Monday, October 20, 2014

Hurricane Gonzalo Stirs Up the Sea and Spits Out Plastic

When we signed on to do our fifth year of sampling in Bermuda we had no idea that this year we would have an opportunity like no other. We were provided the chance to sample beaches before and after a hurricane, when does that ever happen? And exactly what we hoped we wouldn't find we found, but we were glad we were there to document it.   

Hurricane Gonzalo ripped through Bermuda and what washed in wasn't pretty. The sargassum was full of plastic particles, the pictures don't do it justice as the whole beach was covered with sargassum just like this. It's so disheartening to see this outcome, as if we needed another eye-opener.  To know that animals are mistaking these pieces of plastic for food, and even if they weren't and they were to go eat a piece of sargassum they would end up with plastic as a side dish. To me that seems like being at your favorite restaurant and finding a short and curly in your favorite dish, not appetizing and definitely not healthy.

Bermuda wasn't the only island to get hit, and they are certainly not the only island with plasticized sargassum. They've all started their clean ups on the islands, but the clean up needs to start now in our everyday lives. How are we going to stop this from taking over our beaches our oceans?

It is time for us to head out to sea, to see what Gonzalo has in store for our next few days of surface sampling. I'm curious to see in the aftermath of a hurricane what the trawl will come out with. Will we see what we saw on the beach or have the rough seas hidden the problem just under the surface? We'll find out and let you know soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

POP Hopping the Bermuda Triangle

Surface sampling in a desert lake

You might say Plastic Ocean Project has been getting around! Two weeks ago we surfaced sampled Pyramid Lake in Reno, NV, had a beach cleanup at Santa Monica Beach, CA organized by high school student Leyla Namazie, combining forces with St. Mary's College and Heal the Bay, collected trash while visiting with Ocean Defenders Alliance, Huntington Beach, CA, and currently joined Beautiful Nation Project in Bermuda to show students from schools around the world how we study plastics in the ocean.  Phew, its been busy.  

Mark Gandolfo UNR exams sample
Cleaning up the environment needs a lot of players.  From educators like Tonia Lovejoy and Shanon Hagon, Beautiful Nation Project, teaching children around the globe about ocean issues through STEM to caring people like Kurt Lieber, founder of Ocean Defenders Alliance.  His crew works on cleaning up the bottom of the ocean from dangerous lost fishing gear that capture unsuspecting prey that feeds on animals trapped in the net and then often times get entangled as well.  More and more people are stepping up to organize cleanup events and getting involved in studying all bodies of water for plastics including lakes. Thanks to Mark Gandolfo and Nancy Vucinich, who helped us work with the Paiute Indian Reservation that allowed us to sample Pyramid Lake just outside of Reno, NV.

Thanks to the funding from Project Aware who funded our plastic trash art exhibit, we successfully delivered "What goes around, comes around" to southern California where it will go up on display at the Aquarium of the Pacific come December 1st.  Another success, thanks to the generous contributions from people like you, singer-songwriter Jack Johnson matched donations of $2500 so we can continue the work with so many people across the country and across the pond to Bermuda.  We will be going out to sea with Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences working around the hurricane that is headed this way.  Stay tuned!

We will begin our surface sampling tomorrow so stay tuned to see what the Tropical Storm Fay might have dragged in. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Big Skies, Boulders, and Blue Minds

Since February, our 25’ canvases of ocean waves have been rip curling up and down the East coast, across the center, and on to the West coast of the United States.  We drove over 5000 miles meeting countless people along the way, handing out business cards at gas stations, small shops, to people that attended our presentations, and to those at the river and ocean cleanups we took part in.  The energy has been contagious, something to the variety of what Wallace J. Nichols might call the Blue Mind. If you haven’t picked up his New York Times Best Seller yet, and need an uplifting book on the power of water for mental as well as physical wellbeing, get it.   It’s true what he says about the power of water.  One of my first questions I ask my audience when I give presentations is, “You are here to learn more about plastics in our oceans, why does it bother us so much?”  I know it did me.”  I think it is primal.  This concern for our water drove my conscience to want to travel in and around 4 ocean gyres, to create art out of the trash I collected in those regions, and to want to bring the images of trashed seas inland and across the USA to inspire the conversation.  Where is away when we throw our plastics away? Why do we, and more importantly, why should we care?  Believe me, there are a lot of caring people out there.  And it all comes back, I think, to the primal need and love of water whether we are drinking it, soaking in it, or playing in it. 

After picking up our exhibit, “What goes around comes around” from the University of Nevada Reno to take it to Southern California, my daughter Tricia and I had a choice to take either Rt. 5 down the California coast, through the Sierra Mountains on Rt. 395.  Tricia’s route won the toss.  We thought we would drive until 1 or 2 in the morning, but found out the hard way that the small town hotels do not leave the light on after midnight so we were forced to drive  hours into the night with no place to stop along the dark, lonely desert road.  Oh but the stars, I felt like I was back out on the open-ocean because there was no ambient city lights to distort the view.  We gave in to Morpheus at about 3am pulling into a closed gas station to hunker down.  With the van full of art we slept sitting upright in the cold, dark desert.  Even the best laid plans . . . .

