Photo: The Plastiki Crew
Wrapped up in so many layers that my waddle could have been mistaken for that of a penguin, I was taking a stroll to explore South Georgia's remote shoreline. I scrambled round the headland and down onto a small cove to be faced with a staggering accumulation of marine debris. This sight broke my heart, literally bringing a tear to my eye. How could we, as intelligent human beings, allow ourselves to have such a far-reaching impact on a land that doesn't even feel like it belongs to the human race? An area that only a handful, if anyone, has ever stepped foot on.
I immediately recalled sailing through dense areas of trash in the North Atlantic or into ports whose shores were covered with plastic. But I felt like such a privileged visitor here, welcomed by an abundance of species whose voices would never be heard. What on earth are we doing to the planet if how we consume has an effect here, miles from any populated town?
This encounter changed my life. I became driven to understand what affect we, as humans, are having on the planet—our life support system—and just how long the planet can sustain our creature habits. The ocean journeys I have embarked on since then have taught me how our actions right now shape the way future generations will live. These lessons have been empowering, making me think, act, feel. We can feel so trapped in routine, yet really we are free to choose the correct path.
Environmental issues once left me confused, with so many sides to every argument; problems so huge they can only be properly addressed by scientists, governments and futurists; and a feeling that an individual can't really make a difference.
But we can. Look at the example of the discovery of the five garbage patches in the oceans. These garbage patches are vortexes that form where two ocean currents meet—in effect, a giant oceanic toilet that never flushes. Capt. Charles Moore discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the Pacific twice the size of Texas. The trash is literally transformed into a plastic soup, where one part plankton to six parts plastic could be trawled.
Upon further research, I discovered that 60 percent of the plastic found in these areas comprises of what can be called "one life plastic"—plastic bags, Styrofoam food containers and plastic drink bottles. These are items that are consumed in a flash to make life more comfortable but have a life expectancy that is seven times ours—500 years. This just doesn't add up. How can one hour in our possession equal 500 years on the planet? As consumers, the issue of marine debris is our problem, not that of the scientists, and we can help to stop it today.