Monday, March 19, 2012

Hanging out at the Beach

Most people think of going to the beach to enjoy some R and R.  But I haven't stopped yet.  Here are some beach sampling photos.  These samples attempt to quantify how much plastic is found in the rack line on beaches. This day I was sampling Silia Beach.  The first photo is of the rack line where debris has been washed in, both natural debris (seaweed, sticks, and leaves) and man-made materials.  Some of the plastics are in whole pieces like the bottle cap, others are broken pieces of plastics and torn polystyrene.  I take  two samples, one with a visibly high concentration of plastics and another that appears to have none.  I do a series of these and then average out the plastics by weight and the distance of the beach front sampled.  It serves as baseline data to compare with future samples.

It's important that we understand how plastic is entering our oceans so we can someday figure out how to stop it.  Most of us would assume it comes from cruise ships, cargo ships, and recreational boaters. Though that is part of it, what we are finding is that it comes from land locked areas as well as what people leave on the beach.

Plastics that end up on the ground can eventually be blown or washed into storm drains and waterways then flushed out to sea.  Some of it washes back up on beaches, others head to the open ocean where there is plenty of sunlight to make it brittle, eventually breaking up into smaller pieces.  Think of the millions of tiny pieces one plastic bottle can become. We find these types of fragments in our open surface sampler and we find them on beaches, especially island beaches.  When I am taking beach samples inevitably, someone will come over and ask me what I am doing.  On this day it was two Fijian children 6-7 years old.  They were inquisitive and giggly as I showed them what I found and explained why it is a problem.  The hope is they will start questioning why plastic is on their beach especially when they use so little plastic compared to what the modern world is using.  

This is a village that still drinks from coconuts and the main food is fish they catch and crops they can grow evidenced by the generous meal the Selia Village put on for us.  Here is Michael Pitts (sorry for the bad shot Michael) drinking from a coconut one each prepared for our crew.  We sat on the floor having dinner in their community hall with the local leaders.  Notice the walls lined with fabric and ornamentation that is symbolic to their culture.   

Below is one of the fishing outriggers they still use today.  The night we left I watched a man getting ready to go fishing in this outrigger.  He lit an oil lamp then gently pushed off into the darkening waters.  It was only 6:30pm.  I was surprised to learn that because we are so close to the equator, the days do not get longer and shorter like it does back home when the seasons change.  It only varies by minutes.  I wonder if it has anything to do with the even temperament of the people that live here.   

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dive, Dove, Dived

We've been having fun learning the Fijian language and discussing American and British use of the English language.  Spelling has never been my forte and it didn't go unnoticed that I wrote dove instead of dived either.  The laughter continued discussing how Americans can truly mess with the "English" language starting with A for aluminum.   But it's all in great fun and we've had a lot of it combined with a rigorous schedule.  The stories we are gathering while in Fiji are compelling.  Issues I have not come across in my research will be highlighted in this film and worth watching on the big screen.  I have been studying this issue of plastic in the marine environment for over four years now and I cannot believe the evidence we are racking up here.

We've been doing a lot of diving as well.  This image is from what they call the "Fish Factory."  So many different fish, so many FISH.   I came here as a skittish diver, but with all the diving I've been doing, I'll leave with some new skills thanks to Craig Leeson and Michael Pitts.  Check out his link, it's amazing footage of plastic entanglement.  Got to run, but will share how I ended up working with Michael and Craig in an underwater scuba filming session.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fiji Water Not in a Bottle

Chief Paul waiting for Emma Roben's to come on down.
We arrived at SavuSavu around noon after a 16 hour ferry ride.  We then climbed into three vans and bounced down dirt roads for an hour before reaching our rubber rafts that chariotted us to the ship Tui Tai.  Tricia, it reminded me of a board you were on in Thailand.  As we pulled up guitars played accompanied by the boat crew singing us a welcome song.  Not a bad intro.

Dinner was served at a table that seats 18 with cloth napkins and waitstaff.  I sat at a table of well-known videographers, producers, and TV personalities with the calm blue seas gently cradling our fun ship surrounded by massive volcano rocks.  I tried playing it cool like the others sitting at the table who have often been in the presence of much natural beauty.  But truthfully, I was busting at the seams.

We later take the rafts back to land, travel another hour down a dirt road passing waving pedestrians as we go.  We hike 20 minutes with camera equipment and bathing suits to get some B roll for the film.

