A Plastic Ocean

2016 / Craig Leeson / www.plasticoceans.org

A beached Bryde’s whale writhes in distress, then slowly grows still. It is death by plastic: The whale’s stomach is tightly packed with bags and other plastic debris that must have looked like prey.

This is just one of the distressing scenes in A Plastic Ocean, a compelling documentary by filmmaker Craig Leeson. Albatross chicks and other animals are shown dying or dead from plastic ingestion, or incapacitated by plastic wrapped tightly around their bodies. Necropsied stomachs are emptied and the contents put on display—dozens upon dozens of brightly colored bits of human society’s flotsam. According to the film, more than 250 oceanic species have ingested or become entangled in plastic; 92 percent of seabirds globally are estimated to have plastic in their bodies.

Every year, humans deliberately and accidently dump more than 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean. It doesn’t go away. Some of it coalesces into massive gyres. Some is eaten by animals. Much of it breaks apart into tiny fragments, forming a sort of plastic smog that permeates the food chain, embedding itself into the bodies of plankton, fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals and, eventually, humans.

Leeson and his team, which includes world record free-diver Tanya Streeter, traveled the world to shed light on the consequences (not just for ocean life but for human communities, as well) of a global culture awash in disposable plastic. The film also showcases workable technology and proven policy solutions that, if widely implemented, could help get us out of this synthetic stew we are in. Above all, A Plastic Ocean shows quite vividly why we can ill afford to continue burying our heads in the sand (which is littered with plastic pellets at one beach shown in the film), ignoring the problem.

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