Meet the Ambassadors: Pearl Gottschalk

Name: Pearl Gottschalk

Current City:  Vancouver, Canada

5 Gyres Involvement: 2015 Expedition +Ambassador

Pearl traveled to Baja Mexico earlier this year, where she is working with locals to plan the first ever Plastics Youth Summit in Baja. Below, Pearl reflects on the her Expedition to North Atlantic Gyre and how this impacts where she focuses her energy:

Leg #2 of SEA Change Expedition (Photo by Kizzy O'Neal) 

Leg #2 of SEA Change Expedition (Photo by Kizzy O'Neal) 

My time on the SEA Change Expedition from the Bahamas to Bermuda, Leg 2, essentially changed my life. Everything I learned and experienced at the 2015 Bahamas Youth Summit and on the voyage got my mind exploding with ideas of how we can implement these same ideas in my beloved piece of ocean paradise, the Sea of Cortez, in Baja Mexico. Thank you 5 Gyres!

I returned to Baja for four months in early 2016 to focus on building a coastal ecosystem educational program in collaboration with local NGO’s for a threatened coastline in the Bay of La Paz which focused on ocean pollution threats, dune conservation, marine mammal mortality and beach clean-ups. My base was a beautiful ecological center called La Duna, 40 minutes north of La Paz. This coastline has constant marine mammal mortality that has never been monitored, as evidenced by my near daily sorrow of pulling out various animals caught in fishing line.

Together with the local conservation group, Consciencia we are organizing the first Baja Youth Plastics Summit for 2017 modeled after the Bahamas Youth Plastic Summit that I was able to attend in 2015 with 5 Gyres. We are also creating the first program for micro plastic trawling program for local students and the first ever Beach Clean up and Plastics Awareness Campaign for the San Juan de la Costa area with a focus on the impact on marine mammal mortality.

Sad image of a shark wrapped in line (Photo provided by Pearl)

Sad image of a shark wrapped in line (Photo provided by Pearl)

The plastics issue isn’t hot on anyone’s radar in the Sea of Cortez except for two groups: Sea Shepherd and Whale Shark Mexico. Sea Shepard used a mantra trawl aboard their boat to research microplastics in the waters and study blubber samples in fin whales as an indicator species of microplastic contamination. The Sea of Cortez has comparatively low microplastic counts, roughly 0.14 microplastic items per m3 were found in recent surveys.

Whale Shark Mexico has been partnering with international researchers to study microplastic contamination in the blubber of whale sharks and also did a plastics awareness event with local kids and used 1500 recycled plastic bottles to make this art project of a whale shark in La Paz.

See this amazing article to learn more about microplastic contamination in fin whales  in the Sea of Cortez and the Mediterranean sea. 

Meet the Ambassadors: Maya Weeks

Name: Maya Weeks (Instagram @splash_mama, Twitter @looseuterus)
Job: Artist
Age: 27
Current City:  Cayucos, CA
5 Gyres Involvement: Tracking CA Trash + 5 Gyres Ambassador

Maya reporting on her recent adventures to the Arctic onboard a tall ship where she carried out research on microplastics, part of The Arctic Circle Residency: 

Svalbard is amazing. I've been freaking out about mountains, glaciers (the archipelago is 60% glacier; now I'm obsessed and really want to go to Glacier National Park and Alaska), icebergs, pack ice (We sailed to 81°08.3563' N in the Arctic Ocean to reach it -- needless to say, it's decreased dramatically in recent years; this fall it didn't even reach the northern parts of Svalbard), whales (fin! blue! belugas!), walruses, and icebergs. We saw one polar bear; it was starving and walking on beaches covered in trash -- one of which had three buoys in a row on it. We followed the polar bear for about half of an hour; he didn't care about us at all; we were far (300m) away and he was way too devoted to finding food (bird eggs, most likely). This is sad because it takes 2,000 bird eggs to give a polar bear the nutrition 1 seal would provide. 

As far as trash goes, the situation is both distressing and hopeful. Distressing because, yeah, there is so much trash here. Mostly on the north coasts, and it comes from all over the world. It's roughly 80% from the fishery industry, both local and elsewhere. It's hard to tell, but a huge amount of the debris is plastic nets and packaging straps and 20% from other sources. And it's not just on the northern beaches, you find trash on almost every beach. We saw lots of large pieces and then lots of microplastics. I can't wait to see the results of my water samples that I sent to Adventures and Scientists for Conservation -- studies show that there are very high concentrations of microfibers in marine waters here, especially because everyone in Longyearbyen goes around in synthetic outdoor gear constantly, and every time fleeces, Gore-tex pants, etc. are washed, thousands of microplastics are released into the wastewater that goes directly into the ocean (no sewage system/water treatment plant here in Longyearbyen, so all the wastewater drains straight into the sea). On a positive note, we did a beach cleanup at one beach on this island called Nordauslandet. 

