Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sail across the Atlantic Ocean studying plastic and marine debris in yet another oceanic gyre with a team of researchers from The 5 Gyres Project. Disclosure: I got onboard our the vessel as an embedded journalist and got off as a 5 Gyres team member. Once home, I quit my job and took arms against a sea of plastic. It’s hard to explain what it’s like because unless you’ve been at sea for month, it’s almost incomprehensible to imagine the scope of the problem we’re talking about. Life changing? That’s an understatement.
Plastic pollution in our world’s oceans has long been my cause celebre; as a traveling surfer, I’ve been to remote places on the globe and no matter where I go, I find beaches covered with plastic debris: Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Portugal, Nicaragua and my home beaches in Oregon, too.
I got involved volunteering with the Surfrider Foundation running a Ban The Bag campaign in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. But then I started thinking globally. Surfrider funded my trip with a typical contractor grant where I’d have to meet some expectations with regard to deliverables. What they didn’t expect is that I’d change the course of my life because of what I had borne witness to.
The 5 Gyres project is an expedition-based organization with an outreach and action wing modeled on the hypothesis that given that our world’s five major subtropical oceanic gyres, each will collect plastic in a similar method as the North Pacific Gyre (or North Pacific Garbage Patch) has.
After being on the first expedition (ever) to study The North Atlantic Gyre in its entirety, I can say unequivocally that we unfortunately found what we were looking for.
The 5 Gyres Project is all about getting people to change their consumer behaviors, because the marine plastic problem isn’t confined to just one place. Plastic is everywhere in our ocean; in fact, it’s become a dominant feature of the marine ecosystem.
And we can’t recycle our way out of this problem.