Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Summer Snapshot

Kirstin holding up her Porthole to the Sea   

Cell phones. Though they have become an addiction, POP would not have been able to visually record much of our journey sharing our stories of what we have learned from our research and the faces and places we've seen along the way.  I became a little overwhelmed by the 100s of photos we took with people who asked us to share our work AND the number of people who have stepped up to help eradicate plastics from their lives and our environment.  I like to call it People Power and nothing can change the world for the better than when we put our minds, bodies, and souls into it.

On July 4th  coordinator Lisa Rider invited us to have a booth at the Earth and Surf Festival on North Topsail. There we displayed plastic marine debris samples collect from various regions of the planet along with our Porthole to the Sea.  We were among many tents sharing the importance of caring for the ocean so many of us submerge our bodies into, eat from, and ride on. And thanks to the proceeds from the Keep Onslow County Beautiful' Fun Run, and the surf competition put on by Onshore Surf Shop, POP was able to fund moving our traveling art exhibit from UCAR, Boulder, CO to University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UH.

Kim Beller sharing the ocean samples
Mid July, we were at Tidal Creek for the Surfalorus hosted by  Kirstin Thompson.  One of our new members, Bonnie Mitchell, etched some super cute marine themed glasses as a fundraiser. We can barely keep them on the shelf - promoting the importance of drinking from glass while helping fund our outreach.

By mid August we had solved the mystery to a new plastic pollution problem. One of our recent UNCW student beach research discoveries were the release of plastic bio disks also known as bio media.  Kim Beller is holding up a handful she found on the spoil island near Wrightsville Beach.  Not only did the students work discover a problem, but POP was able to locate the source that led to the repair of the facility to prevent the release of these plastic bite size pieces of plastic.  To date, we have removed over 500 of them thanks to the collaboration of POP, UNCW students, and local volunteers.

We split our time and funds up between working with children, moving our education thru art exhibit around the country, performing research, and doing cleanups. Thank you all for the funding that helps eradicate this problem and to the people who joined this fight along the way.

Julie Hurley on spoil island cleanup duty

Thursday, July 2, 2015

When Plastics Cost an Arm or a Leg

Can you locate 4 different species?
This turtle was likely well nourished from the 80+ fish species and over 100 invertebrates associated with the Sargassum. Even so, the Plastic Ocean Project (POP, Inc.) has observed a decline in the marine biota associated with the Sargassum and continues to monitor this during surface sampling in the North Atlantic ocean gyre and circulation currents. This critically endangered Kemps Ridley, falling victim to ocean plastics at perhaps just three to six months old, was otherwise fat and healthy.  Here is her story told by Karen Comstock, founding director of
Casa Tortuga and copy editor for POP, Inc.

Beachgoers came across this fat little Kemps Ridley sea turtle half-buried in the seaweed that covered a good thick strip along the shoreline on Mustang Island off the coast of South Texas a few hot summers ago. The thick Sargassum matt, where sea life thrives and baby sea turtles grow to a size more likely to escape at least the threat of sea gulls, now gave some shelter to this stranded little one. But with one flipper already amputated by plastic ribbons from either rope or vinyl tarp, her chances of getting out of the tangled mass and back into the open water were slim. 

Sargassum full of plastic as it washes in on Bermuda
Unlike the pseudo-debate over causes of climate change, there is no mistaking the human-caused, heartbreaking injuries suffered by marine life battling for survival against the overwhelming onslaught of plastic debris. Flowing out of factories and shopping malls, blowing across parking lots and down our streets, the journey of plastic is from our hands on land to river and then to sea.

The vacationing couple in their 20's who found the turtle just outside my home, covered her gently in a wet cloth and asked anyone who passed for help. Word reached me quickly. I went out to see the status of the turtle and phoned Donna Shaver's team at the Padre Island National Seashore. They directed the call to Tony Amos at the Port Aransas Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARC) and this baby Lepidochelys kempii was soon taken to the ARC for medical care.