I trawled with Max Liboiron's (Also a 5 Gyres Ambassador) BabyLegs trawl in two different spots. Each trawl was done from our zodiac and I sampled for a half of an hour a approximately five knots. When I had a look at the sample, I saw what looked to me like a lot of microfiber threads (in addition to all the seaweed, copepods, and other organic material). In order to sure that the fibers were plastic, I should have done a hot wire test. Sadly, this means my samples are inconclusive because I threw both pairs of tights away because they were soggy and it was wet outside and I had nowhere to dry them out outside and they were too stinky to take inside the ship. Next time! 

The situation in Svalbard is hopeful because there are so many studies going on, so much new research coming out, and an increasing awareness of the accumulation of marine debris. The government here even organizes an annual cleanup cruise where they sail around the archipelago for a week or so and clean up trash on different beaches. Not the same as upstream prevention, but hopefully part of the puzzle! 


Guest Blog: Support the San Diego Bag Ban!

Guest Blog from the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter:

San Diego is the largest city in California without a plastic bag ban. After more than eight years of advocacy work by the Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter and other stakeholders, San Diego is poised to become the 150th jurisdiction in the state to be subject to a plastic bag ban.  On Tuesday, July 19th, during the 2pm session, the City Council will be voting on their draft Single-Use Carryout Bag Reduction Ordinance

In late 2008, San Diego Chapter Chair, Scott Harrison, and Chapter Coordinator, Bill Hickman, spoke before the City of San Diego's Natural Resources Committee, advocating for a plastic bag ban. At that time, only three jurisdictions in the state had passed one; San Francisco, Fairfax, and Malibu. In a 2-1 vote, Councilmembers Donna Frye and Scott Peters voted to send the proposed ban to the City Attorney for review, while Councilmember Kevin Faulconer voted against the motion. However, the ordinance didn't move any further, as Mayor Jerry Sanderssquashed the will of the committee and stopped the ordinance dead in its tracks. For the next few years, the political makeup of the City Council and Mayor's office prevented a bag ban from being considered.

In the meantime, research and evidence of plastic pollution in our oceans mounted. Expeditions in the world's five oceanic gyres provided scientific evidence of the gravity of the issue. Led by Algalita Marine Research Foundation and the 5 Gyres Institute, two of the world's most prominent organizations studying plastic pollution in our oceans. The results of their research expeditions have painted a clear and unfortunate picture; our ocean is full of plastic pollution. In 2015, during a gathering of the world's leading scientists, represented by more than 80 countries, plastic pollution was tagged as one of the three biggest threats to our oceans today. The evidence is overwhelming, plastic pollution wreaks havoc on land, in our waterways, and in our oceans.

Undeterred by the lack of action by the City, Surfrider activists continued to raise awareness and educate San Diegans about the negative impacts of plastic pollution on our beaches and in our ocean. We also helped support Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Del Mar in their bag ban processes. Most recently, our activists have been working with the City of Oceanside on their bag ban. Oceanside will vote for their ordinance on August 10th. And in our efforts to ban the bag in San Diego, we continued to build a strong coalition of supporters in order to mount public pressure on our policy makers to take action. In late 2012,with the political makeup of the city council ripe for a bag ban, San Diego Surfrider activist, Roger Kube, and Surfrider’s Rise Above Plastics Director, Bill Hickman, began searching for a Councilmember to champion the bag ban efforts.   

By September 2013, our champion had been identified. Led by Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner. The City of San Diego's Rules and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to direct city staff to draft an ordinance for a plastic bag ban. At this time, 64 ordinances covering 84 jurisdictions across the state had passed a ban. That same month, a bi-partisan organization, Equinox Center, published a study on the Impacts of Plastic Bag Bans, examining the environmental and economic impact of plastic bags and a ban in the City of San Diego. Among other key finding from the study, reported over 95% of the 500 million plastic grocery bags used each year in the City of San Diego end up in the landfill, in our waterways, or in our ocean.

