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  • I cannot help from feeling that we are on the edge of losing all that we've become accustomed to.

  • Everything seems so fragile and yet it is constantly taken for granted

  • as we carry on with our busy lives blinded by the immediate.

  • As a child, I remember our waste management providers giving our family various buckets

  • to sort paper cardboard tin and aluminium and only the special plastics with the special numbers stamped on it.

  • Beside the sink is where our family's rubbish collected until there was no more counter space.

  • Frustrated with her four children's lack of responsibility, my mother would take it

  • to the overflowing buckets in the garage, where she would often forget it.

  • Then finally my father would get annoyed that his tools were buried and secretly,

  • or not so secretly, would bin the waste so it never actually made our suburban curb for collection.

  • This was our part.

  • As I've grown older, I've become very conscious of our fragile world.

  • But I've never thought of myself as a conservationist, a radical tree hugger,

  • and I've definitely never chased a rogue whaling ship, as I've never been to sea.

  • But somehow, after a couple drinks in San Francisco, with a very passionate friend,

  • I find myself in a humid port in Brazil, about to sail to South Africa as part of the 5 Gyres Institute's

  • expedition through the South Atlantic Gyre, documenting plastic pollution for the first time.

  • ...um, prepare supper for eighteen hundred, and then eighteen hundred to twenty-two is wash up after supper.

  • And twenty-two to zero-two you can just sit and drink tea, ok? (laughter)

  • With regard to watches, if you can be on time, be vigilant,

  • keep the log, which is the log book we have to write, and stay awake.

  • Stiv, if you want to take care and do the anchor and get a couple of people to help you.

  • With an overwhelming curiosity, I am now a part of this precarious group of inspired strangers,

  • led by scientists Dr. Marcus Eriksen and his wife, and 5 Gyres co-founder, Anna Cummins.

  • We're going to head out now, ok!? We're all ready to go.

  • Next step, Africa.

  • With fresh eyes, and different networks we are brought together with simply,

  • to help alert the world.

  • What we're doing with 5 Gyres and with Algalita is simply looking at the distribution of plastic.

  • I mean we take a manta trawl, we skim the surface of the ocean,

  • we count pieces of plastic in a lab and we share the results.

  • The goal for trawling

  • is every fifty nautical miles from now until the time we get to South Africa.

  • In between those times, we deploy the high speed trawl.

  • It's a relatively new issue, this idea of plastic marine pollution.

  • Any sailor or navy man who was sailing through the gyre would have seen this plastic

  • in the last maybe thirty, forty years.

  • But it wasn't until Captain Moore came upon this area between Hawaii and California

  • full of plastic trash in an area where sailors don't traditionally go.

  • When you first pull up some of these samples, as you'll see,

  • it may not look like a lot of plastic.

  • You might find less than a handful sometimes only a few fragments,

  • sometimes it might take taking these samples back to the lab to see if theres any plastic at all.

  • But whats really interesting to think is here we are in the middle of nowhere

  • were going to be thousands of miles from the nearest land mass

  • and still were going to find evidence of our plastic footprint.

  • And, I want to remind everyone that this is our research mission.

  • So, I invite you all to embrace what were up to wholeheartedly get involved.

  • We need your help to accomplish a mission.

  • First trawl. Forty-nine to go...

  • The philosophy that there is an away,

  • that you know we say we throw something away.

  • That you can create something to be used for a minute that lasts forever,

  • is evil in my opinion.

  • What I think needs to happen with people who... companies that produce plastic is...

  • in the whole scope of the products impact,

  • they need to calculate for its environmental impact economically.

  • Oooh! This was the manta not the high speed so this is actually a research sample.

  • It's the sea-state coming down, huh?

  • Yeah, it was about a... it was pretty calm it was about a two or a three today.

  • There's a nurdle. Yep! We have nurdle!

  • There looks like a piece of some sort of film packaging...

  • Oh yeah, totally.

  • Hard to see against the spoon.

  • Today, I was introduced to a nurdle.

  • It might as well have been a bean bag pellet only it was a tiny piece of virgin plastic

  • that was found hundreds of miles off shore.

  • Given its seemingly insignificant size,

  • how can Marcus be so dedicated?

  • I got interested in this topic a long time ago,

  • when I was young, just in terms of trash debris and plastic.

  • Then as I got into my undergraduate and I was living in a coastal community, I started reading about marine debris in the ocean,

  • and I stumbled across Algalita which included Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins.

  • I started reading about the issue and got super interested and applied for graduate school.

