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Raising awareness about plastic pollution

Marine conservationist: Plastic Tides founders Christian Shaw and Gordon Middleton are to monitor the amount of plastic in Bermuda's waters (Photo by Sarah Lagan)

The extent of plastic pollution in Bermuda’s waters will soon become clear as two conservationists plan to sample the sea surrounding the Island.

Christian Shaw and Gordon Middleton of research and awareness group Plastic Tides set out on an overnight, round-the-Island paddle board trip yesterday evening to raise awareness of their campaign which is this year focusing on plastic microbeads found in cosmetics.

The Cornell University graduates, who have been working with several local conservation organisations including the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, have also been spreading awareness by making presentations in schools.

So far they have spoken at Elliott Primary School and Sandys Middle School about the damage plastics are doing to our environment while sharing practical solutions to preventing the use of plastics. They will be showing a documentary about a previous micro bead expedition they did in the Erie Canal in New York where they found microbeads in seven of every ten samples taken, to show to the public what is being done in Bermuda.

It will be shown at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute this Saturday with a meet and greet from 6.30pm followed by the documentary screening and panel discussion from 7pm to 9pm.

The pair first came to Bermuda last year when they set out to highlight “the rampant plastic pollution” in the ocean and its impact on Bermuda’s marine life. They filmed a four-part series about the trip that is due to be aired on CITV in the near future.

Mr Shaw said: “We will have a panel discussion with all of the players here in Bermuda and so we will transition from the work we did in New York to microbeads in the context of Bermuda. It will be a good public forum for people to hear from the people involved in the project.”

Next week they plan to trawl the waters around the Island, skimming for plastics. They will take the samples for analysis and then deliver the results before the end of their trip.

“This is an amazing place to make things happen and there is a lot of support here,” Mr Shaw added. “There are a lot of organisations engaged in plastic pollution research and awareness here. It is like a microcosm, like an experiment for what can really happen in a place. It is in the North Atlantic gyre so it is like having a research vessel that is an Island.”

As part of their Plastic Tides campaign Mr Shaw and Mr Middleton have been lobbying for legislative change to ban the use of microbeads in cosmetics in New York but in Bermuda they said they will take a different approach.

Mr Shaw explained: “Here in Bermuda the approach is more ‘beat the bead’ rather than ban the bead engaging with consumers and retailers because governmental processes are slow. If you can beat the bead through consumer engagement then a ban might not even be necessary. We hope it will garner response faster.”

Education and awareness are the main drivers of the campaign and Plastic Tides also has an ambassadors programme to encourage locals to gather samples for science by following their lead.

Mr Middleton said: “We provide instruction on how to take samples, we provide a trawl to people who are going out on the trips.

“If you have a trip planned, make it more than just about you going out on a trip — bring back some valuable data.

“It is along the lines of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.

“People connect. For us it is about doing something cool in an area where there might not be data, so why not go out and collect it.”

Mr Shaw added: “You don’t necessarily need a multimillion dollar research vessel to do valuable science.”