By Calley O’Neill
The WAIMEA OCEAN FILM FESTIVAL on the Big Island of Hawai’I was founded and directed by Tania Howard three years ago, and has become an important staple in my ongoing ecological and ocean education. Here’s their mission: Our mission is to inspire, engage and educate our audience by creating a dynamic and exciting film festival event that brings a greater understanding of the ocean environment and island culture, that celebrates the ocean landscape and lifestyle, and that builds awareness that everything we do on land affects the sea.
During the annual January film festival, I was compelled to see GASLAND II, HOT WATER and especially PLASTIC PARADISE: THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH by Angela Sun. Please see these movies, and if possible, share them with your friends and family.
I had a lot of questions about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and wondered what was really going on. So did surfer, filmmaker Angela Sun. The film takes us on a compelling journey to find out the truth about plastic pollution, the ocean’s health and how plastic pollution is affecting ocean wildlife.
Plastic Paradise is, for the most part, really interesting to watch and understand, even if it really disturbed me. It disturbed me because every bit of plastic ever created still exists in the biosphere. Every bit. It really doesn’t go away, and in any case, there is no away for this “perfect” persistent material that degrades into smaller and ever smaller particles, but doesn’t go away.
And the bad news is that the small insidious particles are tremendously difficult (currently impossible) to remove from the sea and do more damage to ocean life than the big flotsam and jetsam. Nets are another story altogether. They are much bigger than I ever realized and, made of tough nylon; they persist and roll like giant tumbleweeds in the ocean, breaking off living corals and killing literally millions of animals as they drift.
Sun’s nutshell history of plastic is fascinating, and there’s lots of information on the vortex of plastic soup in the middle of the sea known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of five ocean gyres, where the ocean swirls and gathers plastics. The main culprit? ONE USE PLASTICS, primarily plastic food and water containers and bags.
Many say this problem needs to be solved at the consumer level. If we don’t buy them, they won’t make them, yet, the truth is, to be practical, this problem needs to be solved at the front end with a very swift transition on both sides of the coin. We no longer buy the plastics. Glass and metal can really be recycled. Plastic can only be downcycled to a less valuable pellet form, with more limited usage.
The footage of Sun’s visit to tiny Midway Atoll, half way between the west coast of the US and Asia, at the northwestern tip of the Hawaiian Archipelago in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, is riveting. To see thousands and thousands of peaceful sea birds, particularly Laysan Albatross, nesting around millions of huge plastic nets, computer bits, toys, toothbrushes, and bottles is disturbing. Yet, to see this is empowering and inspiring and motivating. We can and do make a difference with each product we buy. This we know.
One-use plastics? This has to stop and the businesses need to know that people care. If they want to produce food, it has got to transition to biodegradable cartons without plastic linings. We put a man on the moon. We photograph Mars. We are creating solar wing jets. Your computer fits in the palm of your hand. This can be done.
Let’s work together to drive demand for the return of enterprises like soda fountains, local soda production (Hawaii apparently had many soda companies); local dairies that make delicious yogurt and kefir, that otherwise always come in one-use plastics. It’s a great part of a great vision and as we hold fast to our collective dream. “The great work” will happen.