Our Great Big Plastic Ocean
Being a sailor and a scuba diver, I have been really exposed to both the brightest and darkest sides of the sea, plastic being the darkest of them all. Because we don't get much tidal movement through the year in Hong Kong, a lot of rubbish is left floating around, the main pieces being plastic and Styrofoam. A lot of this plastic ends up coming from nearby beaches and Junk boats that anchor in the bay, often packed with people enjoying the warm water or party-goers who are unaware of their rubbish disposal. On top of this you also have leakage from landfills and rubbish simply being blown into the sea straight from bins and the streets. Because there is a lack of understanding on our rubbish and the plastic crisis in general, people are ignorant to the great affect it is having on our oceans.
"Up to 2,000 tonnes of plastic is discarded in the city every day" - SCMP
After watching so many documentaries and small clips that circulate the internet, I understand even more the consequences of what happens when we aren't mindful of the rubbish that we use and produce. It's sad to see the impact that this has on marine wildlife, not only on fish but further down the food chain as well. We don't know how many years it takes for plastic to degrade, or whether this is even possible as it has only been around for a hundred years. However, the basic idea is that larger plastics breakdown into micro-plastics, which is the heart of the problem when it comes to the ocean. Large plastics are easy to spot and therefore the solution is easier, but micro-plastics have become an unnoticeable killer to our oceans. Their size makes it easier for fish and other marine wildlife to confuse it with their food, as well as not to notice it at all. Not only is it a threat to the living wildlife, but the chemicals that leech from these plastics are also coming into our world and system. Ultimately, we are at the top of the food chain, and are therefore eating these fish. If plastic chemicals and plastic in general are present in their systems, which they are, then guess what? They are also in ours. I recently watched a World Sailing Sustainability conference where one of the researchers decided to test her own blood to see the extent of plastic poisoning in her body. She found that out of 35 chemicals found in plastic, 29 were present in her blood, and she isn't an anomalous. As scary as it is, we all have plastic chemicals present in our body, and at this point there is no ridding of it, what we want to do is stop it getting there in the first place.
I've been sailing with the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club for 5 years now, and over the past 11 months our interest in sustainability has also made me aware of what the yacht club does to benefit the environment. So what have they done and what have I done to help protect the environment as a sailor? For about a year now the club has decided to "ban" single use plastic, meaning they don't give plastic bags for takeaways and they stopped selling plastic water bottles, although if you do order something takeaway they still give it to you in a plastic container (I will see what I can do to get them to find alternatives). I wouldn't know based off facts, but I can imagine that this has created a huge reduction in the plastic waste they create. Every weekend they are conducting races and I would say that on average one person would drink 2 one litre bottles of water or 5-10 300ml bottles of water, if you add that all up between 100-200 sailors each weekend, the plastic waste stacks up pretty fast (you can do the maths). Since they decided to stop selling single use water bottles I have noticed a lot of sailors bringing their own bottles to refill at the new filtered water stations. On the boat that I have just started sailing with they buy a few large 5-litre bottles of water to fill up our own reusable water bottles. Though they are still using plastic, I take this as a step toward change. Another boat that I recently sailed on for a competition in china however didn't do so well. They brought about 100 bottles of water simply to be quickly consumed and thrown away straight after, leaving me pretty devastated at all the plastic waste we were producing just because it was considered slightly 'inconvenient' to bring reusable water bottles.
"An estimated of 5.2 million plastic bottles were dumped in Hong Kong everyday" - green earth
As a sailing instructor, I try to do a few things to help the environment whilst on the job; When I am not moving around a lot in my safety boat I switch off the engine, if there is any rubbish in the sea that I can pickup and throw in the bin later I do so, and the most important is that I try to educate my students on plastic waste. The students pick up on these small things I do, and in questioning it learn and become passionate themselves about helping our planet. I've had students who pick up rubbish on their own without asking me, and even those who energetically do small beach clean ups during our ending visits to beaches. Teaching children from a young age the small ways they can benefit the environment, and instilling in them a passion for change, will be the way that we will need to move forward as a society to stop the destruction of our world.
"20,000 plastic bottled drinks are being bought globally every second of which only fewer than 7 percent would be recycled and turned into new bottles"
I am on the water at least 3-5 times a week, and I can't appreciate and love both my sport and the ocean without acknowledging the immense amount of waste that is present. I am extremely excited to see sailing as a sport moving towards becoming more sustainable. I try as much as I can, but I am one person and my decisions aren't going to change the world. Share and spread the message of low waste living, especially to those who claim to love the sea but don't accept that it is in our hands to save our planet and the beautiful nature surrounding us. If more people support the small changes that larger institutions such as the yacht club make to lower their waste, then we can slowly help the world around us.