This is the second of Heather Kuhlken’s articles from the Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit held in conjunction with the 2017 Our Ocean Conference that took place in Malta earlier this month. In Heather’s first report, Hope For Our Ocean, she focused on the young people she met at the conference and their inspiring stories. In this second article, Heather focuses on the main issue discussed at the conference; the global efforts to develop and implement Plastic Pollution Solutions.
The main issue discussed throughout the Our Ocean conference, during tracks focused on sustainable fisheries, Marine Protected Areas, high seas security, and climate change, was plastics in the ocean.
It is estimated that there will be more plastic, by weight, in the ocean by 2050 than there are fish, if things continue at the current rate. There were calls for building awareness and human ingenuity. The outlook was dire, but the solutions that are starting to show up are inspiring.
Cleaning Up Tonga Trash!
Emily Penn, Co-founder of Pangaea Explorations, describes how she moves about the world by the phrase “Travel slowly.” Traveling slowly allowed her to find plastic debris 1000 miles from any land while crossing the ocean by sailboat.
Emily’s first job was cleaning up trash in Tonga – a place where there was no word for “rubbish bin.” Before very recently, nothing used on the island (as on most Pacific islands) was disposable. Now there is all this inorganic material, where previously there was not even a concept for things like that existing.
Now islands all over the world are having trouble getting rid of their garbage. Before, everything was used, reused, grown or made on the island and went back into the island as part of the natural cycle.
Now, people in every corner of the globe, have disposable items in their daily lives. Water and soda bottles, gas containers, food wrappers, packaging material, toys, plastic spoons, floats, fishing line, and just about everything people use on a daily basis is either made of or wrapped in plastic. (photo – Henderson Island, eontarionow)
Plastic never goes away!
Every juice box straw wrapper and plastic spoon that has ever been made still exists if it hasn’t been recycled (and not all plastic can be recycled). And most of it has ended up in the ocean. All plastic can do is break down into smaller pieces through exposure to sun and salt water. We now have a layer of plastic in the ocean with pieces so small you can barely see them (and you certainly can’t pick them all up when they are mixed with seaweed on the beach).
The plastic that comes from microbeads in facial cleansers and fibers from fleece sweaters washed by machine is microscopic, yet it is consumed by fish and other marine life at an astounding rate. (photo – kahlee93)
9 out of 10 seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. And microplastics are being incorporated into the bodies of fish when they eat smaller fish or plankton, which are then incorporated into the bodies of humans who eat fish. “Everything that ends up in our oceans ends up in our bodies. 2/5 of the fish that end up on a plate contain plastic.” says Celine Cousteau. It is essential that we find a solution to plastics in the ocean. (photo – Chris Jordan)
Meet the faces of hope!
The future of ocean leadership is taking on plastic pollution on a global scale.
Bye Bye Plastic Bags!
10 and 12 year old sisters started a campaign on Facebook to get signatures to convince all of Bali to stop using plastic bags. They were so successful, getting thousands of signatures from all over the world, that now they have global reach for their campaign. And have been joined by youth around the world helping their communities get rid of plastic bags. Bali, California, and France are all free of plastic bags in addition to individual cities around the world like Austin, TX.
“As an individual, all you need to do is take care of the one meter around you. Just think what would happen if everyone took care of the one meter around them.” – Melati Wijsen, Co-founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags.
OMG – One More Generation
An NGO started by a young brother and sister to save wildlife and get rid of plastic trash through campaigns such as joining the “skip the straw” movement. OMG – One More Generation – now inspires youth globally to create change in their own communities.
Read more about this dynamic duo on our Blue Ocean post: “Empowering Youth Can Save Our Oceans: Take the OneLessStraw Pledge!”
The Lonely Whale Foundation started a humorous campaign to get people to “stop sucking.” They got almost every business in Seattle, from the NFL stadium to the airport to local restaurants, to stop serving plastic straws. They are taking on new cities, businesses and inspiring individuals all over the world to “stop sucking.”
Adrien Grenier explained how their campaign is working: “People laugh and then make little changes” the straw is quickly followed by the awareness that leads to skipping the cup and the lid, and soon the whole plastic drink container turns reusable. The conference was filled with people carrying around their own metal straws and bamboo forks and spoons in their pockets, purses and brief cases.
Turning Plastic into Fuel!
The Pono, a catamaran sailboat, has a machine on board that converts plastic waste to diesel fuel to power the boat. What if boats picked up 200lbs of plastic a day to fuel their engines? EcoFuel Technologies is trying to make that feat of human ingenuity a reality that can be used across the globe in a variety of fields, starting with a sailboat that can move from island to island across the ocean.
“Whenever there is a problem, there is always a solution.” – Celine Cousteau
Inheriting Our Oceans, Its Magnificence and its Problems!
The Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit showed us that young people from around the world are involved, serious, creative and inspiring as they face today’s ocean issues.
After all it’s their ocean that they’re inheriting from a generation that has been less than inspiring.
By Heather Kuhlken, Blue Ocean Contributor and Founder and Director of Families in Nature
See these additional, related Blue Ocean Posts on Plastic Pollution:
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