Written by Caroleigh Pierce, Nonprofit Outreach Manager at Klean Kanteen.
It’s been about a week since I returned from my life-changing trip through the Caribbean, and I’m still processing everything I saw and the fantastic people I met. My leg of the 5 Gyres expedition, which sailed from the Bahamas to Bermuda to study ocean plastics, was exceptional. The people who joined me on this journey were no less outstanding; musician and ocean ambassador Jack Johnson, Patagonia ambassadors Dan and Keith Malloy, along with Kimi Werner and The Legend Mark Cunningham, were all there for the ride. Together, we were joined by an incredible gathering of youth activists, nonprofit organizations and responsible brands such as ChicoBag and LUSH cosmetics, all of which came together to learn more about the issue of plastics in our ocean, share our passion for the ocean and discuss ways that we can share this important story with the world. We had a documentary film crew with us and a journalist aboard the ship, both of whom captured great footage and conversations along the way.
We sailed 850 nautical miles while sampling the water’s surface for plastics, and we didn’t pull up a single trawl that didn’t contain plastic fragments; as many as 700 pieces showed up in a single sample!
None of this came as a surprise to me based on the information I have, yet this journey has moved me in ways that I never expected. I often give talks on plastic pollution, sharing the data provided to me by 5 Gyres. But this time, I was the student and not the teacher. I found myself often sitting in silence, watching and listening (not my usual demeanor if you know me at all), absorbing all the information and knowledge I could. Our days were filled with inspiring conversation and scientific research, and our nights with spontaneous jam sessions and laughter with newfound friends.
My trip also had land legs, and we were blessed to spend time on beautiful beaches and swim in the most crystal blue water I’ve ever seen. We spent time with local students on the beaches doing research and enjoyed the hospitality of the communities along the way, who are also very concerned about the issue of plastics and how it affects their islands.
So, what exactly did I learn while I was out there? Well, here’s my big takeaway…
What You See Is Not What You Get
The ocean and beaches look perfect at first glance. They are so inviting and appear so healthy. But time after time, with a closer look we saw the real damage and effect humans and our habits are having on the ecosystem. Sure, we saw some large pieces of plastic and things we recognized from our daily lives just floating about, but more often, we saw this confetti of sorts, a smog of plastic–both in the water and on the shore. What’s more, this plastic confetti is too tiny to clean up with any machine or net, and too constantly flowing into our waters to ever really make a difference with clean-up efforts.
I don’t say these things to be a Debbie Downer or to make people feel there is no hope. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. This trip has left me inspired and hopeful. Our ocean will heal herself if we just give her a chance. We have to make a change in the way we live our lives and in the choices we make every day. We must shop smart. We have to refuse single-use items that live forever after we throw them “away.” So, reuse and repurpose whenever you can. Teach what you learn and lead by example, and in doing so, we can all play a part in healing this BLUEtiful planet.
(This article originally appeared on 5 Gyres. It has been reprinted here with permission.)