  • Specifically what I study is the chemical component or the toxicity of plastic debris to organisms

  • So, I research the chemicals in the plastic debris either through manufacturing,

  • or that, adsorb or absorb onto the debris in the ocean

  • and so how that affects the animals in terms of does it transfer to their tissue.

  • And then, if so, are there toxic affects because of that?

  • Chelsea's work is extremely important.

  • What she's shown in her lab already is that pollutants will jump from plastic to fish tissue.

  • As bigger fish eat the smaller fish... it biomagnifies up the food chain.

  • Staying under?

  • Awesome!

  • This is how you make nerds happy.

  • So the routine begins, day and night, wind and waves, trawl in trawl out.

  • Our staggered shifts never quite set,

  • three groups rotating twenty-four hours a day.

  • A dinner shift previous, means a four hour watch starts sharp at 2am in a cold night.

  • Let's see what's in the high speed.

  • Ooh!

  • This is perfect for Chelsea's toxicity analysis.

  • Can I see?

  • You get to the middle of the ocean and you find a spoon.

  • Is that what that is?

  • Whatever it is, it's been in there for a long time.

  • (Heavy Wind)

  • Woo!!

  • For me, I've grown up in the ocean. The ocean has been my second home.

  • I've been surfing for fifteen years all over the world,

  • diving, sailing on the ocean, and in way, the ocean is sick

  • because of pollution. And, we really don't know what the extent of the problem is,

  • and what kind of damage is it going to take in the long term.

  • It's been proven that these pollutants, PCBs, DDT, other hydrophobic pollutants stick to plastic.

  • It's also been shown that pollutants will desorb from the plastic into the tissues of animals.

  • They eat it, and the pollutants pass from the plastic into their organs.

  • They're attracted to fats, so there's a perfect synergy for the pollutants

  • to pass from the plastic into the organs of the animals.

  • And Chelsea's now working on the next step, which is,

  • when fish in the open ocean eat plastic, do those pollutants desorb into their tissues?

  • Beautiful. Yeah!

  • That's a big fat sushi.

  • We did a really controlled study in the lab, of dietary exposure of plastic.

  • I fed them plastic that had been in the ocean for three months, and then plastic just straight from the factory.

  • And we found that they actually did eat the plastic.

  • We looked for toxic effects, so we found some interesting stuff with them,

  • where they were losing weight, some of them looked like, appeared to be anaemic.

  • We found some single-cell necrosis in their liver and different problems with their thyroids and so,

  • still working on a lot of that data, but the persistent organic pollutants that we look for in plastics that we're talking about,

  • they definitely have, what we call, an endocrine disrupting effects, which are problems with reproduction.

  • Your endocrine system is what controls all the hormones in your body.

  • And so some of these persistent organic pollutants basically mimic our natural hormones

  • and then disrupt our normal reproductive system.

  • I maybe thought that we used too much stuff, because I was geared towards thinking about consumerism,

  • but the idea of plastic never crossed my mind. I used plastic bags at the market...

  • You know, I used disposable coffee cups, it just, it didn't cross my consciousness.

  • I started years ago as a kid, sailing dinghies and always had an interest in the sea and ships and boats.

  • And just seeing larger chunks sailing and occasionally you come across a patch of trash and...

  • shit, that's not really good. But you don't realise they are little bits and

  • they're breaking down and it's there like on the whole.

  • So I got interested in this issue because I read about Captain Charles Moore

  • and his research that he had been doing in the North Pacific garbage patch.

  • He compared his findings to zooplankton

  • and his information came back that he had six to one ratio of plastic to zooplankton.

  • Now, I don't know what the negative effects of that is, but I know that it isn't right.

  • I've been filled with a lot of uncertainty about the trip, about the issues, about everything.

  • And only a few hundred miles into the four-thousand mile trek,

  • our main sail is completely ripped along the seams.

  • Again, I'm not a sailor, as my constant battle to keep my lunch down proves.

  • But I'm sure, this cannot be good.

  • The sea dragon's fuel tanks are only meant to carry us through the windless days of the gyre,

  • not an entire ocean.

  • So, what we'll to have to do, we'll just organise a sowing circle.

  • To be honest, don't worry, I mean it would have happened to me, it's an old sail, it's gone along the seam.

  • This is my second cruise, first one I went to the North Pacific,

  • and the north Pacific is famous for this garbage patch,

  • or this big island of trash floating in the middle of the ocean.

  • What I found when I came back is that people were wondering what was this island like?

  • In 2008, I had a chance with Captain Moore, and Marcus,

  • we'd been dating for about 6 months at that point,

  • so decided that a month at sea was a great way to test our relationship.

