What a strange and thought provoking coincidence it is, that the entire leisure marine industry has been transformed over the last 50 years…by plastic. And yet today, the wrong kind of plastic threatens the very environment that affords us the freedom and enjoyment of our boating and water sports.
Let us explain: In 1959 the very first plastic (polyester/GRP) boat was manufactured and sold in the USA by the late Connie Ray, the founder of the well known Sea Ray boat building company. This in turn led to the advent of high volume production yachts, and they soon became more affordable for people with average incomes. Through the 70’s and 80’s the number of new of boats entering the market grew exponentially, thus bringing the pastime of boating to the masses like never before!
In fact, today many of these boats have reached ‘end-of-use’ status, and are giving our industry a problem. Why? Well, simply because the composite material (plastic) used for moulding the hulls is virtually indestructible, and therefore very difficult and costly to recycle, or to dispose of.
But this problem, albeit a real and challenging one, pales into insignificance when compared to the modern day phenomena, which is now seriously affecting our seas and waterways; over 5 trillion pieces of discarded plastic are currently littering our oceans!
Every year approximately 8 million kilos of plastic ends up in the sea. That’s an average of 20.425 kilos a day. In nearly every river or ocean there is plastic, even in the places we normally think of as unimpaired, like the North Pole and deep sea. Every year millions of animals die from the affects of sea pollution (estimation UNEP, UN.) This includes everything from fishes to seabirds, and from turtles to dolphins and whales.
In 1997 the oceanographer Charles Moore was sailing in the Pacific when he discovered huge floating plastic islands. He called it “Plastic soup”.
What is being done to help stop this?
There are a lot of initiatives to clean up the ocean. In this article we will consider organisations that are working on making our oceans cleaner.
This was a trending topic in the Netherlands in 2014 when the 19-year-old Boyan Slat found a solution for cleaning the oceans. He started an active project where he now has over 50 people working. His project is called: The Ocean cleanup. The idea is that big floating booms will collect the plastic, whilst allowing sea life to pass underneath the barrier with the current.
A central collection point then extracts and buffers the debris, before it being shipped to land. By recycling the debris and selling the semi-finished product directly to B2C companies, Boyan Slat’s aim is to eventually make the operation self-sustainable.
Not everyone believes that this could work. Some experts say that the booms would not be able to cope with waves of over 10 meters and higher, and thus would not be useful for the deep sea application. You can read more about it here. (Dutch)
Except for the oceans we also have a very popular initiative taking place in the Dutch canals; you can go plastic fishing! It started in Amsterdam but it’s already spread to other cities and abroad. The plastic that is caught during the ‘fishing trips’ is made into a recycled material from which new boats are made. And so the company grows. It’s called: Plastic Whale.
But it’s not only in the Netherlands where this is a trending topic. Two Australians based in the Mediterranean have also been working on a interesting project: Seabin Project. This is a bin for marinas, which automatically collects plastic.
And, America doesn’t stay behind; Protei is working on a nautical drone which can capture oil in the ocean. This video gives you an explanation; a remote control boat with a flexible tail which collects the oil.
It’s good to know that there are so many initiatives for a cleaner ocean. But what happens with all the plastic we collect from the sea? There are also ideas for that. Norton Point for example, their mission is to create a value chain for the reuse of ocean plastic, by selling fashionable, high-quality eyewear and Ecover developed recycled ocean plastic dish soap bottles. Do you know any other initiatives? We would like to hear about them.
Did we solve the problem with this? No.
The biggest problem is, that there’s still a lot of unnecessary plastic in circulation, and far too much of it ends up in the oceans, canals and rivers of the world. If we continue like this, by 2025 there will be more plastic in the sea, than fish!
We must educate ourselves to handle plastic differently. Several foundations exist to help us with this. Here are some examples of some that can help:
- Surfrider Foundation- Oceana- 5 Gyres- Blue Marine Foundation
These foundations will help you to change your use of plastic, or you can donate so they can work on a cleaner environment.
We enjoy our oceans and water sports facilities, so we should be careful with them. Not only ourselves, but future generations should be able to enjoy them for a long time!
Events:In Holland on May 16th we are organising a film night about the plastic soup problem. You can register at Eventrbrite. You also might want to help fishing plastic in the dutch canals after Kingsday. Click for more information, here. Why not join us to enjoy a good movie and meet people from the community.
Peter Franklin Thank you for helping us out. Hereby the result! What do you think?
This is an excellent 'eye opener' Eva. Back in 2009, I was made highly aware of this problem. I was in a boat about two miles offshore from the coast of Mallorca, when I suddenly came across a huge floating island of plastic waste, and realised that it had drifted out from one of the tourist beaches. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was enjoying the sailing and the ocean air, but the sight of this carelessness by the human race, so obviously polluting the sea left a big impression on me.
After that I started to look into the subject more on the Internet and soon realised the vast scale of the problem. In particular a lecture delivered by the ocean researcher Sylvia Earle, really made me more aware than ever of the importance of preserving our oceans, because without them being healthy the whole world will become sick!
I very much appreciate that we bring this topic to "the surface" but are we not mixing 2 problems, one is the need to find ways to handle old boats that are no longer used and the other problem of mainly "consumer plastics" that is not properly taken care of and ends up in the ocean?
I totally agree Per Hokfelt ! Recycling is another challenge we're facing. We will handle this topic as well later on. Stay in touch!
Hello Per, thanks for your comments to the Plastic Soup article. I cooperated with Eva on producing it, and it was not our intention to mix the two problems. Actually we wanted to create a 'heads up' message pointing out that plastic has revolutionised our industry in one way, but is now threatening our ocean environment in another, albeit consumer driven, and predominantly from land usage which ends up in the sea.
As Eva points out we are very much continuing the focus on how our industry deals with End-of-Life boats in the future, having got the subject well and truly onto the agenda at the last two METSTRADE shows. The last of which you attended and gave some valuable insights into the use of composite construction materials and their impact on LCA. We'll look forward to more of your comments in future, thanks again.
Hi Peter, thank you for your piece on plastics pollution. We are excited to be looking at possible solutions for dealing with plastics on remote islands, like Ascension where we are already working.
Thanks Sara-Jane Skinner for your comments. For those Community members who don't know Sara-Jane, she works for BLUE Marine Foundation, who are mentioned in the above article.
They are doing sterling work in their stated aim to protect 10% of the worlds oceans with marine reserves by 2020. SJ herself cycled with others from London to Monaco, arriving just in time for the Yacht Show last September, managing to raise valuable funds in the process towards implementation of their projects. She is bravely and enthusiastically already planning to do it again this year.
Another example: With the support of among others, Sir Ben Ainslie's America's Cup team, BLUE are actively delivering on a project to regenerate vital oyster beds in the Solent on the South Coast of Britain. More details here: