The amount of plastic waste on the planet has reached unprecedented levels and every living thing from the bottom to the top of the food chain (that means you!) has been affected. What’s a global citizen to do? Enter 5 Gyres, an organization that takes the issue of plastic waste head on with their movable sailboat lab. The crew has temporarily moved on shore for an East Coast bike tour aimed at promoting 5 Gyres mission to get rid of non-reusable plastic and to clean up the oceans. In a combined effort with the team from Surfrider NYC, 5 Gyres recently presented at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan as part of their goal to connect the general public with the science behind water conservation.
When on the water, the 5 Gyre crew collects water samples using a Manta Trawl which draws samples from the surface of the ocean. What they have found is something communications director Stiv Wilson calls a “plastic soup.” Plastic, which is photo degradable (can be broken apart by the sun) can be found in its smallest form — called a ‘nurdle‘ — throughout the ocean. 5 Gyres mostly finds polypropylene (think: water bottles) and polyethylene (found in plastic bags). Heavier plastics like PVC sink to the ocean floor where water samples have yet to be collected; for this reason it’s expected the amount of plastic found in the oceans has been vastly underestimated. With the information that 5 Gyres has collected from over 11 expeditions world wide, it is safe to say plastic is a big part of every ecosystem, and as we’re the top of the food chain, humans are profoundly affected by this.
So what can you do about it? The purpose of the 5 Gyres bike tour is to get the word out about this plastic epidemic and show people that there are ways to reduce plastic. 5 Gyres has been conducting beach cleanups as they travel down the East Coast. You can see a schedule of their events here. Although the New York City area cleanups are over, there are still plenty of ways to reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans. You can start by thinking about how much plastic you consume and making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of plastic you buy and use. If you would like to learn more about getting involved with 5 Gyres and maybe even going on your own sailing expedition, check out their website.
To get a feel for how much plastic one can find on our local shores, take a look at the New York City Lighter Log, a fascinating index of plastic lighters collected from the water’s edge of the five boroughs between 2010 and 2011. The creator of the lighter project is currently making recycled pens from Jamaica Bay.
(Top photo: National Park Service; inset: Locate>Explore>Synthetic>Sites)