In October 2013, the committee met to review staff recommendations for the draft ordinance and once again voted unanimously to move forward. The next steps included an environmental review process and finalizing the draft ordinance language. With the expectation that San Diego would produce the most extensive environmental document possible, an Environmental Impact Report, the ordinance was expected to go to the City Council for a first reading by the summer of 2014.

However, in the wake of the resignation of former Mayor Bob Filner, in February 2014, Councilmember Kevin Faulconer was elected interim Mayor of San Diego. Mayor Faulconer had voted down the plastic bag ban in 2009 at the committee level as a Councilmember, however, he was on the Rules and Economic Development Committee that unanimously pushed the ordinance forward in 2013. Accordingly, we were hopeful that Mayor Faulconer wouldn't stall or halt the process like Mayor Sanders did in 2009. Unfortunately, we were wrong.

In June 2014, we confirmed in a meeting with Mayor Faulconer's office that the environmental review process had been put on hold. In response, Surfrider Foundation activists, led by Michael Torti and Roger Kube, along with more than 70 other supporters, showed up to City Council and demanded that the Mayor's office restart the environmental review process. Their response was that before they spent anymore resources on the local ordinance, they would wait to see if the California state legislature passed a statewide bag ban. We saw no need to wait six more months to see if the state ban was going to pass. It had failed the previous six legislative sessions and the City of San Diego had an opportunity to pass a stronger local ordinance before the state law passed.

After six years and legislative sessions trying to pass a bag ban, the California state legislator passed a statewide ban on plastic bags in October 2014. It was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September. However, to our dismay, the plastic bag industry spent over 3 million dollars to gather enough signatures to stall the state bag ban and put a referendum on the November 2016 ballot. They "bought" their way on the ballot for pennies relative to the 200 million dollars per year they stand to lose by continuing to pollute our environment. In the spring of 2015, with enough signatures validated to put the state bag ban on hold, Surfrider activists met with the Mayor's office to confirm that the City of San Diego bag ban was going to get back on track. Fortunately, they agreed.

Over a year later, an Environmental Impact Report has been completed and we're on the cusp of a vote by the San Diego City Council. To date, there are 120 bag ban ordinances covering 149 jurisdictions in California. It's been a long road to get here, but we're optimistic that there are the five necessary votes in order to pass the ban. However, we need YOUR help!

Please join us on Monday, July 19th, at 2pm, at 202 C St San Diego, CA 92101 to show your support for the City of San Diego's plastic bag ban. Click here on July 12th to confirm the time and agenda for the meeting. In removing 500 million plastic carryout bags each year, we are taking a huge step in reducing plastic pollution at its source and ultimately protecting our oceans and beaches. 

Sierra Nevada & ChicoBag Go #BeadFree for June

By Isabelle Sui, 5 Gyres Summer Associate

After wrapping up 5 Gyres’ #BeadFree campaign, I had the pleasure of interviewing two different companies who participated in the microbead mailback contest we held: ChicoBag and Sierra Nevada.  Each company took unique approaches in encouraging people to donate their microbead products and experienced success in different ways.  

ChicoBag focused on engaging their online community in support of #BeadFree. After donating prizes to the 5 Gyres microbead mailback contest and learning more about the #BeadFree campaign, ChicoBag decided to help out further by hosting a microbead collection drive at their office. They posted on their Instagram, printed out some handouts, and created a Facebook event to inform their audience about the onsite donation box. They received a surprising amount of likes and comments, with people eager to participate. Some participants were not able to physically drop off their microbead products at the ChicoBag office, and sent their microbead products to directly to 5 Gyres. ChicoBag also encouraged their employees to participate in the collection drive. 

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. focused solely on employee engagement, and also found great success.  After seeing our newsletter about the #BeadFree campaign, and how extensive 5 Gyres microbead campaign Action Kit was, Sierra Nevada saw an easy way to get their employees involved.  They informed their staff  through emails, decorated bulletin boards outside their cafeteria, and brought  their microbead collection box to all their company meetings.  This initiative resonated strongly with more employees than the norm.  Particularly, employees who were also fishermen took part in donating their microbead products, because they directly saw how the effects of microbeads on marine life applied to them.  

Both companies are also taking steps to further be #BeadFree. Sierra Nevada discovered that they used microbead soap in some of their workshops, and since then have switched to purchase a bead free soap. They plan on continuing this new, alternative product with future orders.  ChicoBag is also taking steps to help make their community bead free.  They have reached out to a couple local supermarkets to see if they will host a microbead collection drive, and are now working out the logistics.  

