2.4 million per hour

"Gyre," on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, was created entirely out of pieces of plastic. Photo by Jennifer Hartzell

My family and I took a trip to California this summer and one of our stops was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is arguably one of the best aquariums in the country, if not the world.

I have been to visit the aquarium a few times, and this past time I was the most impressed. The main reason this was my favorite time is because the Aquarium is constantly giving visitors the message about plastic in the ocean, and how to help. From the staff who work the exhibits to many of the displays, you cannot escape the message that plastic is bad for the ocean, that we are choking our oceans with plastic, and that the only solution is for humans to stop using single-use plastic.

The picture accompanying this column is a photo of a piece of artwork by Chris Jordan, titled “Gyre,” after the Pacific Gyre which is a massive, spiraling current that concentrates ocean trash. Jordan created this 8-foot-by-11-foot collage using small pieces of plastic from items like toothbrushes, buttons, combs, and others. He was inspired by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Hokusai’s woodcut “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” Jordan’s art uses 2.4 million pieces of plastic which is equal to the number of pounds of plastic that enters the world’s oceans every hour. Yes, you read that right. It is estimated that 2.4 million pounds of plastic enter the oceans every hour.

Chris Jordan is an artist who creates works using everyday convenience items as a way to draw attention to the consumerism and unconscious behaviors in America that have devastating consequences. One of his most famous projects is the “Midway” project.

“Midway: Message from the Gyre” was created over a four-year span from 2009-2013. During this time, Jordan took photos of the rotting carcasses of baby albatross birds because their bellies are filled with plastic.

Midway Atoll island in the North Pacific is one of the most remote places on earth with no humans living there. However, wildlife living on and around the island are not protected from the throw-away culture of humans. Albatross birds mistake plastic in the ocean for food, and they bring it back to feed their young. This causes a painful death for albatross chicks.  

Plastic in the ocean kills one million sea birds and 100,000 fish, mammals and reptiles like sharks, whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles a year. Estimates of the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch range from the size of Texas to two times the size of the continental United States. There are garbage patches in every ocean, but the one in the Pacific is the largest. Plastic is found in nearly every single body of water across the world, including all five of the Great Lakes.

While we do not live close to an ocean, it is imperative that we refuse single-use plastic every single time. It is estimated that 22 million pounds of plastic enter the Great Lakes every year. The only solution to stop this is for us to make different choices.

We can do it! Make a commitment to never buy plastic water bottles, and bring your own. Use real plates and utensils; or if you can’t avoid using disposable, search for non-plastic and eco-friendly options. Bring your own bag to the grocery store. Refuse plastic straws. Together we can do it and each and every one of you will make a difference by altering your habits.  

As consumers of products using single-use plastic, we have all the power to stop our throw-away culture. All we have to do is quit purchasing those products.

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Volume 9, Issue 16, Posted 10:15 AM, 08.15.2017