“Plastic is this incredibly useful material, and I feel that when we design things with intended obsolescence in mind—single use, disposable ideas in mind—we are treating a valuable material in an irresponsible way” ~ Dianna Cohen
What started out as a career in art quickly evolved into a medium for interpretation and exposition of scientific data for Dianna Cohen. When she first enrolled in UCLA, Dianna was a biology major with an equal passion for art and science. After switching over to arts, she began to create artwork with paper bags, which she later replaced with plastic bags. This was how Dianna first became involved with plastic and started to really unwrap the truth about this omnipresent material.
Although Dianna was first attracted to plastic due to its bright colours and creative designs, she was not deceived by the material and began using her art as a form of both education and protest. In her Blue Ocean interview, Dianna tells us how plastics impact broader ocean issues and describes its health implications by listing the chemicals that are found in plastics and how these harm our bodies. Not only are our bodies being harmed: plastics have become a notorious enemy of wildlife and the environment.
Sea Turtles are Mistaking Plastic for Food
“I actually originally thought that plastic was ephemeral and biodegradable, but it turns out it’s not. It just breaks into smaller bits, and then you see stuff…washed up on beaches or … when you’re in the ocean or you’re snorkeling or swimming. You’ll see bits of chewed plastic bags and things that animals have already gotten a hold of and mistaken for food…turtles are mistaking plastic for algae and seaweed and jellyfish and their normal food sources”
“Honestly, the thing is, because of the way it impacts human health and even babies in utero … In the United States, the Environmental Working Group did a study of umbilical cord blood of 11 newborn babies and found they all had over 220 different chemicals in their umbilical cord blood. That included phthalates and bisphenols and flame retardants and a bunch of chemicals that are associated with plastics. Those chemicals in babies have been linked to all different kinds of things…Why are we poisoning our babies? Why are we creating plastic beaches and plastic oceans that they’re going to have to figure out how to try and clean up, which at this point is kind of impossible, or it affects everything, if people depend on seafood for their protein, that seafood is ingesting plastic”.
The Great Garbage Patch
The great garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is just one of the ways in which the irresponsible use of plastic is damaging the Earth. This is only the visible side of plastic pollution; Dianna also tackles micro-bead pollution and explains just why their presence in our marine eco–system is a threat to all forms of life.
“I think the problem is people have always thought the ocean was so vast that you could throw things away in it for thousands of years, which is what human beings have done, and it was so big it would just go away. At this point, it’s coming back to us because there are all these different, moving gyres in the ocean and they all have plastic in them. Almost all ocean water samples are coming back with plastic in them. We have created a disaster, and it’s coming back to bite us on the butt.”
Fortunately, not all news is bad news: Dianna has invested time into researching reusable products made with products whose quality outweighs that of plastic with fewer health risks involved. With her organization Plastic Pollution Coalition and the help of a great number of stellar collaborators, Dianna is continuing her mission of educating us to sustainable choices and creating a widespread conscience of the materials we use and what we really put into our bodies and the ecosystem.
We’re Choking the Ocean
“Us ocean people are the first line of defense. We’re the canaries, and we’re the first line of defense. We’re the first line of people who say this is …totally wrong... I refuse to contribute to a system that perpetuates this, and we can do that by making smarter sustainable choices. It all comes from first becoming educated and raising awareness and then also setting an example.” Dianna says that with dive industry programs and dive conferences, “it’s a perfect way to set an example.” “It’s an ocean planet. We live on a blue planet, and we need to protect what we have because the ocean is what makes our whole planet function in a healthy way. We’re choking the ocean and everything that lives in it on plastic garbage and chemicals from plastic, and its really time for all of us to step up and take responsibility and be good ocean stewards.”
To find out more about Plastic Pollution in our Oceans and to become ocean change-makers join us for all of Dianna Cohen’s interview at Blue Ocean Summit 2015: Dianna Cohen. You can visit the Plastic Pollution Coalition for many of Dianna’s insights on using alternatives to plastic products.
Dianna’s story tells us that anyone can help and be part of the solution, even someone from very different backgrounds and occupations. Another Ocean Hero Activist with a great story is Stefan Gossling who has taken his love of diving to an international level, working at the UN and EU to inform and create change. See Stefan’s article at Ocean Profiles: Stefan Gossling