 In the good hands of the knowledgeable and qualified staff at the ARC, I imagine this turtle recovered and was released at an appropriate time in a well-considered place. Though sea turtles missing a flipper are as common in the sea as three-legged dogs are on land, no one can know her true fate or how long she survived. I do know her appearance on the beach that day was life changing and impactful on the tourists who found her and, subsequently, on those who heard their story and saw the pictures. 

 Seeing the tiny bones and pink flesh sticking out beyond the little tourniquet of plastic, I know that education doesn't get any more raw than this.  Our personal experiences seeing harmful human-caused results are the only thing that can augment how and when we take personal responsibility for the impact of our actions on the environment. This turtle lost her right arm to our use of plastics. Her story needs to be shared and shared widely.
Former Director of CasaTortuga.org, Karen Comstock is now advocating for the Earth and her oceans from the mountains of Western North Carolina while pursuing an advanced degree in New Media and Global Education from ASU, Boone NC.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

All is not quiet on the western plastic ocean front!

Many of our followers are keen to our traveling art exhibit zigzagging across the country stopping at various cities along the way. The 25 feet of ocean waves has helped bring awareness to the pandemic of plastic pollution. We have met so many caring people along the way, many unaware that become extremely interested in the discussion. We just hit an epic location in Boulder Colorado, UCAR, on top of the Rockys but those stories can wait because this one shared by Linda Leitch from Canada is worth stopping everything for to read, learn and help.

The beaches on Haida Gwaii have always been a magnet for the flotsam and jetsam that circles the Pacific. The archipelago sits off shore from the mainland and reaches out into the currents and wild winds of Open Ocean. Some beaches collect the debris and display it for a while and then it’s simply swept back into the sea to continue its journey, but some beaches here hold on to the debris and do not let it go. 
In the last few years we’ve watched with alarm as our favorite areas started to collect devastating amounts of new debris. A beach known simply to the locals as “East Beach” was being hit particularly hard, the belly of this beach is exposed to Hecate Strait and all her wild personality. 

East Beach is our backyard playground. This paradise is where we draw sustenance into our lives. It’s where we hunt deer, collect firewood, pick berries, and gather shellfish. This playground extends from the tip of RoseSpit Ecological Reserve, all the way through Naikoon Provincail Park and is accessible only by 3 day hike or with the serious use of 4 wheel drive vehicles.

Very few people will dare to navigate this shore by vehicle forit’s extremely remote and the potential always looms near that the beach will leave you mired while the tide creeps in and claims your vehicle. It takes a special skill set to drive out here, a kind of built in sense for where the beach will have hidden obstacles and soft spots. My partner Dann has been perfecting these skills since childhood, but still we have the occasional white knuckle moments.

Watching the garbage flood our home was unbearable and we were forced into action. 
Using our trusty rusty pick-up and a small trickle of funding provided to Canada directly from Japan we started to take truckloads of debris off the beach. This is no easy task. We work as weekend warriors, camping overnight in all conditionsbecause the distance we travel is far and difficult and often dictated by the tides

Sometimes we enjoy glorious sun filled days with sparkling calm waters beside us and sometimes we battle our way down the beach in dark cold storms that dump water and flood the creeks blocking our passage. There are times when the beach is perfect and firm for driving that have been balanced out by days when we are stuck knee deep in muck prying the truck out of the mire with our bare hands, but we ultimately always get moving again and we have never considered giving up.

To make the most of our time and funding we load our truck to comic proportions. Often I’ve described our truck on its way home as a “fortune telling gypsy wagon put together with marshmallows by a drunken Dr. Seuss.” Such are the oddities we carry.
As well as bringing the garbage off the beach we’ve documented what we carry and set up monitoring sites along the way to begin to gauge the amount hitting our shores for the future. This is important information that has never been collected here before.

