Must-See Movie: A Plastic Ocean

Some films leave you speechless. Sow your mind with images that return in unguarded moments. Change the way you think about things. With DiCaprio involved, this one promised all three.

The Most Important Film of the Year

I’d heard about it, of course. The advertising was powerful, for a start. Snippets have turned up on the web. Joe Public had referenced it on Facebook. “Right up your street, Ben,” a friend had promised.

So I trekked up to North London this past monsoonal Monday to watch a 102 minute documentary.

The community hall where it was presented was strung with tiny white lights, and a screen and projector perched at the front. There was tasty homemade tomato soup on offer with delicious dark bread, chocolate cupcakes and cookies too.  I purchased an assortment, met the organisers, found a free chair and settled in to learn something new. I was unprepared for the scenes I was about to see.

The diverse audience sat motionless, apart from the odd gasp, or involuntary intake of breath. Then someone behind me began to cry as a beautiful Bryde’s whale convulsed to death. Choking albatross chicks followed. Bursting corpses. Gasping turtles. Too many dead fish to count. And the common denominator causing their suffering?

Plastic.

Eight million tons of it discarded in the oceans annually. Most as single use items like water bottles and carrier bags.

The film I was watching? A Plastic Ocean.

A film directed and written by Craig Leeson, presented by Craig Leeson and world free dive champion Tanya Streeter, and supported by Plastic Oceans Foundation, this is the most harrowing…but in my opinion, most important film of the year. Maybe of the decade. Maybe of the…

Because no, it isn’t the Amazon rainforest that captures most of the atmosphere’s CO2 and converts it into oxygen. 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean’s phytoplankton. Whether it’s the Sri Lankan deeps, the Mediterranean, the Maldives—in fact anywhere, all the oceans are in trouble. Kill them and our planet dies too.

Gyres in the Ocean

Every ocean contains gyres—slowly circulating current confluences that have trapped decades of plastic waste. Flushed down drains and washed offshore by storm tides, often discarded deliberately, this plastic never vanishes.

Before the sunlight begins to break it down, filter feeders (from majestic baleen whales, to basking, whale and megamouth sharks and countless species of herbivorous fish) consume fragments of bottles, tiny toys, baskets, packaging loops… until their insides are blocked. Trusting turtles mistake plastic sheeting for jellyfish.

Micro Particles in the Gyres

Over time the sun’s UV breaks it down into micro particles whose rough surfaces then attract toxins of humankind’s (“kind”?) industrial and agricultural activities.

Fish, molluscs, crustaceans (and their swarming larvae) eat these particles.  Then these plastic particles pass up the food chain. If they don’t cause death along the way, they end up on our dinner plates. And plastics are endocrine disruptors, causing elevated incidence of cancers and many other diseases.

Hope for the Future

But the film rose to the challenge and offered more than despair. There were creative new ideas. The US navy has installed a plasma destruction system on its Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers to render plastic biodegradable—can this technology be rolled out? An engineering company has discovered how to turn old plastic into diesel to fuel cars. Another makes plastic components to create furniture and other home building materials.

Plastic-conscious entrepreneurs are changing the way they handle this material—reducing, reusing, and building multi-uses for the plastic in their products.

What can we do?

  1. The film suggested we start returning our plastic waste to the companies that use it for packaging (restaurants, supermarkets) until they replace it with something safe and biodegradable.
  2. And crucially, we must stop buying single-use carrier bags and water bottles. Provide our own. Refuse over-packaged, plastic covered items. Take canvas or cotton bags to the supermarket instead.
  3. We can also see a screening of the film —and take a friend!
  4. Or take action: host a screening of A Plastic Ocean, sign up to the Plastic Ocean Foundation mailing list, or donate.

If you aren’t aware of the importance of the oceans, take a deep breath and watch this film. The importance of the health of the oceans is up there with global warming and nuclear war. And maybe, maybe…with a change of heart and habit, this consumer-led, disposably-irresponsible global society can change its ways.

 

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