The first time I heard of Ken Campbell, the founder of the Ikkatsu Project, I was reading about his kayaks and paddle boards made from garbage he found on local beaches. He has made several “garbage boats” (as I fondly refer to them) to raise awareness about the ever-increasing problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.
The Ikkatsu Project started as a way to monitor the plastic debris washing up on Washington shores after the tsunami in Japan in 2011. That monitoring led to the realization that we needed more research on plastic pollution – not just on Washington’s beaches, and not just tsunami debris. While doing fieldwork along Washington’s coastline Campbell said, “I was struck with the disconnect between the incredible beauty of this wild coastline, and the mess we’ve made of it.”
This summer, volunteers with the Ikkatsu Project spent weeks cleaning a remote beach in Alaska. Because they had previously cleaned this beach (which has minimal human presence), they know that all the debris they gathered this summer was carried by the sea, deposited since their last visit. This gives them a snapshot of how much plastic shows up on a single beach over a given amount of time.
The biggest contributor to this plastic build-up is single-use plastics: plastic grocery bags, water bottles, food wrappers, and packaging. Over time, much of the plastic that ends up in the ocean breaks down into micro-plastics. Micro-plastics are bits of plastic ranging in size from about the size of a grain of rice down to particles so small you need a microscope to see them. The Ikkatsu Project collects water samples for micro-plastic studies as part of nearly every project they undertake.
Plastics are not only cluttering the landscape we see. Recently, a plastic bag was found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench at a depth of 35,853 feet. Animals become entangled in larger debris and consume micro-plastics at an alarming rate. A study of the gut contents of amphipods collected from six deep-sea trenches around the Pacific Rim discovered that over 72% of amphipods contained at least one micro-plastic particle.
There is no way to know what the long term consequences of the plastic in the ocean will be, but the plastic is already there. Unless we do something to drastically reduce the number of plastics that end up in the ocean, the problem is likely to become much worse. This is not a natural disaster; this is a disaster of our own making. So let us find a way to solve this together… there is no one else who can.
We selected the Ikkatsu Project as one of the organizations to support this Giving Tuesday because they bring volunteers together to study and impact the problem while raising awareness.