Both companies regularly participate in many other environmental actions. ChicoBag frequently partners with other companies like Klean Kanteen for park clean ups, as well as their own initiatives such as allowing customers to bring in plastic bags and trade them in for a ChicoBag. Sierra Nevada also has their own environmentally friendly programs  throughout their company.  Each month they have an environmental education piece that focuses on topics like energy consumption, food waste, and water consumption.

5 Gyres is grateful for the support of companies like ChicoBag and Sierra Nevada in our programs. It is through companies  like these that help bring us one step closer to achieving 5 Gyres vision of a planet free of plastic pollution.


#BeadFree bulletin board outside the lunchroom at Sierra Nevada.

#BeadFree bulletin board outside the lunchroom at Sierra Nevada.

ChicoBag got their online community involved.

ChicoBag got their online community involved.

FAQs from Recent 5 Gyres Webinar

On June 2nd 5 Gyres held our most recent Webinar. Founders Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen spoke about plastic pollution in our oceans and focused on the latest research and policy on the issue, the importance of having a circular economy, and how community is essential to this problem as they have the power to demand change. The Webinar ended with a 15-minute Q/A session where audience members asked some very thoughtful questions and received passionate and insightful answers.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to address all of the questions, so Marcus has answered a few below that seem to be popular questions that we hope will clarify some doubts you might have.

Why is plastic so cheap? Is it because oil companies are subsidized?

Plastic is coupled with the price of oil, so it fluctuates equally.  Right now, recycled plastic is too expensive, so virgin plastic is what's dominating the market.  So, as suggested, subsidizing oil doesn't help recycling efforts.

California was the first State to pass a law that bans single-use plastic bags…BUT the plastics industry and bag manufacturers have collected enough signatures to put the ban to a referendum in November 2016. How can we effectively fight this

Good question. It takes constant pressure over time, and alignment of organizations toward a common goal. That's how we won on microbeads.  The bag ban took 10 years to win, and industry hired outside signature gatherers to make it a referendum. You can join Californians Against Waste, Surfrider Foundation, and other NGO's to fight the referendum in CA and get the word out.

How many times can plastics be recycled as a technical ingredient in the circular economy? Is it possible for it to be continually recycled?

From what I know, the polymer gets continually degraded over time, so  you don't typically see products with 100% PRC (Post-consumer recycled content). So, technically you can't reused the same plastic material perpetually, as you can with Aluminum, which is a single element (Al).  Plastic is made of 100 or 1000's of molecular bonds, and they don't last forever.

What is the organization's position is on bioplastics, especially when considering their lifecycle impacts? Is there sufficient evidence to support or certify them as "marine degradable?"

It depends on the polymer.  Here's something I wrote recently on bioplastic: 

Bioplastic has been around a while. Henry Ford produced the first soybean car in the 1930s, with bioplastic fenders and door panels made from soy-based phenolic resin. He demonstrated its resilience by bashing it with a sledgehammer without a dent. Petroleum plastics were cheaper and better performing and eventually edged bioplastic out. 

But today, with the inconsistency of the fossil fuel market, companies like Proctor & Gamble, CocaCola and PepsiCo have explored plant-based plastics as a means to create a more reliable and consistently valued resource. In September 2015 the Brazilian company Braskem began production of polyethylene, the exact same chemical structure as polyethylene made from fossil fuels, but derived entirely from sugar cane fiber, called ‘bagasse’..

Poly-lactic Acid (PLA) is another common plant-based polymer, the one you see advertised as ‘corn cups’ or utensils called ‘spud ware’. Or Poly-hydroxy-alkanoate  (PHA), made from the off-gassing of bacteria.  Soy, bagasse, PLA or PHA, are all very different and create confusion, sometimes intentionally, over their actual biodegradability.  PLA needs a large industrial composting facility that’s hot, wet, and full of compost-eating microbes. If you put a bunch of paper plates, napkins and PLA utensils in your backyard compost for a year, you’ll end up with rich soil and a bunch of forks and knives. On the JUNKraft we filled a nylon mesh laundry bag with 20 different PLA products.  The result after the voyage was a laundry bag filled with unscathed products.  PHA is the only marine degradable bioplastic, with ASTM standards that describe a 30% loss of material in the ocean in 6 months, but only in warm tropic waters, not higher latitudes or deeper waters.

