Great Pacific Shame
March 25, 2011
Environmentalist sets sail to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to research plastic pollution and raise awareness of marine debris. On July 7, 2011, Newcastle environmentalist Tim Silverwood will embark on a voyage sailing across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to Vancouver to undertake important research into floating plastics in the North Pacific Gyre, otherwise known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Twice the size of France and growing exponentially, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been compared to a floating island of trash and is threatening to become one of the great ecological disasters of our time. It's here where ocean currents from Asia, North America and many Pacific nations converge, bringing with them tonnes of debris and creating a swirling vortex of plastic rubbish that is rumoured to double in size every ten years.
Tim will join researchers from around the world on a three-week expedition to the heart of the gyre. Throughout the voyage the team of researchers will undertake a range of studies to assess the burgeoning size of the ecological disaster and its impact on marine life.
The research voyage is being conducted by Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a California-based organisation founded by Charles Moore, the man credited with discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997. Algalita recently published results showing 35 percent of lanternfish caught in the North Pacific Ocean contain plastic and, more alarmingly, that in some samples tiny plastic particles outnumber naturally occurring zooplankton forty-eight times to one.
Having co-founded 'Take 3 – A Clean Beach initiative' in 2010, a grassroots program that encourages Australians to pick up three pieces of rubbish each time they visit coastal areas, Tim recognised there was much more to do.
"When I first began taking an interest in marine debris my primary focus was on preventing the innocent death of marine life. Each year over a million sea birds and hundreds of thousands of sea dwelling animals die from ingestion of plastic and entanglement in debris," Tim said.
The latest research being undertaken confirms this is still the case but is also discovering a new and far more ethnocentric risk. Tiny plastic particles resulting from the breakdown of larger plastic items are being found in small fish such as lanternfish, a staple diet of species including tuna and mahi mahi. This may have a devastating effect on the food chain and ultimately human health.
"Once plastic enters the food chain through the smallest fish, the toxins will remain until they end up on our dinner plate," Tim said. "Globally, humans rely on fish as a primary source of protein so the issue of plastic pollution really does affect everyone."
Swedish based appliance manufacturer Electrolux recently sponsored research into marine debris and constructed a range of vacuum cleaners from plastic waste to highlight the issue . Tim hopes organisations in Australia will take similar proactive steps to highlight the issue.
"No one really knows how best to tackle the issue. It's not feasible to get out there with a big net and scoop it up, nor is it worth considering banning plastic. The best outcome we can aim for now is to raise awareness, put some ownership back on to people and ask corporations and governments to start implementing changes," Tim said.
"Research and observations suggest that the amount of plastic in the oceans is doubling every ten years. As we continue to rely on throw-away plastic goods it is inevitable a lot of it will end up in the ocean. 'The ocean is downhill from everywhere'. When you see the amount of plastics entering the environment in coastal areas in countries like India, China and Indonesia you start to feel that the problem is almost too big to tackle. I guess that's why we started 'Take 3'."
Last year Tim, along with a fellow surfer and a marine biologist, co-founded the non-profit organisation, 'Take 3'. At its heart, the organisation's message is each time you visit the beach pick up three pieces of rubbish.
"The thing I love about 'Take 3' is that it puts the ownership and responsibility back on the people. Even putting rubbish in a bin doesn't always mean it will stay there. If people can be empowered to pick up someone else's rubbish I reckon that's the best thing ever! Too many of the world's problems seem to be because people think, "it's not my problem, why should I do anything?" I also love the feeling you get when you pick up some plastic off the beach and think, "Huh, I might have just saved a life," Tim said.
Tim is required to fundraise US$10,000 for his position on the research voyage. He hopes to raise more for additional costs including flights, equipment and the production of an awareness documentary. Using an online fundraising campaign portal Tim has already raised more than AU$1200 in just ten days. He is also seeking corporate sponsorship.
"The support from the public has been incredible but I'm still hoping to attract corporate sponsorship for my voyage, film project and ongoing education campaigns. Plastic has made life very easy for a lot of organisations for a very long time and I think it's important that some of those companies recognise that it's time to start looking at ways they can help alleviate this situation."
To get involved, offer sponsorship or to find out more please contact Tim Silverwood:
0419 552 862 or 0406 688 855 or email@example.com
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