News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Nick Mallos
Nick Mallos is a Conservation Biologist and Marine Debris Specialist at Ocean Conservancy. His travels take him around the world, showing him the final resting place of trash generated by our disposable culture. Nick is inspired by the ocean and by determined people around the globe working to protect our blue planet. He is also an avid surfer and works hard to catch a wave wherever his travels take him. Follow him on Twitter @NickMallos.
Midway Atoll is truly “out there.” The closet population center is Honolulu, 1,200 miles to the southeast and a five-hour trip by plane. But despite its remoteness, Midway is not immune to the impacts of plastic debris.
Midway’s central position in the North Pacific Gyre makes it a sink for debris, which results in immense, daily accumulations on the island’s sandy beaches. This collection of debris—almost entirely plastics—threatens the endangered monk seals and sea turtles that inhabit Midway’s beaches and forage in the atoll’s shallow waters. Plastics that threaten the 1.5 million Laysan albatross on Midway, however, arrive in a different manner.
Scientists, artists, educators, citizens—we all view the world through different lenses but we can agree on one thing: there is no place for plastics in our natural environment. This was the sentiment that brought together Team GYRE, a group of 14 experts from drastically different backgrounds—science, art, education, film—to research, educate and eliminate marine debris from the ocean.
Over the course of seven days, my teammates and I surveyed some of Alaska’s most remote beaches in an attempt to document the scale and scope of marine debris on the vast coastline. Alaska is unique in that the magnitude of debris on its isolated pocket beaches are is among the largest concentration of plastics and trash on this planet, yet adjacent to these artifacts of human consumerism, magnificent wildlife thrive both above and below the ocean’s surface.
The video above, produced by National Geographic, perfectly illustrates this contrast.
Trash travels. It’s a phrase that’s been uttered hundreds, maybe thousands of times to convey the pervasiveness of trash and plastics in our global ocean.
But now trash has infiltrated the lineup—that congregation of surfers floating just beyond the furthest break, each one jockeying to get the jump on the next wave. For me, the lineup has always been a place of simultaneous solitude, camaraderie and exhilaration. It is a firewall between tranquility and unrivaled adrenaline.
Indonesia—better known as “Indo” in the surfing world—is a mecca for surfers seeking some of the world’s most secluded yet infamous breaks. It’s an idyllic place. Placid turquoise seas erupt into mountains of water that break with tremendous power onto razor-sharp reefs just inches below the surface.
Surfers who triumphantly survive barreling tubes in this part of the world are almost surreal and have often earned the brave rider “Wave of the Year” honors.
During a recent trip to Bali, though, surfer and photographer, Zak Noyle, captured images of a new kind of barrel—one that may become as infamous as the waves themselves: waves of trash.
In this video that I shot during the trip, I explain what I saw on my journey, from marine debris that would dwarf a human to breaching humpbacks, fin whales, mothers and their calves. Yes, we have blemished these landscapes, but the incredible wildlife that still thrive there is all the more the reason to continue our work to keep trash out of our waterways and our ocean.
One of the most amazing experiences from my time with the GYRE Expedition occurred in Wonder Bay—a name that each locale in Alaska is rightly deserving of as the beauty and tranquility of the landscape here never ceases. Although Wonder Bay is aptly named, the debris problem here was much bigger than we expected considering its relatively small wrack line roughly 100 meters from the tide line, much higher than the other beaches we’ve surveyed.
My morning objective was to search for bottle caps along the wrack lines of each of the three pocket beaches lining Wonder Bay. I plucked 227 caps from the three beaches, some requiring far greater effort than others to collect.
A red bottle cap sticking out of a dense area of sedge grass quickly revealed another eight PET bottles, each with a colorful cap. With only a quick glance none of these items were visible, causing me to ponder how many other bottles and caps were hidden among the grasses or tucked into the various crevices among the rocks.
Motivating oneself to work on minimal sleep is not difficult after spending an hour watching humpback and fin whales surface-feed. Graced yet again with sunny skies and calm seas, we deployed Jubatus after fueling up on coffee and assembling our gear. We skimmed across the water’s glassy surface and landed on a small pocket beach at Perevalnie Point on Shuyak Island just after 9 a.m.
This is the second update from Ocean Conservancy Conservation Biologist and Marine Debris Specialist Nicholas Mallos, writing from the GYRE Expedition in Alaska. Read his first update here.
Surveying ocean trash in Alaska is not easy. Accessing pocket beaches poses serious risks as sea state, wind and extreme tidal flux make landing our 23-foot skiff, the Jubatus, extremely challenging. Our team cruised out of Tosina Bay’s placid waters and made for Gore Point six miles southwest. Once exiting the protected cove, 5-foot swell on the east side of Gore Point meant our approach would have to come from the west, where a lobtailing humpback and horned puffins welcomed us.
From a distance, Gore Point’s pocket beaches look just like any other beach, rocky with driftwood and kelp at the wrack line, the collection of seaweed and debris left by the last high tide. It’s not until you realize the driftwood is actually 50-foot fallen trees that the scale of the debris materializes; and even then it’s difficult to grasp. As we ferried to shore, what I thought was a small beached boat turned out to be a 100-foot fishing vessel, Ranger, whose cabin, wheelhouse and aft deck now lie stranded as three sections torn apart by Alaska’s elements. Looking at the massive steel hull was a humbling reminder of where we sit in the ocean hierarchy.