In August 2015, off the coast of Costa Rica, with a simple act of compassion, Christine Figgener alerted the world to the crisis of plastic pollution. The 34-year-old marine biologist sited a sea turtle with what appeared to be a parasitic worm in its nose. Upon closer examination she discovered a plastic straw lodged in the turtle’s nostril. Thus began Figgener’s quest to end the age of plastic.
The heartbreaking video that Christine shot of the painful extraction of the straw went viral logging more than 32 million views on YouTube and beginning a worldwide revolution. See our Blue Ocean article: Sea Turtle vs Straw: An Eco Movement goes Viral.
390 Million Plastic Straws Each Day
Americans started to ask why they needed to use and throw away 390 million plastic straws each day and began to petition cities, corporations and nations to ban their use. Starbucks, McDonalds and American Airlines all caved, issuing statements that plastic straws were on the way out. Seattle, Miami Beach, Oakland, Berkeley and New York all followed with legislation banning the use of plastic straws.
Hopefully, similar bans on single-use plastic, cups, plates, cutlery and food take-away packaging will follow shortly.
In 2017 the BBC series, Blue Planet II reinforced the image of single-use plastic pollution as a curse on the world’s wildlife. Images of turtles caught in plastic six-pack rings or eating plastic grocery bags, mistaken for jellyfish. The stomachs of dead pelicans and whales bursting with ingested plastic debris spread the message that plastic pollution was a global problem. This attention ignited a wave of legislation worldwide to curb the use of single-use plastic and keep it from contaminating the ocean.
To End the Age of Plastic
For Christine Figgener her video was a career-changer. She grew up in Germany but moved to Costa Rica thirteen years ago, where she is now a permanent resident. For the last four years Christine has split her time between her home in Costa Rica and pursuing a PhD at Texas A&M University. In addition to finishing her dissertation Christine visits schools, bringing a message on working together to eliminate single-use plastics from the ocean.
An equally important part of her message is to young girls on who can be a scientist. “A lot of people still have in mind that a scientist needs to be a white male,” Figgener says. “I want to give children the idea that they can be a scientist, too, no matter who they are.”
A Time Magazine Next Generation Leader
Christine has just been acknowledged by Time Magazine as a 2018 Next Generation Leader for her efforts to focus the world’s attention on the hazards of ocean plastic pollution. See her Time article, Ending the Age of Plastic.
Christine is a friend and contributor to Blue Ocean having written two articles on the unsung heroes of marine conservation in Costa Rica. Read her tribute to The Sea Turtle Rangers, Part 1 and Part 2.
Worldwide we are seeing initiatives like Nat. Geo’s multi-year project Planet of Plastic? launched to rid the world of plastic pollution.
At Blue Ocean our theme for 2019 will be A Plastic Free Future. The 2019 Blue Ocean Summit and many of our articles will be dedicated to ridding the world’s oceans of plastic pollution and we look forward to interviewing Christine Figgener during the 2019 Blue Ocean Summit.
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