Ocean Activism: What Are We Doing to Combat Plastic in Our Oceans?

A group called ‘Kayaktivists’ from Seattle

Overview: Ocean Gyres as Traps for Plastic

Gyres are patches in the ocean which are surrounded by regular ocean currents. As the currents rotate, they pull ocean debris into their center. Some of this debris is biomass, but much of it is plastic waste. Every minute of every year, approximately one truck-load of garbage enters the oceans, and this rate is only growing. It almost always ends up in one of the five main oceanic gyres. The largest and most famous of these gyres is in the Pacific Ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the Pacific trash vortex is an accumulation of plastics two times the size of Texas. It rotates in a gyre in between Hawaii and California, collecting trash from everywhere bordering the Pacific. It is a very large area of concentrated plastic matter. It is up to nine feet deep at some points, and by some accounts holds 7 million tonnes of plastic, although some sources say more. Although it is dubbed a patch, it cannot be seen from a satellite view of the Pacific, because over the years, plastics break apart into tiny ‘microplastics’. Microplastics are especially dangerous because they can be mistaken for plankton, which sustains marine life from the bottom of the food chain. Larger plastics are found too though. Discarded fishing nets and fishing wire (monofilament) are often found wound around animals’ necks. Birds, fish, and even whales are constantly found washed up on beaches with stomachs full of plastic. This disrupts the food chain at all levels. Marine life living in the gyre areas undergo a lot more pressure to get the food they need. The tension in these areas will eventually propagate up to human fish supplies.

(CBC World News)

What Do People Think Are the Most Important Issues Facing the Oceans?

People all over know how serious the effect of plastic is on marine life and ocean ecosystems. Many even think plastic is the most important ocean issue. Activism is on the rise, in relation to the thirteenth UN sustainability goal, climate action.

Current Political and Social Action Concerning Plastics

One Potential Large Scale Solution

The Ocean Cleanup is a project spurred by young activist, innovator, and diver Boyan Slat. His idea is that a long floating tube with a net hanging 3 meters below it in the water will be propelled through the middle of the Pacific by currents. It should be moving slightly faster than the trash normally would, so it can collect it. Because it is relatively shallow, marine life will be able to pass under it. This eliminates most bycatch. The other factor of the project is to recycle the collected plastic into reusable items which can be sold at a profit.

(The Guardian) Report on the Ocean Cleanup Project launch

The full idea is presented in this ted talk.

Although his idea seems to be failsafe, at least according to scale testing, the real thing, dispatched in September 2018 is not working exactly as planned. Slat predicted that the system would move faster than the trash, and therefore be able to collect it. However, though it is traveling slightly faster than the current, it is not moving fast enough to actually accumulate ocean plastics. They have currently sent out a team to do some on the water fixes, which they hope will suffice, but if not they will have to move it to calmer waters. Their last resort will be to add a motorized propulsion system to it, but it is still a long way away from needing that.

This idea opens up many possibilities in collecting plastic. However, all this work will be for nothing if we don’t do our part and stop more plastic from replenishing what they extract from our precious oceans.

Companies Beginning to Do Their Part

Many companies are beginning to use scavenged marine plastics and other recyclables to make everything from clothes to kitchenware to carpets. Companies like Adidas recently released shoes completely made out of recycled plastic bottles. The company Swaggr is making socks out of recycled plastics. Many companies are making things like sheets and blankets. Plastic bags are commonly recycled and turned into reusable bags. A company called Rareform is making wallets. And the list goes on. However, it takes a lot of energy to recycle plastics, and in the process of recycling often more fossil fuels are burnt releasing greenhouse gases. Many companies like to stick to their original ways because of the cost of recycling. Until the incentive to recycle is higher many companies may not be able to justify the costs of recycled plastic conviences.

Ad by Adidas for their new shoe made from recycled plastic

Local Solutions: A Focus on Rhode Island, The Ocean State

In 2013, Jen Long began a project called “The Whale Guitar Project,” which focuses on marine plastic issues in her home state of Rhode Island. She and her crew sing about climate and plastics on an electric guitar they built inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Transcript: “The hope of my project is that by appealing to the fans of guitarists, and fans can live anywhere, if they’re curious about this guitar is that a musician is playing, then we have a chance to reach them and talk to them about ocean issues. So it’s kind of like an interesting way to get somebody thinking about it who wasn’t expecting to think about it. They were just [like], that’s a cool guitar, I’m gonna go see what that’s about, and then we get a chance to talk about ocean issues.”

Original design of the electric guitar

I communicated with Long over facebook, and I got some first person insight on her projects.

Small Scale Solutions: What Can You do to Help?

There are many options for ways that individuals can do their part. Beach cleanups, however small they may seem, can really make a difference. The simple act of picking up trash on the sidewalk and bringing it to a trashcan reduces the amount of trash that ends up in the ocean. Buying sustainable merchandise helps companies realize that their recycled products are in demand. There are also small household things which are relatively easy to do. Buying sustainable food, turning off the lights, and taking shorter showers are just some of the things you can do to help. If you have a bit more time on your hands, joining a local group or donating to an organization whose policies you agree with about marine pollution can make a larger impact. If anything, educate yourself about marine life to understand the enormity of the issues, and then focus on the ones you care about most. There are many other people out there you can join forces with to make an even bigger difference.

What can you commit to?


Share this project
  1. April 26, 2019 by Michael Bell

    I love how you organized and presented this issue. The interview with Jen Long is great too. Fantastic work raising awareness about ocean plastics – I hope you can continue to advocate for this cause.

  2. April 26, 2019 by 20LaurenB

    Hi Ella! You really dug deep into this topic, and plastic pollution definitely needs to be addressed globally but we must start making a change in our lifestyles as well. I loved all the examples of the different ways companies are trying to create recycled products, and these objects are probably something I will invest in the near future. Thank you for sharing your passion for the ocean with us!

  3. April 28, 2019 by Emory Howell

    HI!! I also did a Catalyst project focusing on issues regarding our oceans. I really really think that people should care more and do more to help keep our oceans clean and healthy!! I did not know that Adidas made shoes from recycled ocean plastic and I am so happy that you included that on your presentation!! I am actually thinking about buying some because it is so uplifting to see such a big, influential company trying to spread the word about the ocean’s issues. Thank you for spreading the word, and great presentation!!

  4. April 29, 2019 by Kaili Nakanishi

    Hi Ella! I really like the different interactive pieces you added to your project, especially how you added the plan of action at the end. It really helps add to the fact that we can do something about this issue ourselves. Great job on your project!

  5. May 01, 2019 by Sophie.Baron

    Hi! This is really great! I learned so many things about recycling and how to keep the earth and oceans healthy! Great job!

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