There’s plenty of confusion and green-washing in advertising the value of bioplastic.  While the label “biodegradable” has a relatively strict definition called ASTM standards, and strict guidelines for usage in advertising, the terms bioplastic, plant-based, bio-based do not. Bioplastic is the loosely-defined catch-all phrase that describes plastic from recent biological materials, which includes true biodegradable materials and non-biodegradable polymers that are plant-based. These definitions leave a lot of room for advertisers to manipulate public perception.

When CocaCola unveiled the PET PlantBottle a week before the 2009 Sustainability Summit in Copenhagen (COP15), with green leaves and circular arrows on labels, many NGOs and government agencies, like the Danish Consumer Ombudsman, took CocaCola to court for greenwashing, resulting in label modifications.   Despite all of the leafy greenery, it’s the same PET bottle you’ll find floating across the ocean, despite being “plant-based”. The saving grace is the withdrawal from fossil fuels, but otherwise the same bottle.

What do you do with people from your own social circle who are deeply ingrained into the disposable culture, but are uninterested or unwilling to change their behavior?

Keep pushing. Continuous pressure over time. We love the people in our social circle, so we keep sharing our values. I have family that still haven't kicked the plastic habit. I just keep pushing without compromising my values. 

BUT, if they are jerks about it and want to criticize your choices, then you have to decide for yourself if you're compatible. It's like any other relationship, i suppose. Breaking up is hard to do.  

We hope these responses were helpful. If you have any more questions, feel free to contact us at If you want to join our next Webinar, please sign for our updates on our website



Happy World Turtle Day!

The photographer, Sergi Garcia, took away the plastic bag before it was ingested.

The photographer, Sergi Garcia, took away the plastic bag before it was ingested.

Plastic pollution is everywhere, and as such, is hard for marine life to avoid. More than 600 marine species are impacted by plastic, through ingestion and entanglement. This includes all seven species of turtles who are known for chomping on plastic bags, easily mistaking them for jellyfish. 5 Gyres Executive Director Anna Cummins underscores this problem, “We need to do away with our throw away culture - the bags, bottles, straws and packaging that we all see fouling our communities and oceans.”

5 Gyres spokesturtle, Mae West, agrees. When she was young she got entangled with a plastic milk jug ring around her middle. As she grew, the ring didn’t, and subsequently constricted the shape of her shell.  She provides a sad but valuable example of the impact of plastics on marine life. Mae West was adopted by 5 Gyres and now lives in Culver City at the STAR Eco Station, where she is visited by school children learning about the impact of plastics on our environment, and of course, 5 Gyres staff who drop in for a hello every now and then.

Meet mae west who now lives at the STAR Eco Station in los angeles.

Meet mae west who now lives at the STAR Eco Station in los angeles.

Today, May 23rd, happens to be a great day for Mae West and turtles everywhere - it’s World Turtle Day! Join 5 Gyres as we celebrate World Turtle Day with our partner, LunchSkins, bringing attention to the plight of turtles and encouraging people everywhere to take steps to reduce plastic waste and help turtles survive and thrive.

If you aren’t familiar with this environmentally conscious company, LunchSkins is a women-owned brand that has created a popular replacement for single-use plastic bags. Just one LunchSkins reusable bag replaces 500 throw-away plastic baggies. What started with a few moms as a way to reduce waste in their local schools has now grown into a collaboration of many people around the world committed to finding sustainable solutions for the fast-growing issue of ocean plastic pollution.

This year, LunchSkins designed a special bag with a turtle motif that will raise funds for 5 Gyres, as well as the Sea Turtle Conservancy. “We created our LunchSkins brand as a smart, sustainable solution to disposable plastic bags and as an example of how a socially responsible company can give back and guide the daily choices that impact our environment, our health and our future,” says LunchSkins Founder/CEO Kirsten Quigley.

5 Gyres is glad to partner with LunchSkins and celebrate Mae West’s big day! Happy World Turtle Day everyone!

Meet the Ambassadors: Orestis Herodotou

Name: Orestis Herodotou
Job: Software Engineer at TechCrunch 
Age: 30
Current City:  Oakland, CA
5 Gyres Involvement: 2015 SEA Change Expedition + 5 Gyres Ambassador

Orestis on the SEA Change Expedition in 2015

Orestis on the SEA Change Expedition in 2015


Like a lot of people, I learned about the issue after reading an article on Captain Charlie Moore in Rolling Stone Magazine. Soon after, I become involved with David Rothchild's Plastiki. I read online of it's very experimental-looking cabin, a geodesic egg-shaped dome designed by architect Nathanial Corum and inspired by one of my heros, Buckminster Fuller. It looked like a really cool sci-fi space mission and I was excited about the buzz they were creating around sustainability.

