Tell me you didn’t think of a Great white shark when your brain combined ‘ocean’ and ‘deadliest predator’ to generate the image of a gaping jaw lined with razor-sharp teeth, lunging at you from the deep blue. It’s not your fault, blame Steven Spielberg.
Honestly though, would you have gone to the cinema to see a giant plastic bag clumsily rustling its way through the shallows with handles stretched out, gnawing at swimmers’ bare toes? Hardly. Perhaps the issue was only beginning to unfold or simply overlooked at Jaws’ time, but in this day and age, the most awe-inspiring marine predator has been replaced by a far scarier man-made invention: Litter. Of every size and colour, silently moseying along and carried to the four corners of the Earth by ocean currents before washing up on beaches or sinking to the seabed where it will remain for hundreds of years. How’s that for a dramaturgical oomph.
The flotsam and jetsam of marine debris
Plastic and other marine debris that floats can travel with currents and accumulate in ocean gyres, creating extensive patches of garbage. Imagine a levitating underwater island of trash, a concentrated area of flotsam and jetsam that distributes toxic chemicals throughout the oceans like an IV-drip. Roughly 90% of marine debris is plastic and 70% of all the litter in the ocean is presumed to be found on the ocean seabed, both in shallow coastal areas and in deeper parts of the seas.*
Midway across the North Pacific
In his film Midway – Message from the Gyre, director Chris Jordan explores the plight of the Laysan albatross on the Midway Islands in the North Pacific. The project is a powerful introspective journey into the heart of one of the most symbolic environmental tragedies of our times. Unfolding on one of the remotest islands of our planet, 2 000 miles off mainland coastlines, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ‘We walk through the fire of horror and grief, facing the immensity of this tragedy, and our own complicity, head on,’ are the words that echoe through the minds of Midway’s filmcrew. Watch the trailer here.
On a recent trip to the seals of Duiker Island off Hout Bay in South Africa, I came across two South African fur seals with plastic snares around their necks, cutting deeply into their flesh. For wildlife, entanglement can result in reduced movement and cause serious injury or death depending on the type of litter involved. Animals such as sea turtles, birds and Great white sharks can also die from ingesting pieces of plastic or other marine debris.
Make art, not litter
‘Keep the oceans clean’, that is the message transpiring from the artworks by Skeleton Sea, a green art project created by Portuguese artists João Parrinha and Luis de Dios and German photographer Xandi Kreuzeder. By using beach trash as well as weathered and dead materials, these avid surfers have created a unique style with the idea to raise awareness for marine littering through treasures from the sea and artistic installations on the coast.
We may not be able to get rid of all the plastic in the world overnight. But we can decide to feed it to our imagination rather than animals with whom we share this planet.