Did I jump from the rig under the crystal clear Fiji waterfall?  More surprising did the co-producer, Jo Ruxton?  You bet we did.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Awe Fiji - What a Very Different World

Let's start with Internet.  I have been living without it which is both good and bad.  Bad because I cannot get to share my experiences, good in that I woefully recognize my dependence.  The dependency is nearly as difficult to avoid as plastic.  In our immediate interactions with the people they seem poor in aesthetics, but rich in community.  They laugh easily, help transport each other the old fashion way, hitchhiking.  The land is lush with green everything against the backdrop of sharp angular volcano rock mountains.  Breathtaking.  The terrain is thick with plant life concealing small clusters of make ship huts sporadically dispersed along the narrow road side.  Thatched roofs are not uncommon atop wood square huts with glassless windows.  You can look through these homes and see the air moving through them.  Fresh air conditioning.  A simple life void of Internet for most.

We motor along on our four hour journey in a beat-up van on roads with barely enough room for two passing cars.  As we drive along in the morning hours, I see people sitting on their porches, on the side of the road, and at spars supplied vegetable stands.  I envy the time they have to think.  An activity I seldom get to experience these days.  On auto pilot, I flip from one demanding concern to the next, not having time to just simply think.  Somewhere between these two worlds there is a balance I would love to find.

This imbalance extends from our personal lives to what we take from the planet and then dispose of.  Petroleum taken from the ground is now floating on our waters in both oil spills and plastic.  Both upset the balance in nature.  This is part of why we are here in Fiji, but also to find out what the locals are doing with their plastics when they do not have the infrastructure to dispose of it.  For example, though we have bins in our rooms for recycling, they do not recycle here on the island.  So where does it go? We have learned what the poor people in this region are doing with plastics that is upsetting the balance of nature on another level.  And it affects all of us. To learn more about this you will have to wait until the movie comes out in the spring of 2013.

I also wanted to share with you our experience trying to get through customs, I heard my name over the loud speaker.   David Jones, John McIntyre from the BBC News, and I headed over to the security check.  As we waited we watched bags being opened to reveal smuggled dried fish, bags full products that might be for resale, and various other contents being confiscated.  They then start with John who rubs his hand through his thick seasoned hair as he explains why we have 10 different types of cameras in our possession.  I open my bag to explain why I have glass bottles and parts to our surface sampling device in my possession.  After about an hour we pack up our goods and are on our way.  It was a four hour drive from Nadi airport to Suva.  Upon arriving, I met Tonya Streeter, a world class free diver and who is a co-narrator of the film project.
Today we are packing up to take a ferry on into the night to catch our mother ship that will take us out to sea for 10 days.  There we will swim with manta rays, film interviews on board, and video our manta trawl as it samples the surface for micro plastics in the strata layer of the sea.

Due to poor Internet connections, this may be my last post over the next ten days.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fiji in the Forecast

Four years ago, I learned about the plastics accumulating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It was one of those aha moments when one connects human actions to the environment.  Not that I wasn't feeling just a ting of guilt every time I threw my Styrofoam coffee cup into the trash (roughly four times a day), but it was reading Susan Casey's article "Plastic Ocean" that woke me from my thoughtless waste. 

The truth is I knew that it took centuries for plastic to breakdown when I was 12 years-old.  But I lived on the assumption , as many of us do, that our government wouldn't allow anything that could harm us or the environment to be mass produced.  I believed that science would figure our way out any problem that we might encounter from this way of life we have been living.  After all, I wasn't a scientist, nor a politician that was paid to worry about these things.

Now I know I can no longer wait on science or the government to fix it, it can only be through individual action.  I now think about the hundreds of disposable cups I've used in my lifetime to satisfy my fetish for coffee knowing that they will out live me 10 fold. And that is just the coffee cups. The story I read created a shift in me that forced Michael Jackson to sing in my head, "take a look in the mirror . . . and make that change." It was that moment that lead this landlocked Elmira, NY girl to find her sea legs and travel over 7,000 nautical miles over three oceans to study the plastic requisites of man on the marine environment and communicate my eye witness accounts of the devastation of plastic pollution.

Tomorrow, I'm flying to Fiji to continue this research with a team of underwater videographers formally from the BBC.  They too, have had the aha moment, the look in the mirror, and the "what can I do to make that change."  With hope ,their major motion picture, "Plastic Oceans" can create a ripple affect to reduce the use of plastic which will reduce the impacts of plastic in the marine environment, and reduce the demand for limited resources such as petroleum and natural gas. 

Stay tuned.  I'll be blogging from the International Dateline in the South Pacific.