We awoke to the sun creeping over the mountains as we watched the long jagged mountain shadows gently shrink to yellow beams of light over Mono Lake.  Little did we know we parked just feet from the entrance to Yosemite National Park.  We couldn’t resist a detour. 

Climbing over boulders while listening to the many different languages spoken from visitors sharing the experience, we became dwarfed by the grandeur like children in an amusement park.   But it was the water that drew us in to go beyond the climbing, and gandering.  Tricia spied a glistening pool of water below snow top cliffs and with her at the wheel, we found ourselves pulling off the road to take better pictures.  The pictures turned into wading, and the wading turned into a dare that ended in a dip in glacier cold water.   We were electrified with laughter and squeals from the cold.  Water, J. Nichols, that replenished our bodies and spirit that the energy we put into helping protect water through countless miles of lost sleep, money spent, and preparation is returned to us simply by being a submerged in clean, cold water.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

C.R.E.A.T.E. Ideas into Art

Andrea Oeding with art project
Finished Waterfall Art 
Citizens Recycling Everything And Turning Endless Ideas into Art. Okay the acronym is a stretch but what we have witnessed this summer has been an awakening in idea awareness.  Where do we start?! Should it be in Spencer, Indiana where our traveling art exhibit stood in a popular hot spot in the McCormick's Creek National Park? There we helped Colleen Minnemeyer and Andrea Oeding create an art piece of the famous park waterfall that was made out of bottle caps - anyone could help and people of all ages contributed.

Redmon Picnic Baskets include
reusable bag for dirty dishes
While in Spencer, IN, with help from Colleen Minnemeyer, all kinds of fabulous work could have been purchased, from hand carved stone memorials by Casey Winningham to a woman spinning wool yarn both done right on the premises.  Imagine watching Casey use a hammer to chisel out letters like they did over 100 years ago or watching a woman's feet peddle like a bicycle as the wheel spun the fresh wool into fine yarn.  We found beautiful handcrafted STONE bowls to vintage picnic baskets w/portable dinnerware - a solution to disposable plastics.  (Mom is that your basket?)  Shelle Ventresca sold her trendy jewelry using recycled vintage jewelry next to Andrea's mom who sews high-end handbags out of recycled fabrics. The festival hummed to local musicians tapping time to simmering local vittles.  Americans are using their skills, talents, and creativity to make money the old fashion American way - by making stuff - good quality stuff out of unwanted materials.  And people who buy these goods are taking the first step in putting money back into the communities instead of in large businesses who often ship the profits to other parts of the world.

Anne Clark with Foot Print
Reno High art piece
We then headed west to set up our exhibit at the University of NV, Reno for the Summer of Sustainability!  What an unbelievable eye popping experience not only the drive across this gorgeous country but to land in a desert drenched with creative minds.  Teachers engaging children under seven in a teamwork project to create a giant monster out of recycled materials.  Reno High school students created a 10'x12' image of a ram on top of a mountain of trash using album covers slated to be taken to the landfill.  We're talking from trash to incredible art.  But among the most innovative would have to be the Green Giant of a foot masterminded by Earth Guardian Anne Clark who, as an art teacher at Incline High school at Lake Tahoe, enlisted students and locals (along with her husband Dallas) to repurposing single use plastics into a 10' foot bearing down on Mother Earth.  It begs the question, "What is your plastic footprint?"  Other giants were extinct dinosaurs and a wooly mammoth made out of recycled cardboard.  There was no end to the grandeur at the UNR Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.

There are three floors of work done by school aged children on up through college and local artists.  The requirement for this juried exhibit was that entries had to be made of at least 80% recycled materials.  What did they do with the vinyls that were inside the album covers?  They were turned into flowers! Art instructor Lauren Gandolfo came up with the plan and they turned out to be so outrageously cool  people were begging to buy them during the 7.13.14 exhibit opening.  To see more images of the gallery along with others mentioned click here.  Over 200 pieces accent the library walls professionally curated by Kaitlin Bryson. The exhibit will be on display until September 30th.

But you don't have to leave the beach to find exquisite art made using recycled materials.  Here in Wrightsville Beach, NC, Jazz Undy uses debris that he finds on the beach along with other unwanted materials to create 3-D paintings.  Looking for quality artwork intertwining 2-D with 3-D and sometimes a touch of humor, you will find it here.
Jazz Undy's 3-D sailboat with 2-D backdrop

A special thank you to Mark Gandolfo, Deanna Hearn, Ashlie Senko, Project Aware, and Mike Collopy, UNR Academy for the Environment, for the effort and financial support bringing  Plastic Ocean Project, Inc.'s "What Goes Around Comes Around" art exhibit some 3,000 miles.  This event put a positive spin on making unwanted resources come back around to having intrinsic value.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Jack Johnson and Sustaining Hope

When we were asked to be a All At Once partner at the Jack Johnson concert we were so excited, we went through a million ideas of how we could reach people.  We didn’t want to create more waste by giving out brochures and handouts and the All At Once camp wasn’t a fan of that either. It would be against what we both try to promote, reduce waste. So we had to get very creative, and our POP, Inc. team nailed it.  With the help of the UNCW Sailing Club, thank you Jeff Pyle, we decided to retrofit a retired sail to hang in our booth for concertgoers to write their pledge to reduce waste. Next we wanted to make something concertgoers could take a picture of and have fun with. Then came the idea of Ollie the Octopus, a cardboard cutout of an Octopus entangled with single-use items with a head size cutout for photo opts. To promote POP, Inc. and All At Once, we ordered some plastic-free body stamps with our logo and web address.  This way people could take home our logo and website hands-free.

