Through our work with Travelers Against Plastic, we recently connected with Kristy Royce, President & Founder of ExploringCircle, a tour company offering extraordinary journeys while supporting non-profits working to make the world a better place. In August 2016, ExploringCircle partnered with 5 Gyres, a nonprofit devoted to ocean plastic pollution eradication and awareness, on a 13-day cruise in the Northwest Passage from Greenland to Nunavut. We chatted with Kristy about the serious issue of plastics in our planet’s oceans and how travelers can be a part of positive change.
Why should people be concerned about plastics in the ocean?
People should be concerned about plastics in the ocean because of the huge amount of plastic that is entering the ocean daily. At this point in time, it is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastics floating in our oceans. These plastics break down into tiny particles called microplastics. These tiny plastics attract and store organic pollutants like flame retardants and industrial chemicals which have been linked to cancer. One particle of microplastic can be a million times more toxic than the water around it. As marine life eats these plastics, the toxic beads and micro-plastics work their way up the food chain onto our plates. Humans depend on the ocean for food and a healthy ecosystem that maintains the balance of greenhouse gasses. Scientists agree: if the oceans die, we die.
How did you first come to learn about the issue?
I heard a local artist named Chris Jordan speak a few years ago about the problem and then started to research it. His photos of the Albatross on Midway Island hit me really hard. Having spent time working as a naturalist guide in Antarctica and South Georgia, I had a deep love and admiration for albatross. They are spectacular animals.
To see pictures of albatross feeding their chicks plastics instead of squid really just made me stop in my tracks. As a mother, to see another mother feed her chick plastic instead of food really just made me so frustrated and mad. I decided to do what I could to help people understand what plastics are doing to this planet.
Please help clarify some of the language used around this issue.
What is a gyre? And what do you mean when you talk about ‘smog’?
A gyre in oceanography terms is any large system of rotating circular ocean currents, particularly those involved with large wind movements. Plastics get stuck in gyres and swirl around and around, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces.
We use the term smog to describe plastic pollution in the ocean because it is a much more accurate description than ‘garbage patch’. The media created a mental image of plastics in the oceans through stories on places like the Pacific Garbage Patch. People think there is a large island of plastic that can easily be cleaned up. This is not correct. Really the masses of plastic are much more like smog. The plastics either enter the oceans as small microbeads or microfibers, or larger pieces of plastic that break down into tiny microplastics. Similar to air pollution, these particles are small, and almost invisible, and extremely toxic.
Tell us about the 5 Gyres Arctic Expedition and its purpose.
We planned the Arctic expedition because really there had never been too much research done in this region, and we wanted to understand if the small microplastics and microfibers had made their way to the remote Arctic waters. The Vancouver Aquarium was onboard and our research complimented their research. We were doing surface samples using a manta trawl and micron pump. The Aquarium was looking at lower levels of water and checking salinity, temperature, and nano-plastics. 5 Gyres and the Aquarium are combining data.
What can travelers do to make a difference in this struggle?
Travelers and all people should really look at the plastics in their lives and try to remove as much as possible, both at home and when traveling. Stop using any product that has micro beads, and try to illuminate single-use plastics from your life. We are a society of convenience, that only thinks of the immediate gratification, not the long-term impacts. When traveling bring a water filter, do not buy plastic water bottles or use plastic bags. Try to do the same at home.
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