04 January 2011

The hunt for plastic: Part 1

Simon MAX Bannister
Simon is at sea on the Sea Dragon

Simon MAX Bannister is the producer of Plastikos, a unique exhibition that aims to raise awareness about waste – particularly plastic and micro plastic – and its impact on the oceans, all through art. While Plastikos is showing at the Aquarium at the moment, the creator is at sea on the Sea Dragon with the 5 Gyres’ research crew. Their mission? To delve deeper into the frightening world of plastic pollution, and how it is affecting our oceans. Simon is blogging from the boat …

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As we head out to sea among the thrashing waves of a tailing southeaster, I am overcome with excitement for the expedition ahead. My life’s pathway has led me to this point, where I am truly sailing into the unknown. I have volunteered my hand as crew for the next 35 days aboard the Sea Dragon: A sturdy, 72-foot sailing boat that will be my new home for the journey to come.

A trans-Atlantic voyage is underway, departing from Cape Town up the Skeleton Coast to Walvis Bay, Namibia, then onward to St Helena, one of the most remote landmasses in the world. The Sea Dragon will then continue sailing southwest, intercepting the South Atlantic Gyre en route to Montevideo, Uruguay.

It is here that monsters be; silent, drifting killers of man-made toxic compounds. “Plastiko-logical” life forms pulled together in a massive accumulation zone.

A sea sample retrieved by the 5 Gyres team. Photo courtesy 5 Gyres Institute

As far as we know, this is the final resting place for countless microscopic pieces of plastic debris. Our litter is taken by the currents and winds to this vast wasteland. I wish to find and collect some of these “creatures” and bring them back to help me tell my story of environmental awareness and art.

We wish to find many answers on this research journey to this distant place. The 5 Gyres Institute has co-ordinated this project, continuing the tradition of marine conservation, gathering data on ocean water quality and conducting periodic tests for marine plastics.

Some of the questions are: What is the spatial and temporal distribution of plastic across the world’s oceans? What impact does plastic, and its chemicals, have on marine life and ultimately on humans? What is the fate of micro-plastic particles? And the big one: What do we do about it?

This journey has been made possible by the exhibition of Plastikos at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Over four months I collected discarded plastic from the shorelines and roadsides of South Africa. Digging deeper into the urban legend of this colossal floating island in the high seas, I have integrated science and art to try and communicate the paradoxical crisis plastic presents us with.

The paradox: We need this material to maintain our modern lifestyle as it meets our desires, and yet when abandoned it becomes a menace to the ecosystems that support us.

Simon at one of his Plastikos pieces

On display until the end of April 2011, exhibition items blend into the Aquarium space to give the visitor a glance into the world of Plastikos.

Partly funded by the Aquarium itself, PETCO, Peninsula Plastics and SA Plastics magazine, I am very grateful to join this journey to the gyre in search of the truth behind the myth. I wish to bring back new knowledge of this mysterious place and the things I may find there.

We are cruising at 10 knots, 158 miles away from Walvis Bay. Our estimated time of arrival is 15h00 on Tuesday.

The hunt for plastic is continues …

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