Where Ocean Meets Mankind; The Ocean and Human’s Plastic Epidemic

by Annika Goldman, student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

I have three simple diving joys.  Beyond healthy corals, manta ray spottings, and perfect visibility…  these things that make 18 meters below the surface my happy place. 

1. The silence which is meditative with the rhythm of my inhales and exhales.

I’ve preached to people before that scuba diving is therapeutic.  It grounds you, it lifts you, and although you’re far from the surface with limited air – you feel free to breathe.  Silence.  Inhale.  Exhale. The pure focus on that rhythm centers me and allows me to forget all of the pressures of the outside world.  The ocean protects me – no noise, no commotion, no demands. Nothing happening on land matters for that hour.  It’s just you, the fish, and the humbling immensity of the ocean.

2. Safety stop shenanigans.

I dive with people I love.  My family, my friends, and instructors who have become the strongest of role models for me.  Although dives are typically very personal, the safety stop tends to be a time for “shenanigans” as we wait a few minutes at around 5 meters to clear our bloodstreams of nitrogen. Hand games, silly faces, playful pushes on each other’s purge buttons, and drawing on white boards have often kept me occupied during the Tstop.

3. Enjoying how sunshine gleams on water from below the ocean’s surface.

I won’t lie to you, this is what made 10-year-old me fall in love with scuba diving.  No, not the turtles or sharks or even the back roll entries. Looking at the surface.  Yup. That’s what got me hooked. Above the surface, I can watch the waves for hours as well, but staring at the surface from below, I see it so differently. I can take in how the sun illuminates each crash and each swell.  It’s more of a silvery tone rather than the blue you see when you are looking at the ocean from above.  It shimmers, it glistens and dances above my head and sometimes, I just can’t take my eyes off the surface.

This past April, I earned my dive master certification at Blue Season Bali in Indonesia.  I spent every day diving and every night dreaming about diving.  While my simple joys 1 and 2 grew and made me fall deeper in love with the ocean, 3 broke my heart. 

When I looked up, I did not get to take in the beauty of where water meets sunshine, but rather I saw where ocean meets mankind.  Heaps of plastic and all sorts of trash floated on the surface, waiting to be broken down into micro plastics and ingested by fish. 

The plastic epidemic had been out of sight, out of mind in my life for a while and still is for most Americans.  I’ve always been aware of how detrimental single use plastics are to the ocean, but I guess part of me thought the photos and documentaries only captured rare extremes.  However, it was the days where my BCD pockets became stuffed with trash after a dive that I began to realize our oceans are truly becoming one large garbage bin.  It was the days where my dive group would have to avoid ascending into a layer of straws, bottles, and grocery bags that started making me emotional, panicked even.

So now I stare at the plastic water bottles that line USC’s bookstore and feel nauseous when restaurants at the village hand me my meal in plastic.  All I can think about is whose dive will this plastic hover above?  What fish will eat it?  What beach will it wash up onto? The truth is we can take individual steps such as carrying around a metal straw or refusing to buy single use plastics, but at a certain point, it’s almost unavoidable.  We need to demand that large corporations stop their plastic packaging and find alternatives and we need to support cleanups and important initiatives like the Ocean Cleanup.

The Ocean Cleanup was founded by Boyan Slat when he was eighteen years old in 2013. Slat and a team of other ambitious researchers and scientists who have been dedicated to taking on the giant garbage patch have attracted a lot of support from major funders.  Although it took many years of testing and modifying a design that would be able to quickly and efficiently remove trash from the ocean, it was recently reported that they have been successful! Their system is powered by the ocean and acts like a safety net that drags along the surface collecting waste. They predict that their systems will be able to remove 50% of plastic within 5 years. 

While there are plenty of other organizations and companies doing amazing work for the ocean such as 4Ocean and Project Aware, The Ocean Cleanup has been the one that makes me most hopeful.

With efforts like Ocean Cleanup, I am hopeful that someday my 10 year old child and I will always be able to look up from the ocean floor and admire the beautiful rays of sunshine streaming through a clear and powerful ocean.

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