add up; where do we find this monstrous quantity of plastic? The answer is not visible to the naked eye. Plastic is broken down into pieces so small they are hard to see. In 2004, researcher and scientist Richard Thompson coined the term "microplastics". Microplastics have been found everywhere in the ocean, from the deepest seafloor to ice floating sheets in the Arctic, and this is where the problem lays. The smaller the plastic gets, the easier it is for animals to ingest these microplastics; by 2050, virtually every seabird will be eating it. These microplastics can already be found in fish, so who is to say it is not found in our food chain? Moreover, the problem is not only in the plastics, but also the chemicals used to make them. These chemicals have the potential to pass through the skin of fish and end up in our system. It is clear to see that there is no such thing as throwing away plastic; our oceans have become our garbage dumps and each year 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean - the equivalent of dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute.

SurfRider campaign for "Rise Above plastics” poster

SurfRider campaign for "Rise Above plastics” poster

Microplastics found in Albatross stomach

Microplastics found in Albatross stomach

Most of the plastics found in the oceans are single-use plastics from bottle caps to straws and plastic bags. The funny thing is we can eliminate plastic use without having to drastically change our lifestyle. Do you really need a straw? In 2013, a group of scientists argued that disposable plastic should be classified as a hazardous material, one that we are drowning in.


The problem is also translated to a global level; the ones that suffer most with the ocean plastic pollution are mainly developing economies, such as the growing economies of Asia. Half of the world's mismanaged plastic waste is generated by just five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. The reason for that is because the garbage collection systems in these areas are largely underdeveloped. So, if we want to make a change, these are the countries we need to address first. Most of the plastic pollution is due to sachets as many poor families can only afford to buy one serving at a time and these are not recyclable. The solution to this problem is not necessarily a glamorous one, but we need to collect the trash and build the necessary institutions and systems to collect and recycle plastic before we start sunbathing on beds of microplastics instead of sand.

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Furthermore, the ones producing it should have a major role in mitigating this problem. Lately, corporations have been responding to public opinion with Coca-Cola, Unilever and PepsiCo pledging to convert to 100% reusable packaging. Individuals are also making a difference; last year, the first massive ocean clean up was set in place. They installed a huge system that aims to clean up the Great Pacific patch every 5 years. The long-term plan is to deploy 5 different systems in every gyre in order to decrease plastic pollution that accumulate in these areas. The mastermind behind this innovation is Boyan Slater, who has been working on this project since his teenage years.

First model of the Ocean Clean Up sent into the Pacific Ocean in 2018

First model of the Ocean Clean Up sent into the Pacific Ocean in 2018

We need to ask ourselves what type of legacy we want to leave behind; what kind of world are we leaving for those who will come after us? Is this it?

-Ana Carolina Scalercio