Yearly Archives: 2013

….by 2100 will our oceans be full of turtles and dolphins, or plastic?

Photo by Gaie Alling - Biosphere Foundation (2)

© Abigal Alling, Biosphere Foundation

After many years of being a plastic nerd with Two Hands Project in Sydney you  can imagine my excitement when I heard that the boat I’m volunteering on with Biosphere Foundation will be hosting plastic guru Marcus Eriksen (of 5 Gyres & the plastic raft trip to Hawaii) doing a trash trawl in the last unexplored global garbage gyre with a brand new high-speed trawling device!!! Ok, maybe not everyone will share my excitement, but for me this is huge, and may play a small part in saving the world as we know it.


© Abigal Alling, Biosphere Foundation

The data collected by 5 Gyres and friends provides proof (for governments, scientists and the general public) of what we all know – there is too much plastic being produced, it lasts forever and it’s now choking our oceans. There are 5 major gyres, or currents   where plastic tends to accumulate, in the world’s oceans. The most researched is the north Pacific garbage patch and the least explored is the northern Indian Ocean Expedition-Route-300x202(where we’re headed). So, we’re heading out to sea to the Bay of Bengal with 4 Americans, an Englishwoman, a Sri Lankan, the Aussie (me), a Belgian, and a Nepalese movie star named Karma. Bring on the adventures!


Crew of SV Mir, Pic: 5 Gyres

We’re sailing on the Biosphere Foundation’s 110 foot, 103 year old ship named Mir. After last minute food-shopping, ship-shaping and plastic-trawl-constructing we had a celebratory dinner to welcome Marcus and Jody from 5 Gyres. The part of the introductory speeches which has really stuck in my mind was Marcus. He talked about how his new daughter Avani could live to the year 2100, and would surely see the many inevitable environmental changes being brought about by our current lifestyles. In this time, she could look back and say ‘well, they tried their best’ or ‘my parents, Biosphere Foundation and the crew of Mir helped save the world!’ An inspirational thought as we head out into the strong winds and choppy waves of the Bay of Bengal.

The first few days are a haze of green faces, sleepy crew members drugged up on seasickness pills and constant rocking. Cooking is a challenge. Once we’re far enough from the Sri Lankan coast we can start testing out the new trawls! MANTA trawls have been used previously on 5 Gyres missions, they skim along the surface at slow speeds to collect the plastic debris floating there. AVANI is Marcus’ newest invention, nAVANI trawlamed after his most-beloved creation: his daughter Avani. It’s got a much narrower, longer mouth which can be used to drag behind the boat at high speeds, allowing us to do the first ever continuous trawl, assuming it passes the test drive! We’re putting the MANTA trawl in twice a day for an hour and running AVANI the rest of the time, day and night.


Alice Inspects Trawl, Pic: 5 Gyres

The first few trawls are slow-going, a few plastic fragments and a lot of small ocean critters like Halobates (a sea insect) and Vellela (a floating blue disk). In some ways it’s great to see only small amounts of plastic debris, but at the same time it’s a little disappointing – I’m hoping for a mountain of rubbish in order to show the world what I already know is happening out there. The amount of plastic being poured into our oceans every day must be going somewhere, and it would be great to find it! Despite the lack of large plastic, all our trawls have some fragments, and this microplastic can be just as harmful. In all the many trawls Marcus has done around the world, only 2 have been plastic free!!

Trawl Sample 2Slowly, the amount of rubbish floating past and in our nets increases. We start to get recognizable objects, with plastic bags, bottles & crates, fishing nets and frequent polystyrene pieces floating past and a whole plastic cup in the trawl!  It’s a strange change to make for a crew that has previously been looking for whales and dolphins and now are getting excited about rubbish floating past. Some of us have been unlucky enough to have seen the impacts of plastic pollution on wildlife first hand. Marcus started his plastic journey at Midway Island, where baby albatross are fed plastic fragments by their parents and frequently die of starvation. Raja has cut turtles out of abandoned fishing nets. I’ve seen pelicans, stingrays and turtles entangled in hair ties, fishing gear and plastic bags. Maybe because of this, and because we know the far-reaching impacts of the trash, we get excited everytime we see some – “Hey! A piece of rope!!” “Where, where!?!” “Ooooh check that out, a whole plastic bottle!” “Polystyrene fishing floats, yay!!”

Trawl Sample 3The trawls are getting more and more interesting, pulling in a plastic shoe, food packaging and even a whole 2 litre plastic bottle. Most of the recognizable objects are single-use items, like plastic packaging from food or cigarettes, which isn’t that surprising considering over one third of all plastic produced is plastic bags and packaging. We also gReally cool overnight AVANI trawl sampleet some nurdles, very cool for a plastic ‘nurd’ like me! Nurdles are the raw plastic pellets transported around the world to be shaped into the plastic products you know and love. They are especially interesting because new ones are fresh and clear, but after some time in the water they absorb many chemicals, which then are released into the animals which eat them. We also get some unusual critters like a paper nautilus, lantern fish, (myctophids), a sea snake, pterapods, glass eels and baby flying fish among the ever-present rainbow of plastic fragments.

