Plastic Soup

I’m back in Hong Kong and happy to be home.  Not seeing the kids for 7 weeks was hard but knowing that I was away from them to witness and act on an environmental disaster and try and do what I can to make their future a little healthier was worth it.

The last few days have afforded me a chance for reflection on the incredible journey I have been on.  Whilst on the plane back to Tokyo for the very short 8 hour flight I spent a lot of time looking out the window.  Seeing the breathtaking blueness of the ocean blending into the sky from above led me to contemplate the 28 days it took to reach Hawaii.  I looked down on the waves and wondered if it would be possible to spot the Sea Dragon from this height.    For me the whole journey was an unbelievable experience.

We witnessed Mother Nature at her best and her… um … most interesting.  Stunning sunsets and sunrises, a full moon, the Milky Way shining so bright, dolphins playing alongside the boat, magnificent albatross gliding above, glorious sunshine, gale force winds, stinging rain, howling wind, whales, peace, quiet, isolation and incredible beauty; we had it all and more.

Every day on each daylight watch we had to do one hour timed observations.  It was both one of my favourite and saddest hours.  Sitting back to back with a friend at the front of the boat, each looking out to the water beyond we recorded everything we saw.  Being able to spend 1-2hrs a day just staring at the middle of the ocean was a privilege.  Witnessing the myriad blues or greys was such a pleasure.  But it was very sobering noting the progress of the boat by the amount of plastic that was floating past in what should be a pristine environment.  Over the weeks we documented more than 700 pieces of plastic, which translated into a piece of plastic floating by every 3 and a half minutes!  60 odd years of disposable plastic has left this legacy.  We saw toothbrushes, water bottles, shampoo bottles, cigarette lighters, Styrofoam pieces, broken buckets, crates, buoys, nets and ropes, bottle lids, containers small & large and hundreds of unidentifiable fragments.  I thought of the path we took across the Pacific Ocean and how insignificantly narrow the swath of water we sailed through was.  Indubitably the ocean is so vast and the findings from our expedition were in my thoughts as we flew over the thousands of miles we had navigated.  To put our results into perspective with the minute fraction of the ocean we surveyed is almost unimaginable.  We can still only guess at how much plastic is out there but we do know that this amount must be huge.   Sadly, the visible surface plastic is not the worst part.

Every sub-surface trawl we did contained plastic.  There were coloured micro fragments, nurdles and larger pieces trapped in the net amongst the fish, jellies and other marine life.  One of our last trawls contained the most amount of plastic and possibly the least amount of marine life, the sample contained hundreds of pieces of coloured plastic.  This was truly the infamous plastic soup.

The terrible thing is that there is no way we can clean up this mess we have already created.  We cannot sieve the entire ocean to remove this we can only work on ways to stop our addiction to plastic and try and stem the flow of plastics that make their way into the ocean everyday making this problem worse.  It needs to be a joint action from everyone; individuals, families, schools, businesses, industry and government.  We all need to work together to reduce our plastic consumption and change our purchasing attitudes, that is basically the bottom line.

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