My journey on the Sea Dragon with the 5 Gyres crew — sponsored by Electrolux — has finally come to a close, and I am back home safe and sound. Traveling through the fjords in southern Chile in search of chemical pollution in the ocean was an eye-opening and inspiring experience. We saw some of the most beautiful places in the world, and I learned about the plastic epidemic from people that have been through the worst plastic accumulation zones in the world. The reality of the problem is that it is widespread, damaging and remains to a large extent unknown. Plastic is invading our seas, harming our marine life, and we are still ignorant to its long-term effects on the environment. The good news is there are people working on a solution.
Our last night on the Sea Dragon was seriously incredible, the moon was out over the South Pacific as we sailed toward our landing place in Valdivia, Chile. While we stargazed and reminisced on our voyage, I took some time to help Anna take her last water sample – a night sample at 3 a.m.! Our head lamps came in handy as we threw her bucket overboard and carefully filled her water sampling jars.
She has promised to report back on all of her findings as soon as she gets back to Sweden. I’m curious to see what she’ll discover. It’s been quite the learning experience, being in this completely pristine environment, while all the time trying to remember that our plastic addiction and environmental carelessness reaches even places like this where so few humans have been.
As Clive — our skipper — told me yesterday when I interviewed him, “we all think our oceans are infinite,” but their vastness doesn’t make them immune to our destruction. Their currents carry our thoughtless disposal of waste into their every nook and cranny. The, “not in my back yard” point of view just doesn’t work with this problem. The ocean is forever circulating, the whole thing is all of our back yards.
Photo by The Green Bag Lady
Many of the people involved in researching this problem say it stems from our waste stream, the recycling cycle and our habits and behaviors. The plastic problem is inherent to the way we live, as Clive said about plastic, “we couldn’t hardly survive without it.” He believes the answer lies in compostable plastics and a plastic recycling system that doesn’t downgrade. He is involved in consulting for companies that are attempting to create plastics that can be remade thousands of times without degrading in quality. He believes that someday we will see a “closed-loop system” where plastics are not thrown away, but remade into something of equal or greater value. Plastic comes from oil after all, and oil is a finite resource – we can’t go on like this forever.
Every plastic bag, plastic bottle and plastic net has a likelihood of ending up in the environment and if it does, it will eventually make its way back into our food chain — plastic degrades into tiny pieces and fish consume them. As Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation says, “the ocean is downhill from everywhere.” Though my personal plastic research adventure has ended and I’ve regretfully said goodbye to the rest of the crew, I promise to return home and take the memory of this research with me. A new mantra for us all: single use plastic is not a singular problem – it is a far-reaching and destructive force that we’ve got to work together to eliminate.
Inhabitat Writer and Video Producer Brit Liggett was chosen by Electrolux to be a crew member on the latest 5 Gyres expedition. She is traveling along the southern coast of Chile helping the crew of the Sea Dragon study plastic pollution along the Chilean coastline. This post is sponsored by Electrolux