Messages in (plastic) bottles

Messages in (plastic) bottles LIFE LINES LIFE LINES LIFE LINES stole a few days’ free time a while back to go snorkeling in raise awareness about ecological issues – the deep blue of the Mediterranean. I am always surprised the Plastiki project was conceived when to be reminded that the sea speaks to those who go below he read the 2006 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) her surface – a gentle tinkling sound made by the activity of report Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High marine life and shifting sand. I dove down to watch a shoal Seas. That report included a discussion on the impact of of gold-lined saupes (Sarpa salpa) dine on a patch of seagrass. society’s waste being dumped into the oceans, but it was the It was an idyllic moment of flashing color in the warm, azure plastic that particularly bothered him. And the problem is ocean – until a white plastic bag floated into the scene. It big. The 2009 UNEP report Marine Litter: A Global may have only been one bag, but we all know by now that Challenge highlights plastic as one of the major pollutants of the seas are home to millions of them. our oceans. Indeed, some sources estimate that it makes up Environmental campaigners send 60–80% of all marine pollution – in out constant reminders that the some places, plankton is outweighed world’s oceans are being trashed, that sixfold by minute plastic particles. the rainforests and other habitats are And who has not heard of the Great being lost or degraded, that too many Pacific Garbage Patch (or of its regreenhouse gases are being emitted. cently discovered Atlantic counterBut looking around, one has to wonder part), where the gyre currents swirl whether these messages are getting floating plastic detritus into a plot bigthrough. Or could it be that we are ger than Texas? A million sea birds sending the wrong type? “Well-meanand 100 000 marine mammals may die ing messages that simply highlight a every year from entanglement in, or by problem may actually do little to help consuming, our dumped plastic, and fix it – they could even make things who knows what is happening farther worse”, says Robert Cialdini, Professor down the food chain. of Psychology and Marketing at National and international media Arizona State University (Tempe, reported on the Plastiki’s voyage, AZ). “Pointing out, say, that walkers and you could track the position of are throwing trash on the ground sugthe boat via the expedition’s interacgests a behavioral norm – that people tive website (www.theplastiki.com), are doing it. Research shows that this where the vessel’s construction was kind of communication may actually explained and the crewmembers encourage people to join in this introduced. You could even pledge unwanted behavior – the perceived not to use plastic bags, plastic bottles, norm – rather than avoid it. Messages or styrene foam cups. Expedition that suggest another norm, such as status was updated on Twitter and ‘Most walkers on this trail prefer to Plastics pollute the world’s oceans and harm Facebook, and UNEP offered its contake their trash home’, have been marine life. gratulations as the boat sailed trifound to be far more likely to induce a umphantly into Sydney Harbor on 26 desired behavior. This is something many ecological cam- July, some 8000 nautical miles later. paigners have still to learn.” The Plastiki certainly raised my awareness of the effects Campaigners do know, however, that securing an audi- of plastic in the ocean, but a question lingered: what was ence is important. And one way of competing in the clamor the behavior-changing message I could replay over and again in for eco-attention is to be bigger, bolder, and more engaging my head? Perhaps the single thing missing from this project than the rest, and the Plastiki adventure was one of the was an immediately understandable take-home message biggest, boldest, and most engaging of recent years. that, rather than emphasizing the problems of plastic, The Plastiki was a boat made from some 12 500 plastic invited people to behave differently the next time they had soda bottles and other recycled or recyclable materials. On some in their hands. This could have been something, as 20 March 2010, it set sail from San Francisco – its destina- Cialdini suggests, that would have set a behavioral stantion Sydney, Australia, its aim to show that waste is a dard to be followed – something like: “Most people think “design flaw” and that it can be a usable resource. The goal plastic should be recycled – or refused”. A starving, bewilwas also to alert people to the effects of plastic on the dered, plastic-entwined gannet I recently freed would health of the oceans. The brainchild of adventurer David probably have gone along with that. Adrian Burton de Rothschild – who previously journeyed to both Poles to Photo: K Connors. Montage: J Burton www.frontiersinecology.org © The Ecological Society of America http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Ecological Society of America

Messages in (plastic) bottles

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Publisher
Ecological Society of America
Copyright
Copyright © 2010 by the Ecological Society of America
Subject
Life Lines
ISSN
1540-9295
eISSN
1540-9309
DOI
10.1890/1540-9295-8.9.504
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