“I am the solution to plastic pollution,” crowned Ollie the Octopus’s head, and he was a hit. Humorously initiating conversation, people would step right up to get a photo opt with him, enticing others to come right over too.  Once under our tent we showed them a sample we collected from the North Pacific Garbage Patch and plastics collected that were half eaten by marine life.  This allowed us the opportunity to share the work we are doing with students, open-ocean research, collaboration we share with other non-profits, and our efforts to try to minimize our negative impact from trash on the environment.  They were engaged and loved taking pictures with Ollie, sharing it on their social media and hopefully starting a conversation of their own with their friends and family. It was so awesome seeing how many people really seemed to ‘get it’ by writing great pledges on the sail. Everyone got into the act including our own photo opt with Jack Johnson in front of our sail.
Many of the pledges were from the little ones with wonderfully intuitive things to say.  One little guy pledged, “I will reyos and resicle all day and evry day of my life.”  Families pledged they would recycle together, stop using straws and bring their own bags.  Many left our tent marked by awareness and a temporary POP, Inc. tattoo. It was such an uplifting experience, we left full of energy and overjoyed with the feeling that we changed how people looked at single-use plastic.
The last few months had been wearing on us and we felt as though we weren’t connecting with people or making a difference.  This experience rejuvenated our hope for a future less condemned by plastic waste.  To say we are grateful to Jack Johnson and the All At Once campaign would be an understatement, we gained so much more than the monetary value.  We left that concert renewed and ready to charge forward educating, researching and ultimately finding a way to help clean up the ocean. 
Tricia Monteleone 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Green Gem of a Community Inspires POP, Inc. to Award with Two Jack Johnson Tickets

Plastic Ocean Project, Inc. frequently gives presentations on the research we do, sharing images and videos from the different regions of the world we have sampled.  Thanks to Lisa Rider, we again had the opportunity to present in Onslow County, NC at the cleverly designed Sneads Ferry Library and Environmental Education Center - a beautiful natural space that showcases their community environmentalism.  Lisa shared some stats on their community involvement and here are just a few of what a community can do:
1. Onslow County now ranks sixth in common household recyclables per capita and 11th in total public recycling per capita recovery, up from 32d a year ago and 82nd the year before.
2. Dixon Elementary is ranked the top recycling school in the State. 
3. Queens Creek Elementary started a Styrofoam food tray recycling program this year.
4. Their local Environmental Awareness Event and their Earth and Surf Fest received 3 environmental awards this year including the NC Show Fest Green Award and the NC Green Travel Program’s highest honor of the 3 Dogwood Awards. 
5. They started capturing landfill gas and using it as a renewable energy source which means revenue for the County with absolutely no expense to the County. Furthermore, they are installing solar panels to the old closed landfill to provide even more renewable energy and revenue, again at no cost.

The Robert L. Franck Award ceremony was to honor those striving for a cleaner, greener community, with this year's recipient of the green legend "Robert L. Franck" award going to Jim Wheeler.  Beyond being a retired military, he continues to serve this country in habitat protection by cleaning up manmade materials from the environment. "He picked up his 3,000th bag of trash last month, which he knows well because he does an awesome job tracking data. Tracking trash might seem unusual, but for those of us that use the data to target trends it is very useful information." Shared Lisa Rider, Assistant Director of Keep Onslow Beautiful.  

Beyond the pale, Onslow County Keep America Beautiful enlisted 60 Marines from Camp Lejeune that participated in a marsh area cleanup. The area was a marshy dredge-spoil area along the inter coastal waterway in North Topsail Beach that includes the boat ramp area under the NTB bridge. This area has a lot of shoreline fishing related trash including bottles, cans, baby diapers, fishing line, etc. as well as a lot of materials related to things that washed up from storms and high tides. They picked up 1350 lbs of materials which consisted of over 90% recyclable materials of which they recycled it all.  This inspired POP, Inc. to want to clean up in a similar area in our community. 

Andrea Buddy helps clean up Cape Fear River with dad.
Using funding from the Jack Johnson Foundation, POP, Inc. is calling on our local New Hanover County eco-troops to come out and lend a hand for a cleanup at Carolina Beach State Park.  We will meet at the fishing dock at 3pm Saturday, May 17th.  We will also be raffling off tickets to the Jack Johnson concert held at Koka Booth, Cary NC May 21st.  Come out and help cleanup the environment and you just might cleanup two tickets to the Jack Johnson concert!