Situated 600 kilometres directly east off Australia’s Port Macquarie lays an irregularly crescent-shaped volcanic remnant in the Tasman Sea. Lord Howe Island is a stunning world heritage site and about as far south as coral will grow.
It’s sandy beaches and sheltered lagoon appear pristine. Wildlife abounds. Hundreds of petrels catch thermals which race up Mount Gower. And the most heroic of all seabirds, the Shearwater, call this island home, returning from epic around-the-world adventures to the nesting sites where they were born.
But this island isn’t all it seems. It holds a deadly secret. In the forests of the endemic Kentia Palms small piles of plastic have begun to appear. Man-made, these plastic items – golf tees, pre-production plastic resin pellets, disposable lighters, balloon ties – haven’t come from the island, but thousands of miles away. So how did they end up in the forests, far from the sea?
As we walk along the beaches in the early morning, another mystery reveals itself. Dozens of young fledgling shearwater lay dead, with no apparent signs of physical distress. We pick them up and take them back to a small laboratory in the island’s only town. It’s not until scientist, Jennifer Lavers, performs a necropsy that both mysteries are solved.
Inside the stomachs of every bird we cut open is a gut full of plastic. These babies have been unwittingly fed plastic by their parents foraging for food thousands of kilometres away. Those birds lucky enough to regurgitate the toxic meals do so outside their burrows in the Kentia palm forests, allowing them room for real food. But not all are able to get rid of the human rubbish. And they die in great numbers on the beaches and in the waters off the island.
What’s tragic about this scene is that it is repeated on islands around the world among many different species of sea birds. In fact, Jennifer has found that between 96p.c. and 100 p.c. of all flesh footed shearwaters contain plastic and globally it’s around 65 p.c. for all seabird species.
This year, more than 300 million tonnes of plastic will be produced. Half of that we consumers will use just once and then throw “away”. But have you ever stopped to wonder where “away” is? What happens to that plastic when we remove it from our personal space?
It was something I hadn’t thought about until a friend, marine biologist and television researcher and producer, Jo Ruxton, called me and asked: “Have you noticed much plastic in the water when you surf and dive?” Over the course of the past few years, no matter where I went I seemed to be finding more and more plastic in the water and on the beaches. Jo told me about the North Pacific Gyre and a floating island of plastic as big as Texas. She and executive producer, Sonjia Norman, wanted to investigate the problem and, if it was as bad as it seemed, make a film about it to raise awareness.
The first expedition found that there was no floating island. What they found was far more insidious: 46,000 pieces of micro plastics for every 1 square mile of ocean.
That trip begged the question: if there’s that much plastic in the north pacific gyre, what exists in the other four gyres which power the world’s oceans, bringing us weather systems, oxygen, food and water?
After five years of filming and postproduction in 20 locations, A Plastic Ocean, is now complete and ready for distribution. The 96-minute feature film investigates how plastic is filling up our oceans, choking marine life and coming back through the food chain to make us humans sick.
The results of the expeditions will astound and horrify you. Those dead and dying seabirds we found on Lord Howe Island were just the canaries in the coalmine. We found plastic everywhere, in every ocean; on every beach and in almost every animal we tested. We followed those plastics and the toxins they carry up the food chain…and guess where it ends? Scientists are now proving that plastic and the toxins they carry are causing endocrine disruption to humans around the world. One study by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control found plastic chemicals in 92.6 p.c. of every American tested.
Some scientists now say this issue is as urgent as climate change.
The film reveals solutions to the problem, including new technology such as Pyrogenesis and Pyrolysis. But the very first action we all need to take is to stop putting plastic in the environment in the first place. It wasn’t made by nature and nature cannot deal with it. Our grand parents didn’t see this coming, my generation perpetuated. It’s now up to our children to recognise this disaster and clean it up so that their children will have a future.