Plastic pollution exposed during 5 Gyres pit stop

by Daniel Bowden
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Researchers with the 5 Gyres Last Straw Plastic Pollution Bike Tour stopped off in Wilmington on Nov. 1 to educate the public about the growing problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

Bonnie Monteleone, graduate student at University of North Carolina Wilmington and blogger for Plastic Ocean said, “We take petroleum, which is a finite resource, and turn it into something that can take thousands of years to decompose. It’s not sustainable and it’s doing damage.”

Wilmington was stop number 14 on the 1,400-mile bike tour. The tour began on Oct. 3 in Boston, Mass., and will end in Charleston, S.C. 

Its stop in Wilmington included a jam session in the UNCW amphitheater with local artist Jason Andre, a creek and bike trail cleanup that began at Tidal Creek Co-Op, and an educational presentation about its journeys and the problem of plastic pollution, which was also held at UNCW.

“We travel and share our experiences in the hopes that it will inspire people to make a difference in their communities,” said Carolynn Box, one of the five researchers who stopped in Wilmington.

The name 5 Gyres refers to vortexes that exist in all five of the world’s oceans. These gyres are created where opposing trade winds meet, and can trap pollution in large pockets. 5 Gyres deals specifically with plastic pollution in and around these gyres, and has undertaken nine oceanic voyages and one in the Great Lakes to study the extent to which it is a problem.

“Many people know about the Great Pacific Garbage Ring,” Monteleone said, “but there are now smaller ones in all five of the world’s oceans.”

The most recent oceanic voyage undertaken by 5 Gyres sailed the Sea Dragon, its 72-foot racing sailboat turned research vessel, from Bermuda to the Azores and across the Sargasso Sea. The Sargasso Sea is located in the heart of the North Atlantic Gyre, and accumulates large clumps of Sargassum weed. The clumps are important feeding and breeding grounds for a variety of aquatic species. The voyage taken through the North Atlantic showed these clumps were also trapping large amounts of plastic, which has been a detriment to area marine life. 

5 Gyres believes that choices made by individuals can help fix the problem. 

“Personal choices can go a long way,” Box said. “Use a reusable water bottle and coffee mug.Bring reusable bags to the grocery store. If you want to take it a step further, carry your own silverware with you.”

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