The debris is dominated by Styrofoam varying in size from blocks that dwarf the truck to tiny microbeads of mess. Behind the Styrofoam are bottles of every shape size and purpose, fishing gear, and tiny ground up bits of plastic that maybe used to fit together into something useful, but are now an environmental hazard embedding into the shoreline and being eaten by the wildlife.

After bringing in 62 loads of debris over an 18 month spanwe’ve exhausted our funding, while more garbage than ever is swamping our shores
It was exceptionally kind of Japan to donate to Canada their humble offering after they were devastated by a tsunami, knowing that tons of debris would make its way across the ocean landing on our soil. 
It is with the same respect I reserve for family that I pick up the ripple effect of problems from that day.

However, garbage has been a problem here long before 2011, and the increase in garbage that we’ve been finding and piling into our truck has not been entirely from Japan.
There is a horror show of irresponsibility unfolding in our ocean from countries all around the Pacific. Often we find things with markings that indicate their country of origin. We’ve found things from Chile, Philippines, Korea, Russia, China, United States, and Canada mixed into the debris.

This is a problem that connects all countries and cultures living around the Pacific Rim together. This is a problem that will need us all to act together to change our habits and lifestyles. It’s up to every country and every individual with in each country to help out and work toward change.

As I am a Canadian, I feel exceptionally let down by the lack of response from our government in particular. We are cleaning in an Ecological Reserve and Provincial Park, places that we, as a country, decided long ago deserve protection. Sharing this archipelago, though further south of us, is Gwaii HaanasNational Park Reserve which is home to many culturally significant heritage sites to the Haida people. They, too, were operating cleanup projects with the funding from Japan and have also exhausted that funding, without any of the problem being solved

My partner and I are not radical environmentalists, and may not be the typical type of people you would find having passion for this problem. We are simple folks, maybe even a little reclusive,but this land is our garden, this ocean is our larder and so this problem belongs to us as much as anyone.

As a temporary measure, until further funding is found I’ve started a gofundme page with the hopes we can keep our truck rolling down the beach clearing this paradise landscape of harmful plastics.

Any help is appreciated. Share the link with friends, donate, use less plastic, and clean debris from our waterways every chance you can. By Linda Leitch

Monday, March 30, 2015

Found the other end of Rt. 40 and Maybe a Solution to Plastic Pollution

Plastic Ocean Project's traveling art exhibit successfully made it to California in December 2014 where it was on display at the Aquarium of the Pacific. In February it moved to the ARTery in Costa Mesa, CA and is now on it's way to Boulder Colorado.

A special shout out to Kurt Lieber from Ocean Defenders Alliance who put me up and got my van ready for the road. Here are some photos from my journey heading toward Colorado.  But I have one stop along the way.  Salt Lake City, UH. You might notice it isn't exactly on the way.  But it is on the way to helping solve the problem with plastic marine debris and worth every mile out of our way.  Stay tuned for more details.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Last day of Surface Sampling in the Caribbean January 23, 2015

As I laid in my berth (bunk) rocking side-to-side listening to the haunting whisper of howling winds while water swished against the steel wall that separated my sheets from the salty sea, I recall the spectacular marine life display many of us witnessed yesterday of Humpback whales surfacing near the Dominican Republic.   We squealed at the sight of a mother and calf surfacing in tandem - so symbolic of this crew with three sets of mother and daughters. But the best was watching the juvenile whale breach seven times as if she equally enjoyed our visit.  Jen Palmer, who was a member of the Voyage of the Sea Odyssey crew, shared so many details on these and other whale species that we will be making a short film for educators to use.   One of the most significant details Jen provided related directly to our work - Humpbacks are baleen whales meaning the are filter feeders.  They do not have teeth and feed on the small animals in the ocean such as plankton.  Sadly they feed toward the surface, the very place we find plastic debris.  In fact, this cruise had been the first time we pulled out and/or documented more plastic bags than anything else in our marine debris study.  Plastic bags have a mandatory advisory printed on plastic bags stating that they should be  kept  away from children.  Yet, this juvenile whale’s mother will not have the option of keeping them away from her calf.  Plastic pollution is known to be lethal to most marine species including these mega ton creatures.   So you can imagine how delighted we were to hear from Jim Ries, executive director for One More Generation, that Georgia has passed Georgia's 1st bag ordinance. More and more communities are stepping up and taking action on behalf of our marine and terrestrial animals. This map provides a global view of these ordinances that will help reduce plastic ingestion and entanglement. http://www.factorydirectpromos.com/plastic-bag-bans

