This art is
Last summer, we
members to get
creative with the
our waterways and
where we love to
boat. Here’s a sampling of your many
Thank you for sharing your passion
for clean water!
— THE EDITORS
PLASTIC SOUP Ron Yeo has
been recycling items into art-
work for years and loves beach
walking, especially on his local
Big Corona State Beach in Newport
Beach, California. From one walk, he
created “Neverending Flow of Plastic to
the Sea,” using only a quarter of the items
he picked up that June morning.
2014, similar sampling methods showed the plastic-to-plankton
ratio had increased tenfold – 63 times more plastic than plankton.
The root of the problem
Not surprisingly, 100 percent of the plastic detritus churning in our world’s oceans originates with human activity. The
majority of it comes from land-based consumer waste, such as
discarded bottles, preproduction resin pellets used in the manufacture of plastic goods, microbeads from cosmetic products
and industrial finishing abrasives, and even microfibers from
synthetic fabrics. High winds and heavy rains during natural
disasters – hurricanes, mudslides, tsunamis – introduce large
amounts of debris into surrounding waters. The rest comes
from fishing nets, buoys, traps, and trash dumped overboard
by commercial and recreational boaters.
“Every country contributes to the problem,” says Lowe.
“But some countries have better waste-management practices
than others.” She emphasizes that even non-coastal areas are
problematic. “Trash goes into streams and rivers, and eventually ends up in the ocean.” Ballent puts it more succinctly:
“Coastal environments are downhill from everywhere.”
Without anywhere else to go, larger plastics break down into
smaller and smaller pieces over time. This microplastic “is smaller
than 5 mm, the size of a pencil eraser,” explains Lowe. And a
growing concern is the plastic pieces that are invisible to the eye:
Nanoplastics are smaller than 100 nanometers (0.0000010 mm).
Micro- and nanoplastics are churned deeper into the water column by wind and waves, eventually ending up in the food chain.
Why does this matter?
Aside from vessel damage caused by debris, including tangled
props and clogged intakes, plastic in our water hurts the boat-
ing environment, the economy, and resources, such as the
seafood we consume.
“Plastic is not a natural material, so nature can’t get rid of
it or digest it,” says Ballent. Larger plastics, like discarded fishing nets, monofilament, and six-pack rings, can entangle and
kill marine life. But the smaller pieces can be as much or even
It’s unknown how long plastics take to decompose,
because synthetic plastics have only been around for about
a century and in widespread use since the 1940s. Estimates
range anywhere from 450 to 1,000 years, depending on the
type of chemicals used and the method of production. This
figure, however, is more accurate for plastics buried in land-fills that are not exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun.
Unlike organic waste, plastics don’t biodegrade; most bacteria
won’t digest them. They do photodegrade, however, which
means the effect of the sun breaks them into smaller and
smaller pieces. This makes plastics particularly problematic
in the oceans.
Micro- and nanoplastics have been found in all marine
life, from plankton to whales. Research has shown that
approximately 25 percent of the fish caught around the
world contain plastics. When fish ingest plastic instead
of food, many die from malnutrition or starvation
or are eaten by predator fish, and the plastic moves up
the food chain.
Chemicals both from the plastics themselves as well as
from organic pollutants that attach themselves to the surface
of the plastics, are absorbed into the tissues of the fish and are
eventually ingested by humans. These chemicals have been
linked to cancer, malformation, and impaired reproductive
ability in other animals.
debris from her
local beach and
together — straws,
bottles, pens, rings
from drinks, cigarette lighters, fishing monofilament.
“I created clear
acrylic boxes to display these collections for impact.”