Being a budding sailor, I smelled adventure. When I found out that the Plastiki was being constructed in San Francisco, I immediately knew I had to get involved. I ended up volunteering at their visitor center and while interacting with the public at the center, I was shocked by how many people did not know about the issue of plastic pollution - people were dumbfounded. I kept getting more involved and eventually, I helped build Plastiki's hull that was made of plastic bottles. 


I first met the 5 Gyres team in 2012 through my involvement with the Spirit of the Sea, a small all-volunteer run project that connected underprivileged youth with the ocean by taking them out on the bay aboard a 60-foot sailboat called the Ocean Watch. Captain Richard Gillette had invited 5 Gyres educators aboard a few of our trips to help teach the kids about environmental stewardship and plastic pollution. I think it was really powerful for the kids to see and touch actual pieces of plastic that came from deep in the ocean, and get an opportunity to ask questions and voice their thoughts.

After one of our sails, we broke bread with Marcus at a BBQ place in Oakland to talk about future expeditions. I loved how Marcus and his team were all about collaborating and getting people together. I think becoming part of the community is such an important aspect that 5 Gyres really represents. I continued to follow 5 Gyres’ expeditions online and attend events, and was thrilled when I was offered a spot on the 2015 SEA Change expedition. 

What did you get out of the Expedition?

I got the experience of a lifetime. I know it sounds cliché, but seriously. Everything was fantastic from the moment I landed in Bermuda. It was also my first time sailing on the open ocean, and there really is nothing that compares. There’s way too many things to list here, but I’ll never forget gazing in awe as bursts of electric blue colored phosphorescent algae lit up our bow wake under a full starry Atlantic night sky, with distant lightning striking far off in the distance.

Orestis Analyzing ocean samples during the SEA change Expedition in North Atlantic Gyre

Orestis Analyzing ocean samples during the SEA change Expedition in North Atlantic Gyre

Nothing could prepare me how much plastic we collected during our trawls. Each and every time we put a net in the water, we pulled out little pieces of plastic. Picture this: you’re in the middle of nowhere, water on every horizon, many days from land, but you’re staring at a granola bar wrapper float by. 

Being part of the research really allowed me to better understand the magnitude of the issue and really feel what these numbers mean. That’s why I think getting people involved through citizen science is so important. The best part though, was that I got to hangout with some of the most inspiring people on Earth. It was like the all-star game of awesome humans, and I feel like the bonds we made are strong enough to outlast the most stubborn piece of polyethylene out there.

Together, we developed this idea of “Plastic Smog” which I think really resonates with the reality of what we are facing with ocean plastics, and provides a solid roadmap for how we might overcome its immense threats. 

WHAT programs/projects have you worked on with 5 gyres?

I love getting people out on the water, and love being on the beach! I’ve helped crew youth sailing programs and am working with Cal Sailing Club to reduce our plastic debris footprint and remove single use plastic items from the club. As an Amabssador for 5 Gyres, I've led a beach transect study with students from a SF State ecology class on a windy day at Ocean Beach. I’ve given presentations to community groups about my experiences on the Expedition and helped table and engage the public with 5 Gyres at several events like the wonderful San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival.  I’ve also weathered the rain to monitor trash with 5 Gyres, part of the Tracking CA Trash Project - a project to help cities work towards zero waste output. 

Orestis and Bekka at the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival

Orestis and Bekka at the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival

I've also tried to use my background as a web developer to engage people online. I’m launching a microbead counter website soon to let people know that we need to get #beadfree today, part of 5 Gyres most recent Action Campaign. I also participated in this year's Fishackathon, a sustainable fisheries hacking challenge sponsored by the US State Department.

WHAT inspires you most about the issue?

What interests me the most is the way that plastic pollution is not just about the seals and fish, but it's really connected to economics, technology and the way societies value resources and distribute resources. I think these things are connected and really important. Plastic pollution is a very urgent issue - it's related to habitat collapse, global warming, biodiversity ... It is interconnected with so many issues. There is so much going on. 

On a positive note, we are seeing progress everyday. More awareness. More people getting involved. We are seeing the community grow. But what are we really fighting for? We are fighting for it all. 

WHAT Is your favorite memory from your Expedition?

