Plastic pollution

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What is the issue

Everything runs downhill to the ocean. Any plastic not properly disposed of is likely to end up in a drain or river, and eventually reach the coast. Plastic debris washes out to sea and often ends up travelling thousands of kilometres on ocean currents and may eventually accumulate in the five large systems of circulating ocean currents, known as ‘gyres’. The most up to date research suggests more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes, are floating in the world’s oceans.

About a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from getting tangled up in, and/or eating plastic. These include albatross, whales and seals.

Once floating in the ocean, UV light causes plastic to photodegrade, breaking it down into smaller pieces – microplastics. Most of the plastic in the oceans are microplastics measuring less than 5mm.These microplastics get mistaken for food, so fish and other animals end up eating it.

The chemicals present at sea that are absorbed by plastics and, when ingested by animals, those adhered toxics have the potential to bio-magnify up the food chain all the way to humans.

What can sailors do to help?

Track the Plastic: The Marine Debris Tracker

eXXpedition used the Marine Debris Tracker to log all the marine debris they found across the Atlantic on SEA DRAGON (Atlantic Odyssey 2014) – Photo: eXXpedition


Jenna Jambeck on SEA DRAGON shows Marine Debris Tracker to Alec, 13, on POR DOS

The Marine Debris tracker app was designed by Jenna Jambeck, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Georgia in partnership with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Jenna was part of the all women crew that took part in the eXXpedition project during the Atlantic Odyssey 2014, onboard Sea Dragon.

The Marine Debris tracker is free to download for most Apple and Android platforms. It just takes a few seconds to easily report where you find marine debris or litter anywhere in the world. If you are not within internet range you can store your data and send later at your convenience.

You can view the data collected on the website:

Take Part In An Ocean Trawl

Emily Penn and Nera Cornell trawl for plastic in the Arctic

Emily Penn carried out ocean trawls to check for microplastics on behalf of the 5 Gyres Institute during the Blue Planet Odyssey route through the North West Passage in the summer of 2014, and again during the Atlantic Odyssey in November 2014:

For more information on the 5 GyresTravel Trawl program and how sailors can get involved:

The 5 Gyres Institute has led the way with research revealing the extent of the plastic accumulating in the ocean gyres. Check out their informative website at

Read an interview on microplastics with one of the Sea Dragon crew, biologist  Diana Papoulias, an expert on effect of environmental pollutants on fish:

Join a Beach Clean Up

The crew of Sea Dragon and Om joined a local beach clean-up on Famara beach in Lanzarote before the departure of the 2014 Atlantic Odyssey in the Canary Islands.

Quote from Anita, 15, on the Our Ocean blog:

“Before leaving Lanzarote, we went on a beach clean up with the Sea Dragon team, which was such a great experience. I’m so, so glad we went, it was there, on the beach that I saw for the first time the tiny colored pieces of plastic floating in little pools on the beach. Washed up by the sea. I’d never seen that before, and it came as a sudden shock, the realization of what the planet is becoming. I don’t want my children to grow up going to the beach, finding plastic, and swimming in it.”

There are many world-wide organisations campaigning to clean up the ocean and our beaches, check out these websites to see if there is a clean-up going on near you:

Watch this

  • Sir David Attenborough talks about plastic and tells us the hard truths about its use and the cost to the environment:
  • Emily Penn interview about microplastics:

Find Out More

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program

Learn more about plastic and its impact, plus actions being taken in the US and internationally:

Read the latest research

…on the extent of plastic in the ocean, published in December 2014:
Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

Educational Resources

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