LIFE LINES LIFE LINES LIFE LINES stole a few days’ free time a while back to go snorkeling in raise awareness about ecological issues – the deep blue of the Mediterranean. I am always surprised the Plastiki project was conceived when to be reminded that the sea speaks to those who go below he read the 2006 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) her surface – a gentle tinkling sound made by the activity of report Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High marine life and shifting sand. I dove down to watch a shoal Seas. That report included a discussion on the impact of of gold-lined saupes (Sarpa salpa) dine on a patch of seagrass. society’s waste being dumped into the oceans, but it was the It was an idyllic moment of flashing color in the warm, azure plastic that particularly bothered him. And the problem is ocean – until a white plastic bag floated into the scene. It big. The 2009 UNEP report Marine Litter: A Global may have only been one bag, but we all know by now that Challenge highlights plastic as one of the major pollutants of the seas are home to millions of them. our oceans. Indeed, some sources estimate that it makes up Environmental campaigners send 60–80% of all marine pollution – in out constant reminders that the some places, plankton is outweighed world’s oceans are being trashed, that sixfold by minute plastic particles. the rainforests and other habitats are And who has not heard of the Great being lost or degraded, that too many Pacific Garbage Patch (or of its regreenhouse gases are being emitted. cently discovered Atlantic counterBut looking around, one has to wonder part), where the gyre currents swirl whether these messages are getting floating plastic detritus into a plot bigthrough. Or could it be that we are ger than Texas? A million sea birds sending the wrong type? “Well-meanand 100 000 marine mammals may die ing messages that simply highlight a every year from entanglement in, or by problem may actually do little to help consuming, our dumped plastic, and fix it – they could even make things who knows what is happening farther worse”, says Robert Cialdini, Professor down the food chain. of Psychology and Marketing at National and international media Arizona State University (Tempe, reported on the Plastiki’s voyage, AZ). “Pointing out, say, that walkers and you could track the position of are throwing trash on the ground sugthe boat via the expedition’s interacgests a behavioral norm – that people tive website (www.theplastiki.com), are doing it. Research shows that this where the vessel’s construction was kind of communication may actually explained and the crewmembers encourage people to join in this introduced. You could even pledge unwanted behavior – the perceived not to use plastic bags, plastic bottles, norm – rather than avoid it. Messages or styrene foam cups. Expedition that suggest another norm, such as status was updated on Twitter and ‘Most walkers on this trail prefer to Plastics pollute the world’s oceans and harm Facebook, and UNEP offered its contake their trash home’, have been marine life. gratulations as the boat sailed trifound to be far more likely to induce a umphantly into Sydney Harbor on 26 desired behavior. This is something many ecological cam- July, some 8000 nautical miles later. paigners have still to learn.” The Plastiki certainly raised my awareness of the effects Campaigners do know, however, that securing an audi- of plastic in the ocean, but a question lingered: what was ence is important. And one way of competing in the clamor the behavior-changing message I could replay over and again in for eco-attention is to be bigger, bolder, and more engaging my head? Perhaps the single thing missing from this project than the rest, and the Plastiki adventure was one of the was an immediately understandable take-home message biggest, boldest, and most engaging of recent years. that, rather than emphasizing the problems of plastic, The Plastiki was a boat made from some 12 500 plastic invited people to behave differently the next time they had soda bottles and other recycled or recyclable materials. On some in their hands. This could have been something, as 20 March 2010, it set sail from San Francisco – its destina- Cialdini suggests, that would have set a behavioral stantion Sydney, Australia, its aim to show that waste is a dard to be followed – something like: “Most people think “design flaw” and that it can be a usable resource. The goal plastic should be recycled – or refused”. A starving, bewilwas also to alert people to the effects of plastic on the dered, plastic-entwined gannet I recently freed would health of the oceans. The brainchild of adventurer David probably have gone along with that. Adrian Burton de Rothschild – who previously journeyed to both Poles to Photo: K Connors. Montage: J Burton www.frontiersinecology.org © The Ecological Society of America

Journal

Frontiers in Ecology and the EnvironmentEcological Society of America

Published: Nov 1, 2010

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