Tomorrow is World Oceans Day, and all across the world people will be showing their love for the blue bits of the planet in various ways.

Having spent over 520 days at sea, I probably know the blue bits better than most. I have been in a unique position to observe the visible impact that humans have had on the ocean. On a beautiful calm day, with sunlight glinting off the waves, it is heartbreaking to see a plastic bottle floating on the water. Mankind’s impact is felt everywhere. When I have been alone for a long time at sea – sometimes over a hundred days without seeing another human – this evidence of our carelessness is especially jarring. Even thousands of miles from land, the ocean wilderness is no longer pristine.

Don't let your plastic bag end up as a dolphin's dinner

In 2008 I rowed past the North Pacific Garbage Patch, an area twice the size of Texas containing an estimated 3.5 million tons of trash, most of it plastic. Plastic outweighs plankton by a ratio of 6:1. There are times when I felt ashamed to be a human being, and apologized to the small community of fish that congregated beneath my boat for the mess we have made of their home.

And it doesn’t impact just the fish. Oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth, and are an integral part of our weather systems, climate control, and food supply. As plastic photodegrades, breaking into smaller pieces but never truly vanishing, it is eaten by fish and other sea creatures. Plastic is not an inert substance – toxins leach out into the flesh of the fishes’ bodies, and works its way up the food chain until it ends up on our dinner plate. We will reap what we sow. We cannot have a healthy planet – or healthy bodies – if we don’t have healthy oceans.

What can we do?

  • If something is described as both “plastic” and “disposable”, have nothing to do with it. Plastic bags, plastic silverware, plastic or styrofoam cups, plastic water bottles – you can find biodegradable or reusable substitutes for all of these things at minimum cost and inconvenience.  Everywhere I go I carry my metal water bottle and coffee mug, and my tiny chico bag. You can, too.
  • Refuse, repurpose, reduce, re-use, recycle, but of these the greatest is refuse. Just say NO to plastic.
  • Consume less. Most consumer goods come wrapped in plastic packaging. The sad irony of ocean plastic pollution is that much of it is not even anything that we use, but merely the packaging that comes with it. If you really want to make the point, return the packaging to the store and ask them to dispose of it. The word will soon make its way up to management.
    British TV presenter Ben Fogle swims through plastic rubbish in the Indian Ocean
  • Pick it up. If you’re out for a walk and see plastic trash lying on the ground, do something about it. Don’t just turn a blind eye. If left there, it can blow into storm drains, then into rivers, then into the ocean to kill wildlife and contaminate the environment.
  • Share the news. Ask friends and family to switch one of their disposable plastic habits for a sustainable, ocean-friendly one: such as bringing reusable food containers from home when eating out for your ‘doggie bag.’ Go to the official World Oceans Day website and register your pledge. We have a lot of work to do, but the longest journey starts with a single step – or oarstroke.
  • Organise a screening of a film, like Bag It, or Plastic Shores, for your friends, family and neighbours. Films are a great way to spread the word. And if you serve up popcorn, make sure that it doesn’t come in a plastic bag!

[Featured image courtesy of Plastic Oceans Foundation]


  • Thank you, Roz. Your first hand experiences have brought this problem “up close and personal” especially as you were attempting to get your oars in the water to avert collision with the island in the Solomon Straits … and going back a couple weeks before that …

    Can’t wait to see how your “encore career” unfolds ;-D

  • Facebook links to some of the organizations that Roz supports and encourages. All available freely on the internet by respective websites or the Facebook links below:

    Row Roz Row!

    Plastic Pollution Coalition:  

    5 Gyres  

    Surfrider National Geographic 

    Rise above plastics: Mission Blue: Sea Shepherd 

     ttps:// Two Hands Project Oceana 

    Save our Oceans  

  • Thanks for this one, Roz. As a fellow ocean-goer, I know exactly what you mean about the heartache of being in the midst of gorgeous nowhere and encountering garbage drifting about – seems like every day that I’m fishing plastic grocery bags out of the harbor. I’ll share this one; thanks for your on-going advocacy!

  •  Great stuff Roz, Thanks.  I do clean up rubbish wherever I go.  The mountains, the river, the beach, the crags.  There always seems to be more but I ain’t stoppin’ ’till it’s done.  Glad to hear Sara Outen is ok.       Cheers,    Steve

  • This quote came to me today and made me think of you.

    Be the change you want to see in the world~

    Walt Wilson

  • ALOHA ROZ… In my moments of being thankful for all we have, all the earth gives us,
    all the amazing love we share, I think of you and how you influence me and the people for
    your love of the EARTH… keep up the positive role model you are, we are always thankful and
    learning so much from you… MAHALO… Peace, hugs… from Carol in Oregon

  • Thanks for this, keep it up. I’m doing my part in Florida. Always use cloth grocery bags and any water I have to transport in plastic I reuse the bottles until they spring a leak. I wish I didn’t have to use plastic at all but my ground water here is poison! A sad comment on America’s lack of political vision in destroying the precious resources we have always had. Speak on protecting our enviroment when you come to the States…. luv, michael

  • Roz, I miss your posts and sense of humor!! I also miss the comments from all the folks. For whatever reason I recently thought of the bilge pump post. Remember the fashionable accessory bilge pump?! In a fetching tones of blue and gray. Hope all’s well and you’re getting ready for your studies. Time flies. -Bruce  

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