During the first week of June, I had the tremendous opportunity to join the 5Gyres team aboard a research expedition on the 'Mystic' to explore plastic accumulation in the North Atlantic Gyre, a trip taking us from Miami to Bahamas. Respected by the ocean community, the 5Gyres team is focused on exposing the issue of plastic pollution and working towards solutions to stop the stream of waste entering the Ocean. Joining a diverse crewof scientists, musicians, filmmakers, artists, entrepreneurs… we connected on a passion for activism and a concern for the health of our oceans. June 1 st – 17:00
Boarding our research vessel the ‘Mystic’ in Miami harbor, we met with the local Surfrider Chapter and Debris Free Oceans team to fill buckets with single use plastics, cigarette butts and derelict fishing gear. As expected the glam of South Beach is not immune from the issue, with a swath of trash accumulating on their front lawns.
June 2 nd – 12:00
Pushing off from Miami, we hit waters marked by deep blue hues only seen out past the shallows. Our observations were consistent with published research on the movement of plastic in our ocean. As 5Gyres director Marcus Erikson described, we are continuing to find that the ocean is ‘digesting’ the weak plastics, breaking them into hazardous micro plastics that are consumed, buried and nearly invincible. Denser plastics are eventually reaching similar fates, over longer periods of time. He describes the movement of plastic in the ocean as a plastic ‘fog’ or ‘cloud’, with currents depositing the pollution on exposed beaches. Our sail from Miami to North Eleuthera did not directly intersect the highest concentration of plastic in the Atlantic (observed by 5gyres team North of the Bahamas), however isolated currents were littered with larger plastic bags and larger fragments.
June 3 rd – 16:00
Conducting research trawls, we aggregated scientific data to understand the dispersion and aggregation of micro plastics. Even through the clearest of waters, the micro-mesh of the trawls revealed silent hazards in the form of thin films, tiny particles and even polymer threads only seen on closer inspection. Our observations and research sampling were combined with discussions led by the diverse crew (http://www.5gyres.org/meet-our-expedition-crew), with Marcus and Anna presenting background on their latest research estimating 5.25 trillion plastic particles in our ocean.
June 4 th – 14:00
Landing in the Bahamas to participate in the “Youth Island Action Summit’, we set out for a 3-day interactive workshop with students at The Island School. Covering a diverse range of topics, presentations included student research on local ecosystems and impacts of plastic ingestion, Celine Cousteau’s account of documenting whales entangled in derelict fishing gear, Kristal Ocean’s personal story of founding the Bahamas Plastic Movement to help the Bahamas break the dependency on Plastic…and much more!
June 5 th – 10:00
Highlighting the summit, a UNEP rep presented Jack Johnson as their newest goodwill ambassador on World Environment Day. Following the ceremony we headed to an exposed beach where in in a few hours 800lbs of debris was recovered by our small team of students and crew on a ½ mile stretch of white sand. We witnessed a transformation in the students, as they were exposed to the issue first hand. At this moment, the students become a part of the solution, urgently picking up as much as possible and feeling the sense of accomplishment. In sifting through the debris, we found a significant amount of fishing gear and highly degraded hard plastics that crumbled to the touch after months/years of UV and element exposure.
As highlighted to the students, solutions need to be focused on alternative materials and preventive measures to stop the flow of plastic into our Oceans. Once in the water, the materials quickly lose their value and have degrading impacts through interaction with natural environments and release of foreign toxins.
June 6 th 10:00
Lauren Singer ‘ Trash is For Tossers’ conveyed her zero waste lifestyle to students, and led a workshop to make toothpaste from basic ingredients…disconnecting them from reliance on plastic packaging. Into the afternoon, the debris collected during the previous days’ beach cleanup were separated and formed into a mural led by Diana Cohen of the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
June 7 th 15:00
On the final afternoon of the Youth Summit, our quiet harbor was filled with the music from Jack Johnson, local students and the Mystic crew…a fitting celebration of a successful weekend. Closing out the day, we swam with nurse sharks, adding the new expedition crew to the island family, including the likes of Keith & Dan Malloy, and Mark Cunningham.
As evident from the expedition, the plastic pollution movement is captivating audiences well beyond the ‘strict scientific’ world…and it’s time we all pay attention. I am anxious to return to the open water again soon, and feeling re-focused to keep pushing for solutions. It is comforting to see the strength of the individuals and organizations leading a movement for a cleaner tomorrow, and we will continue to work hard to do our part.
The Bureo team would like to thank Marcus, Anna, Carolyn, Lindsey, Lia, Michelle and the entire Johnson Ohana Foundation and Kokua Hawaii Foundation families. These dedicated individuals are exposing the threats to our waterways and providing platforms to proliferate solutions. If you are not aware of their work, we urge you to stay educated, get involved and be a part of the solution!
Photos: Kizzy O'neal and 5Gyres Team