‘A Plastic Ocean’ documentary highlights microplastic problems

‘A Plastic Ocean’ finds more microplastics than plankton in the Pacific gyreA new feature-length documentary, which is currently seeking worldwide distribution, aims to raise awareness about the consequences of plastic pollution in our oceans.

A Plastic Ocean depicts an international team of adventurers, researchers and environmentalists embarking on an expedition around the globe to investigate the consequences of our ‘disposable lifestyle’.

‘The result will astound viewers’, according to the film’s website, which adds that the documentary captures ‘never-before-seen images of marine life, plastic pollution, and its ultimate consequences for human health’.

During its four-year production period, the documentary was filmed in 20 locations in ‘beautiful and chilling detail’ and, in addition to documenting the global effects of plastic pollution, it also investigates potential policies and technologies that could help address the problem.

The film shows researchers in the North Pacific Gyre, home to the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ collecting more plastic than plankton and documents the process by which oceanic plastics break down into smaller and smaller particles that can then enter the food chain. These particulates ‘attract toxins like a magnet’, according to the film’s website, which are then stored in seafood’s fatty tissues and eventually consumed by us.

Origins of the film

The idea for the film resulted from an expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre, 1,500 miles off the coast of San Francisco, to ascertain its impact. Producer Jo Ruxton was part of the trip that discovered free-floating microplastics, instead of anticipated solid mass that could be contained, and decided to create the film following this experience.

A foundation was set up to raise funds for the documentary, followed by a charitable organisation, Plastic Oceans Ltd, based in Hong Kong, which works to educate the public about the need for change and persuade industry to take responsibility in the manufacturing and disposal processes, to protect and preserve the environment.

The team involved in the film included Dr Lindsay Porter who studies cetaceans (whales and dolphins), Dr Bonnie Monteleoni who investigates microplastics in ocean gyres, director and journalist Craig Leeson, and free-diver Tanya Streeter.

Stemming the tide of plastic pollution

The Ocean Conservancy estimates that eight million metric tonnes of plastic leak into the world’s ocean every year, a figure that ‘continues to grow’. Without concerted global action, it says, there could be one tonnes of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, leading to significant environmental, economic and health issues. A recent study on the impacts of plastic pollution on marine environments found that plastic waste entanglement poses the greatest threat to marine wildlife.

A report by the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, ‘Stemming the Tide, outlines land-based strategies to combat the problem, primarily by reducing the plastic pollution of the top five countries where the consumption of plastics exceeds the local waste management capacity.

In the short and medium term, the report calls for accelerated development of waste collection and plugging of post-collection leakage, followed by development and rollout of commercially-viable treatment options.

In the long term, the report identifies the critical need for innovations in recovery and treatment technologies, development of new materials and product designs that better facilitate reuse or recycling.

As well as preventative measures, organisations are also developing measures to extract existing plastic pollution from the oceans. 21-year-old entrepreneur Boyan Slat set up The Ocean Cleanup, which is currently creating barrier technology designed to trap plastic litter, although the barrier is not able to capture microplastics.

A 100 metre-long test barrier will be trialled in the North Sea later this year, with the ultimate goal of deploying a 62 mile-long barrier across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

More information about A Plastic Ocean is available at the documentary's website.