Don't Plastic the Pacific

September 2010
By:
Roz Savage
Roz Savage is a British ocean rower and environmental campaigner, who this year became the first woman to row solo across the Pacific. She is a United Nations Climate Hero and an Athlete Ambassador for 350.org. Her book, Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean, is published by Simon & Schuster.

Just a week ago I arrived in Madang, Papua New Guinea, after rowing a total of 8,000 miles across the Pacific in a 3-stage journey that started under San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in 2008. Coupled with my solo row across the Atlantic in 2005-6, I have now spent cumulatively nearly a year of my life at sea in a 23-foot rowboat, just inches above the waterline. 

This has put me in a unique position to observe the visible impact that humans have had on the ocean. On a beautiful calm day, with sunlight glinting off the waves, it is heartbreaking to see a plastic bottle floating on the water. Mankind's impact is felt everywhere. When I have been alone for a long time at sea - sometimes over a hundred days without seeing another human - this evidence of our carelessness is especially jarring. Even thousands of miles from land, the ocean wilderness is no longer pristine. 

Plastic outweighs Plankton

In 2008 I rowed past the North Pacific Garbage Patch, an area twice the size of Texas containing an estimated 3.5 million tons of trash, most of it plastic. Plastic outweighs plankton by a ratio of 6:1. There are times when I felt ashamed to be a human being, and apologized to the small community of fish that congregated beneath my boat for the mess we have made of their home. 

And it doesn't impact just the fish. Oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth, and are an integral part of our weather systems, climate control, and food supply. As plastic photodegrades, breaking into smaller pieces but never truly vanishing, it is eaten by fish and other sea creatures. Plastic is not an inert substance - toxins leach out into the flesh of the fishes' bodies, and works its way up the food chain until it ends up on our dinner plate. We will reap what we sow. We cannot have a healthy planet - or healthy bodies - if we don't have healthy oceans. 

I row across oceans to inspire people to take action on environmental issues. Something the ocean has taught me is that any challenge, no matter how huge, can be tackled if you break it down into little steps. Crossing the Pacific has taken me about 2.5 million oar strokes. One stroke doesn't get me very far, but you take all those tiny actions and you string them all together and you get across 8,000 miles of ocean. You can achieve almost anything, if you just take it one stroke at a time.

Take Action

You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

Take Action

 

  • If something is described as both "plastic" and "disposable", have nothing to do with it. Plastic bags, plastic silverware, plastic or styrofoam cups, plastic water bottles - you can find biodegradable or reusable substitutes for all of these things at minimum cost and inconvenience.  Everywhere I go I carry my metal water bottle and coffee mug, and my tiny chico bag. You can, too.
  • Reduce, re-use, recycle, but of these the greatest is reduce. Just say NO to plastic.
  • Consume less. Most consumer goods come wrapped in plastic packaging. The sad irony of ocean plastic pollution is that much of it is not even anything that we use, but merely the packaging that comes with it. If you really want to make the point, return the packaging to the store and ask them to dispose of it. The word will soon make its way up to management.
  • Pick it up. If you're out for a walk and see plastic trash lying on the ground, do something about it. Don't just turn a blind eye. If left there, it can blow into storm drains, then into rivers, then into the ocean to kill wildlife and contaminate the environment.