During our research cruise, we had 12-year-old Olivia Ries, one of the founders of OMG (One More Generation) gave us her teacher training that she provides schools on how to engage students in plastic education.  You heard me right, a 12-year-old schooling adults on plastics.  She even taught me a thing or two.  Beautiful Nation Project videotaped her session so that they can be used as Peer-to-Peer online education for schools that are signed up with their curriculum, if you haven't signed your children, school, or after school program up yet, take advantage of this opportunity.  It is free and fun learning for all ages. www.beautifulnationproject.org 

Plastic Ocean Project, Inc. completed its 7th aquatic region of sampling that night.  We have sampled through the North Pacific with Algalita Marine Research Foundation, 5 years of sampling the North Atlantic with Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, South Atlantic with 5 Gyres Institute, South Pacific with the film crew from the upcoming film Plastic Oceans with producer Jo Ruxton, Pyramid Lake with the Native American Paiute Tribe in Nevada, and this week amid the British Virgin Islands, and International waters around the Dominican Republic with Beautiful Nation Project, One MoreGeneration, and Pangaea Explorations.  Why would we bore you with the rambling of names? It’s to illustrate how many impassioned groups out there willing to pool their funds to perform research, outreach, and education to schools and sea lovers.

Sorting samples Cayley, Pangaea, Tricia, POP, Inc., and Shannon, BNP

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
                                                        -African Proverb

I saw this proverb on my in flight movie on the way to the British Virgin Islands. I read it and processed it after a minute, the movie was emotionally draining and processing this proverb took minute. Fortunately I had the luxury of rewinding. This trip is all about coming together as nonprofits as women and as mothers and daughters to change the world. Anyone who works in the nonprofit world can tell you sometimes coming together can be difficult. Some people view each other as competition, as in we are all competing for the same all mighty donation. To us we just want to make a difference and the only way we see that happening is if we come together.

We all come from different walks, but not so extraordinarily different. We all hail from the U.S. but we all have traveled pretty extensively so we understand some of the issues we face, but we have never lived it. How do you tell someone living in extreme poverty to think about the products they use in terms of the environment?

Jennifer Palmer, a lovely woman and marine biologist on the boat, has just come back from a four month trip traveling mostly through villages in Indonesia. In some of these places the only clean water is is through a water bottle. Or now the only way they could find laundry detergent was in single-use packets. Not only is this not cost effective, in an area that could use cost effectiveness more than anything, it is extremely wasteful and not ecomonically sound.  In a place where there is literally nowhere to put waste. Who is running the dog and pony show over there? To create change globally, we need understand the way others live.  As Tonia Lovejoy, founding member of Beautiful Nation  often asks, "How does where you live effect how you live?" This question is one of many this crew has been wrestling this past week.

These are the big questions with multifaceted answers, this trip is about making a roadmap to those answers by way of educating children around the world. Olivia Ries has been giving us been educating us through the OMG curriculum, helping us get the tools we need to go out into the world and educate others. Because we won't have all the answers, but we may spark the interest of the kids who will.

Monday, January 19, 2015

WOmen, Water, and Waves

We have very little access to Internet but we do have  Beautiful Nation telling our stories from three mother daughter teams and of course the other 8 who all have mothers that created these people who work tirelessly on behalf of Mother Earth. Please learn more by following this link! http://www.beautifulnationproject.org/blog