  • We crossed the North Pacific gyre from Hawaii back to Los Angeles,

  • and I still expected to see an island of garbage the size of Texas.

  • So, this was a real eye-opener for me, seeing that the issue is really difficult to see.

  • So, that inspired Marcus and I to start the 5 Gyres Institute

  • with a goal of expanding that research on plastic in the North Pacific,

  • which people are starting to know about, to all five oceans.

  • Everyone nowadays, wants everything instantly.

  • It's an instant society, gotta have it now now now now now, instant wifi, instant everything.

  • So everyone wants their instant coffees. No one really worries about their little plastic cups, "oh, it's only one cup."

  • Stuck on a boat we wait with our own set of worries.

  • Either we kill time sewing countless stitches, or we sit behind a computer just like at home.

  • With our expedition slowed with sail repairs, we distract our busy minds with familiar old habits.

  • Alright! Hauling in number ten!

  • The life cycle of a piece of plastic - it starts out with these nurdles,

  • or these virgin plastic pellets, and they mould it into say a plastic bottle,

  • then let's say the plastic bottle gets out to sea.

  • Plastics don't biodegrade, they photo-degrade,

  • which means the light breaks them down into smaller and smaller pieces,

  • so, once it gets out into the middle of the ocean and it's floating around with the sunlight,

  • the sunlight breaks it down into smaller and smaller bits.

  • Soon as it comes out of the river mouth or the sewage outfall pipe or whatever

  • and goes into the ocean, it's plastic in the ocean.

  • The gyres are simply just machines driven by weather

  • that create a circle, that collects it. Gyres are natural phenomenons.

  • And, beyond two hundred miles of most countries is international water, no man's land.

  • I'm part of a society that does not take responsibility for it's own waste.

  • Look at that! Woo!

  • Wow, that's a lot.

  • That looks like a nurdle, and that's a nurdle right there.

  • I mean, they're getting more dense.

  • Much more colourful, mostly white like we usually see, but...

  • We've got some blues, reds...

  • something about the colours of plastics, like there's a theory but I don't know if it's proven.

  • Yeah, well certain animals can be attracted to other colours.

  • When you look at the stomach contents of a Laysan Albatross you'll find overwhelmingly more white plastic,

  • and it may be because they're drawn to that colour because it's a food source, or it mimics a food source,

  • or because they're foragers, they're you know, they're looking for food from the surface,

  • and what they might spot first is white, it stands out against the colour of the ocean.

  • And anything with fish? Any correlation?

  • You know, I don't know if there's been enough research yet on ingestion.

  • You know, based on the ones that Charlie looked at in the North Pacific they were mostly white, it's like a food source.

  • And it may be more visible at night, or it may just be it looks like a fish egg or like zooplankton.

  • Alright! Process it!

  • We found a fridge in the Mississippi River, when I was filming for Nat Geo last year.

  • I hopped into it, and for like quarter of a mile, just paddled in the refrigerator, in the Mississippi.

  • We saw like seven in total in that month on the river.

  • I mean, our biggest export, I would bet is trash.

  • Just junk washing down our watersheds out to sea.

  • I went to a small town of Peru,

  • and a little small village, maybe a few hundred people,

  • but there was a road going out onto the tide pools, and the road ended

  • and there was a hole in the concrete, and that was a communal dump.

  • And you look down, and along the beach, thousands and thousands of plastic bottles.

  • Thousands of them!

  • Where was this?

  • Near Nasca in Peru, just south of Lima.

  • Plastic!! Seven O'clock.

  • There you go, that's a big chunk!

  • Big chunk!

  • Let's go get it!

  • Jody do you still see it?

  • Yeah, it's there.

  • There's a plastic bottle too.

  • Before I really knew much about the 5 Gyres,

  • I knew about Marcus' junk raft.

  • It was a suicide mission to raise awareness.

  • A ride on a self-made boat of old plastic bottles from California to Hawaii.

  • It is getting away!

  • After three months, nearly sinking, running out of food and water, he crossed the Pacific.

  • While his passion is incredibly inspiring,

  • the few bits pulled in by our surface trawls every sixty nautical miles, seems hardly worth risking one's life.

  • I'm on a boat! (Laughter)

  • Looking for plastic trash!

  • Hey Dale, I'm gonna go in.

  • Marcus is going in baby!

  • Ok, need someone to go down and get the ladder.

  • Can we have one less camera and maybe a ladder?

  • (Splash)

  • Alright, this just got serious!

  • (Laughter)

  • No! I'm not laughing or joking...

  • What's the matter? How is the water!?

  • It in the forepeak.

  • We can haul him up or...