I recently bought a GoPro camera and accessories and was dismayed at the amount of packaging I had to discard, much of it plastic. Even buying routine groceries, fruit and vegetables in plastic wrapping results in a full load of domestic garbage at the end of the week. Almost everything we now buy arrives wrapped in plastic – and that includes scuba gear! Discarded plastic has become a plague.
Plastic doesn’t biodegrade quickly and it’s a world crisis that we seem only just to be waking up to. While some countries and American states progress by banning certain packaging or putting a tax levy on plastic bags, encouraging the phasing out of single-use plastic bags, none has gone quite so far as Kenya where producing, selling or even using them can now risk a massive fine or even a jail sentence or both.
Most plastic goes to landfills but we scuba divers know only too well the problem of plastic in the ocean as we see the disastrous effects on marine life. Where does all this oceanic plastic that we witness, end up?
It would be nice to think of it as some sort of paradise but Henderson Island, in the middle of the Southern Pacific is probably the plastic gathering capital of the world. Research scientist Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania led an expedition there recently and estimates that there are as many as 37.7 million pieces of plastic washed up on its beaches with 13,300 new bits arriving every day.
While ocean acidification, global warming and sea level rise might be hard to visualize, this plastic waste is very obvious. And it’s not just the solid parts; it’s the by-products, the CFCs and DDT.
Erik van Sebille, an ocean scientist at the Utrecht University of the Netherlands estimates that up to 236,000 metric tonnes are floating around the oceans of the world. With ocean gyres, a lot of it gravitates towards Henderson Island.
What can be done about it? Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Røkke has profited from offshore drilling, but now the businessman, who started as a fisherman, wants to give back with a colossal yacht for marine research. The vessel will be able to scoop up around five tons of plastic every day, and then melt it down – all in yet another private effort to help clean up the ocean.
He’s contracted a 595-foot Research Expedition Vessel (REV) to be built, designed by yacht designer Espen Oeino. According to Yacht Harbour, the REV will be largest yacht in the world. WWF Norway has been given total independence over the REV’s mission.
Aboard, scientists will have access to laboratory space, sea and air drones, an auditorium, two helipads, and an autonomous underwater vehicle. 60 scientists and 40 crew-members could travel aboard the immense ship. They will be invited aboard to study and innovate around issues like climate change, overfishing, plastic pollution, and extraction.
Five tonnes a day may sound a significant amount, but not when you consider the millions of metric tonnes we’ve already dumped into the ocean. Let’s not add to that. Avoid any single-use plastic item. That includes Styrofoam cups, plastic drinking straws, plastic carrier bags, plastic cutlery, and try to buy food in ecologically sound wrapping like paper rather than plastic.