After a week at sea the wind finally slows enough for a very welcome swim stop in the endless blue sea. It’s perfectly timed to coordinate with the visit of about 20 passing spotted dolphins, who come and check us out as we drift along the surface! A few days later I’m woken just after sunrise to see a pod of pilot whales surfing next to the ship! It’s great to see them as so far our dolphin and whale sightings have been pretty infrequent. We were expecting to see many more, but the populations in the Bay of Bengal have a lot to contend with – hunting, overfishing, chemicals and of course the constant threat of entanglement or ingestion of plastic rubbish!


Alice- Whale Watching of Sri Lanka,
© Abigal Alling, Biosphere Foundation

Our final trawls are more of the now-familiar plastic pieces and the crew starts to turn their minds away from the polluted oceans and towards hot showers and a good nights sleep. It’s been an incredible journey that’s left me feeling exhausted and my head Crewspinning. It’s hard not to feel a bit hopeless when you open your eyes to the amount of plastic currently floating past in our oceans and filling our planet. But it’s also hard to feel helpless when faced with the incredible people from 5 Gyres, the passion of the Mir crew and the people all around the world sending their photos in to Two Hands Project every day. I wish everyone could sail away and see all the trash**, but in the meantime you’ll just have to take it from me – there is A LOT, and the only way to stop it is to stop production & redesign , so get yourself a reusable drink bottle, stop using plastic bags & straws and tell your friends and hopefully by 2100 our oceans will be full of turtles and dolphins instead of plastic!

ALICEAlice Forrest –                                                                                           Founding Member Two Hands Project
& Biosphere Foundation Volunteer

** NOTE from Editor: Yes you can all ‘just sail away’ – you can join us on the East Coast Odyssey  anytime between August and October! CLICK HERE

OR CONTACT US TO SPONSOR a TRAWL –                                                          email to :


Message in a PET bottle

Beached Bottle
When I was a kid it was exciting to see a bottle on a beach, we used to race to see who   could get to in first in the hope it contained a message from a marooned sailor! Now with the advent of throwaway culture and the PET bottle, todays kids will never know that thrill. Where children once decorated their sandcastle with sea-shells they now use discarded bottle caps.

Plastic pollution, it’sCooks River become an ever growing problem we’ve created in the last 50 years, and it’s showing itself to be a threat to ocean health rivaling over fishing and global warming.

At Two Hands Project we believe plastic pollution is caused by poor design, either of the plastic products or packaging themselves, or of the systems used to recover them at end of  their useful life.
For example look at the humble soft-drink, a beverage billions of people enjoy daily. Disposable soft-drink (soda) bottles make up a large contribution to plastic pollution, over 30%.. so how is this pollution a design problem rather than a behavioral one? Consider the following.
What are the various delivery systems for soft drink and what contribution to plastic pollution do they have?
-single trip PET bottles, these are THE major problem, designed to be discarded after the use it’s no wonder they end up as pollution. Around 30% or less recovery with voluntary recycling.
-single trip PET bottles with a refund system, results in 80% recovery (recovery increases with higher refund)
-refillable bottles with a refund system, this is the best pre-bottled soda system, over 90% recovery (recovery increases with higher refund) zero plastic pollution if glass bottles are used.
-soda fountains, potentially zero plastic pollution if consumed in washable glassware, can be a big contributor if plastic or plastic lined take-out cups and straws are used.
Big Bottle
-home carbonation systems, such as SodaStream , can save the production of thousands of single trip bottles a year.
These are a great choice if you love soft drink, want to reduce plastic pollution, and like to have greater control over what goes in to your drinks.
As you can see manufacturers have a CHOICE in how they deliver a product, these choices affect the amount of plastic pollution entering our environment, so companies must be held responsible for polluting designs.
This brings me to what is currently unfolding in Australia.
Yarra River Melbourne
In an effort to reduce plastic pollution every day Australians are calling for a refund system on empty beverage containers.
Despite choosing to market to Australia using polluting single trip design, Coca Cola, Schweppes, Coopers and Lion Nathan are vigorously opposing a refund system that would massively reduce their contribution to plastic pollution..
Coca Cola have even taken the extreme steps of suing Australia’s Northern Territory for their recent adoption of the 10c refund system. This is completely out of order.

Check out the facebook pages of Coca Cola and Mount Franklin , read and like the comments from fellow Australians regarding this legal action and leave a comment of your own.

You can even make your own “boycott coke” placard and photograph you and your friends with it and post the pics.

Boycott Coke Placard
Also check out the Cash for Containers action and send a letter to your MP using the online form
SwanBottlePollutionSilkePhotoMost importantly be aware of the role of design in plastic pollution, choose pollution free ways of enjoying your favorite things, and demand the manufacturers employing polluting design pick up their game and stop trashing our planet.
Paul Sharp, Founder Two Hands Project