Orestis with SEA change Expedition Crew (leg 3, Bermuda to NY)

Orestis with SEA change Expedition Crew (leg 3, Bermuda to NY)

Can I give you my top three?

(1) Sailing! We were caught in a pretty big storm as we left the Sargasso Sea. I felt bad for everyone who got sea sick, but I honestly I it was so exciting to ride through. The boat was rocking all over and there were these enormous 20 foot waves. I guess I’m glad it didn’t get worse though. Just so powerful and terrifying!

(2) Music!  It seemed like everyone aboard was a musician, so we were constantly singing together and playing in jam sessions.

(3)  Getting my hands dirty with the trawls and beach transects.

I could give you like 20 more. 

ORESTIS CONTINUES TO BRING HIS "TECH" PERSPECTIVE TO OUR PROJECTS THROUGH OUR AMBASSADOR PROGRAM. After the SEA Change Expedition, he developed an online map of our sample locations and preliminary results. We are also very excited to have Orestis helping with our Action Campaign - he has developed an online counter that will help display the magnitude of the issue by counting the number of estimate beach that are entering our waterways...

Love for Peter Stranger

We lost a hero, a friend, and a champion this month. Peter Stranger was a rare individual – a spiritual, passionate conservationist and strategist who gave generously of himself to the world.  He served on our Board for the last 2+ years, and left a saddened and appreciative wake with his parting.

I’ll never forget the first time I sat down to chat with Peter. We’d met once through mutual friends, both named Larry, and then crossed paths by chance at a café.  He instantly engaged, and with his charming, easy manner, sat down to talk planet.

We talked about work and play, conservation projects, his travels in Africa, and beyond. He also talked about his treasured daily walks above his home in the Hollywood Hills, and of his dear wife Camille. I asked him to join our Board. All were instantly smitten with him. Who could not be? He joined our team with gusto, intellect and heart.

We also had a chance to glimpse Peter the artist. His eye for beauty, perspective, and fragility are memorialized in his photographs. Arresting, and indescribable. Like the artist.

Peter left us with so many gifts. One that stands out: a story he told a few times of the 3 words he found most powerful in developing relationships. TELL ME MORE.  And he would listen.

Thank you Peter, from our community, our planet, and from the bottom of our hearts. 

Meet the Ambassadors: Kayla Grattan

Name: Kayla Grattan
Job: Student
School: Michigan State University
Age: 22
Hometown: Cedar Springs, MI
5 Gyres Involvement: 5 Gyres Ambassador

Kayla at a beach cleanup in Fiji in 2015

Kayla at a beach cleanup in Fiji in 2015

When did you first learn about the global plastic pollution issue?

I was in my junior year of high school and read Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn. I became absolutely obsessed with recycling and reuse and was constantly talking about it to my parents and friends. I knew that I wanted to focus on helping solve the issue [of plastic pollution]. It’s not only an environmental threat, it’s a human health threat. I want others to understand how big the problem is. Moby Duck “changed/ruined” my life. 

How did you get involved with 5 Gyres?

I was in an Environmental Interpretation Class last year, where I was learning the art of interpretation (developing educational materials). We were asked to focus on an environmental topic and educate others on it. I used the 5 Gyres Education Kit to develop a program for talking about plastic pollution to the public. The kit really stimulates conversation with people. The microbead demonstration freaked people out. The demonstration is a quick activity where you squeeze some product that has microbeads into a jar, shake it up, and put the mixture on a black cloth that really lets you see the plastic beads.

I got in touch with 5 Gyres staff for information and was told about the Ambassador Program.  I ended up meeting the 5 Gyres Campaign Manager on one of the Ambassador Webinars. 5 Gyres helped me prepare to testify for stronger microbead legislation in Michigan. Michigan's bill was full of loopholes (that would just allow a different type of plastic) so I went in representing 5 Gyres and called them out on the loopholes while voicing support and a recommending a shift of emphasis to other state bills and the national legislation that did not have the loophole.   

Kayla working with volunteer to carry out the microbead demonstration.  

What projects have you worked with 5 Gyres on?

I have given multiple presentations to my classmates related to class projects, where I carried out the microbead demonstration. I received really good grades for both projects! I also did a tabling event at an Earth Day Festival. And this last summer, I did an independent study focusing on plastic pollution and island sustainability, while I was in Fiji for a study abroad program. 

I focused on microbeads because I wanted to make the school projects relevant. It just made more sense to focus on a policy to ban microbeads in Michigan.

