Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Message in 12,500 Bottles

The Plastiki, a catamaran made of 12,500 recycled plastic bottles, sailed into Sydney Harbour recently after a 5 month, 15,000 kilometre trek across the Pacific Ocean meant to draw attention to plastic pollution.

Held together with sugar cane and cashew glue, the vessel is proof that trash can be turned into something useful, expedition leader David de Rothschild said. The six-member crew's journey to Australia, which began in San Francisco in March, was inspired by a United Nations Environment Programme report that highlighted the threat of plastic pollution to the world's oceans.

"More than 13,000 pieces of plastic litter the surface of each square kilometre of ocean, according to UNEP – just about the number of pieces that made up the sailboat.

The marine litter isn't just an eyesore: seabirds and marine wildlife often mistake lighters, toothbrushes and smaller pieces of plastic for food and eat it, Prof. Chan said. Fisheries and Oceans Canada recently reported that a plastic bag was in the stomach of a leatherback sea turtle found dead off the coast of Newfoundland. The plastic bag looked like a jellyfish, and must have been eaten by mistake. UNEP estimates plastic litter kills 100,000 turtles, dolphins, whales, seals and other marine mammals each year."

“It's a global common problem – pollution of those oceans can happen everywhere, so it's collectively our responsibility to clean it up,” he said. The fact plastic pollution in oceans is increasing is also evidence that people, companies and governments need to change the way they think about and use plastic, Prof. Kai Chan, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. said.

Plastiki conjures up the Kon-Tiki, for me, the raft used by the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl in 1947 to sail from South America to the Polynesian islands. Made from balsa tree trunks and bamboo, the craft tried to establish that people from South America could have settled on the islands in pre-Columbian times. Two boats, two dramatic messages.