A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beach report: Human health linked to oceans

By Gail Johnson, on Straight.com

Ocean Gybe’s Ryan Robertson, Hugh Patterson, and Bryson Robertson (from left) document waves of seaborne garbage.
Having grown up in the seaside town of Gonubie, South Africa, brothers Bryson and Ryan Robertson were self-described beach bums by the time they hit grade school. So after their family moved to North Vancouver when the boys were in their teens, the avid surfers weren’t about to settle for just any nearby waves.

Tofino-area beaches were fine, but on weekends and summer holidays, the two would travel by boat and hike for hours in knee-deep mud up and down Vancouver Island’s west coast in search of hard-core crests. What they ended up finding on so many remote beaches astounded them.

“Every single beach, no matter how far away it was, no matter how perfect or desolate, had garbage on it,” Bryson, 29, tells the Georgia Straight by phone. “In 2004, we started to explore the north end of Vancouver Island. Every beach was covered in trash. It was incredible. About 50 to 70 percent of it was from the opposite side of the Pacific: Japan, China, the Philippines.

“It struck me. I thought: ”˜We’ve got all of their garbage; I wonder where our garbage is going and whose life I’m impacting that I’m not even aware of.” I’d be very surprised if someone could find a beach anywhere in the world that does not have plastic on it.”


Along with pal Hugh Patterson, a native Vancouverite, the Robertson brothers were determined to combine their passion for the ocean and quest for adventure with their desire to learn more about the state of the planet’s beaches. The three decided to sail the world and document what they discovered on coastlines along the way. They called their three-year expedition Ocean Gybe.

On Nicaragua’s La Flor Beach—a nature reserve protected for turtle rehabilitation—the team found 354 pop bottles, 162 plastic bags, 32 oil containers, and one car battery, among other debris.

In Barbados, at Long Pond Beach, the three found, among other items, 15 pieces of Styrofoam, 85 bottle caps, 37 plastic bottles, 59 pieces of fishing line and rope, and a toilet seat.

Besides Styrofoam, fishing nets, bottle caps, and rubber sandals, the three found nearly 100 pieces of assorted plastic on Indonesia’s Savu Island beaches. The list goes on.

Although Patterson and the Robertsons completed their circumnavigation of the globe last fall, they’ve since gone on to document the pollution at beaches closer to home, such as those on the Hesquiat Peninsula, north of Tofino. (There, they came across everything from Japanese fishing floats to various pieces of plastic and metal to a backpack.)

Their mission is ongoing: to promote the protection and conservation of the world’s oceans. They do this mainly by sharing their story and the results of their “garbage studies” with school and youth groups.

“We want people to understand their interconnectedness with the world’s oceans,” Bryson says. “The most obvious impact is garbage on our beaches. But all that garbage in the ocean releases endocrine disruptors, PCBs, and other toxins that enter our food chain.” We’re polluting, and we’re also the ones getting polluted.”


In recent years more research has focused on the link between ocean health and human health. “Alarms have been sounding about the health of the oceans for some time, but most of the discussion has been limited to marine organisms themselves, as if people were somehow divorced from the ecosystems upon which they depend for their health and well-being,” writes Nancy Knowlton, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, in an editorial in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. “Sadly, it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that corals and fishes are not the only things suffering from our poor stewardship of the sea around us.”

According to SeaWeb, an international nonprofit organization that advocates for sustainable seafood and ocean conservation, land-based pollutants such as plastics and electronics account for 80 percent of all marine debris. Then there are the countless pounds of pharmaceuticals that are flushed down the drain every year, not to mention oil spills.

But back to that plastic. If it doesn’t wash up on some distant shore, ocean currents carry it to one of the globe’s “gyres”, slowly rotating monster whirlpools where trash accumulates.

The North Pacific Gyre is about twice the size of the United States. Plastic debris will remain there for decades or more, being pushed in a gentle, clockwise spiral toward the centre, according to 5 Gyres, a global organization dedicated to researching and eliminating plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

“It’s basically a huge, floating garbage patch,” Bryson says of the North Pacific Gyre.

There are simple steps people can take to help minimize the amount of plastic that ends up in the sea and that ultimately threatens environmental and human health, Bryson says.


For starters, there’s the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, which takes place September 17 to 25 at various locations, including lake, inlet, and ocean beaches. (Volunteers can sign up at Shorelinecleanup.ca.) Last year, the most common types of litter picked up included cigarettes, food wrappers, plastic bags, and beverage bottles.

Then there’s changing our mindset.

“We live in a disposable culture,” Bryson says. “We need to become more aware of how we consume and look at things like plastics, water bottles, packaging.” A single-use plastic water bottle is used on average for about 12 minutes. But we don’t even know how long it lasts in the environment. We can learn how to consume more carefully. It is possible for us to change this; we can do it.

“Dozens of cities have banned plastic bags,” he adds. “Vancouver hasn’t yet, but I hope it’s coming.”

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