What inspires you most about the issue of plastic pollution?

I think it’s really just that so many people don’t think or know about the issue or they think it's something we can easily clean up (which we know is not the case). The big thing for me is education: People don’t get it and we live in a throw away society. No one thinks about products after they leave their hands. This is a HUGE problem for our beaches and environment that stems from a mentality that we must change. 

After graduation, if you got to do anything, what would you do? (Assuming $ is not an issue)

I definitely want to travel. But I want to travel in a way where I can be productive versus just resort hopping. I’d love to go out and make new connections and do something to make a difference.

Maybe Kayla will be able to join one of our Expeditions someday soon! 

Meet the Ambassadors: Candace Gregg

Name: Candace Gregg

Title: College Student (Senior)

College: UCLA (Major: Anthropology)

Age: 22

Hometown: Kalispell, MT

5 Gyres Involvement: 5 Gyres Ambassador + Banned Microbeads at UCLA

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in a pretty rural area where my house was surrounded by wheat fields, and less than a half of a mile from the base of the Rocky Mountains. Glacier National Park was also very close. The area is full of rivers and lakes and forests and farmland and mountains. I was outside all the time. This created a huge and deep appreciation for nature for me. Nature was right in my backyard and I loved it. It was part of who I was.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I realized this is not how it was everywhere. I had never had to “go to” nature before and I’d never seen areas of pollution. Coming to California and seeing this was powerful. Seeing pollution and trash in public places and on beaches, and not being able to see the bottom of a river, was impactful. I wasn’t used to this. After seeing this, I really become interested in conservation.

When did you first learn about the global plastic pollution issue?

I definitely knew plastic pollution was an issue because I had made an effort to educate myself on environmental issues. But I became extremely literate after taking my Understanding Ecology Class at the Honors College at UCLA.  This was a class created by Professor Allison Lipman. At the very beginning of the class, Anna Cummins, from 5 Gyres, came to our class and pitched a project to us. Basically, Anna explained the issue of plastic pollution and what 5 Gyres does, highlighting the recent microbead campaign. Anna came to our class and wanted to work with the students to engage their peers. She did not have a specific project in mind and we came up with the idea of passing a microbead ban on our campus.

What programs/projects have you worked with 5 Gyres on?

I worked on the microbead ban – it was a group (of 5 students) effort. We had to pitch the idea to campus government, network with student government, and ultimately we had to convince the Board of Directors of Associated Students at UCLA to ban microbeads. We had to set up meetings and we educated everyone on the issue. We were invited to present to a committee and it made it up to the Board of Directors where they passed the microbead ban.

After the quarter, I got in touch with Anna and told her I wanted to be more involved. I followed the microbead ban through the entire process in California. And then I helped 5 Gyres staff write a step-by-step guide for other students to use to ban microbeads on their campus.

Last October, I traveled to New Hampshire with Lia Calabello to speak at the P.L.A.N. Conference, where I gave a presentation to over a couple hundred students.  My presentation was on my experience at UCLA and then I went through the steps for other students to follow to ban microbeads on their campus. We also tabled all day long and I talked to students about microbeads.

I also had the chance to give a similar presentation to the 5 Gyres Ambassadors on a Webinar and talked about what they all can be doing as Ambassadors.

What inspires you most about this issue?

I’m inspired to work eradicate plastic pollution because I love the places that plastic is polluting. I think these places are extremely valuable gifts that the world has. And I think they are worth taking care of. Not only for joy, but for food and all of the other reasons that the ocean is important.

Why are you proud to be a 5 Gyres Ambassador?

Working with 5 Gyres, allowed me to put myself into action to make a difference in an educational atmosphere. Having the support from an organization is empowering because I felt like I had a solid team behind me. This is important. It was bureaucratic to get this ban passed and it was helpful to have 5 Gyres backing me.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

I also think that as a student it is really cool to work with an organization that is on the forefront in a field. I love that 5 Gyres focuses on bringing people on Expeditions and to youth summit. 5 Gyres focuses on engagement and I want to be part of it. I also think my involvement has also helped me develop new skills. My communication and writing skills have improved and I gave a professional presentation. I was excited to be part of this professional setting, and it was a great learning experience.

I don’t even have a college degree yet and I think it’s so awesome that I can still get things done. My passion was valued [by 5 Gyres] and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a bachelors degree yet.

Are you interested in going on a 5 Gyres Expedition?

I’d love to. If the opportunity arose, I’d jump on it.