The 'Plastic Ocean' and Bonnie Monteleone | Coastal Review (2023)

Facts About Our ‘Plastic Ocean’

One of the most serious threats to our oceans is plastics pollution. Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. Why is there so much plastic in the ocean? Unlike other types of trash, plastic does not biodegrade; instead, it photo-degrades with sunlight, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they never really disappear. These plastic pieces are eaten by marine life, wash up on beaches or break down into microscopic plastic dust, attracting more debris.

Plastic is also swept away by ocean currents, landing in swirling vortexes called ocean gyres. The North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest ocean garbage site in the world. The floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life by a measure of 6 to 1. These floating garbage sites are impossible to fully clean up.

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(Video) Bonnie Monteleone Plastic Ocean Project

Plastic poses a significant threat to the health of sea creatures, both big and small. Over 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds die each year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic.

It takes 500 to1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Even if we stopped using plastics today, they will remain with us for many generations, threatening both human and ocean health. Despite these alarming facts, there are actions we can take to address the problem of plastics.

Fast Facts

  • The average American will throw away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
  • Eight percent of the world’s oil is used for plastic production.
  • Biodegradable bags prevent the deleterious effects of plastic on ocean environments. They break down naturally and don’t leave harmful chemicals behind.
  • Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one liter bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world.
  • Approximately 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States every year. That’s more than 1,200 bags per US resident, per year.

WILMINGTON — She remembers the question vividly, with snapshot clarity in her mind’s eye. It was 1971 and Bonnie Monteleone was about 12 years old. She and her mother were in the kitchen of their Elmira, N.Y., home. Mom was wrestling with a piece of cellophane, wrapped around a Styrofoam container that held dinner, when she posed a rhetorical question.

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(Video) June First Saturday Seminar 2021 Bonnie Monteleone Save Our Seas Save Ourselves

“Where does all this stuff go?”

Little Bonnie didn’t know the answer back then. It would take almost 40 years for the answer to present itself in the graphic photo of a deformed turtle. When young turtle had swam into a plastic, six-pack ring, which got caught on its shell. The plastic ring stayed put as the turtle grew, and resulted in the deformity of the turtle’s entire body.

Monteleone was by then working in the chemistry department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She had moved to the city in 2004 when her daughter was enrolled at the university. She landed a job at chemistry department, where she works to this day. Monteleone decided to go back to school to pursue a Master’s degree and a possible career in scientific writing.

The 'Plastic Ocean' and Bonnie Monteleone | Coastal Review (3)
Bonnie Monteleone

The turtle photo in 2007 dramatically altered those plans. The accompanying article detailed the background to what was about to become Monteleone’s new life’s work. Written by Susan Casey, the article was originally published in Best Life magazine and has been reprinted in a variety of magazines and on Web sites.

Casey described the work of oceanographer Charlie Moore. He sailed in 1997 from Hawaii to California and came across what would later be known as the North Pacific Garbage Patch. It is an area of the ocean, twice the size of Texas, that contains six times as much plastic as sea life. It was, noted Casey in her article “as though someone had taken the pristine seascape of (Moore’s) youth and swapped it for a landfill.”

(Video) 17. INTERVIEW: Bonnie Monteleone on Saving the Planet One Plastic Bottle at a Time

Moore left a 25-year career running a furniture restoration business and embarked on a mission to discover what exactly was going on with this amount of plastic in our oceans. He created the Algalita Marine Research Institute to conduct studies of the problem and spread the word.

Monteleone was instantly horrified by the picture of the turtle, and with the help of a UNCW fellowship to defer research expenses, she contacted Moore and participated in a 3,460-mile research trip aboard his vessel.

Her master’ thesis on the subject, titled the “Plastic Ocean Project,” became the name of a non-profit corporation she founded, dedicated to research, education and outreach on the subject. She and other students joined with the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences last summer and conducted research in an area 30 or 40 miles off the coast of Bermuda, to determine whether the problem that existed in the North Pacific was as prevalent in the Atlantic. Though not as dramatic, the plastic problem was everywhere.

“If you’re going to talk about impact,” she said to a reporter from Bermuda’s Royal Gazette publication at the time, “you should indicate the marine life associated with it. We looked at these marine animals, which look a lot like the plastic we were collecting.

“If marine life is mistaking the plastic for food, it will be consumed,” she went on to say, “and when you consider that the first piece of plastic you ever touched in your life is still around, unless it has been burned, you start to see the scale of the problem.””

Plastics, Monteleone explained, have been found in sea birds, turtle fish and whales. In one study, conducted in the Pacific Northwest, a single bird was discovered with 454 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

She brought the issue to a local meeting of the Sierra Club last month at Halyburton Park, and though her Power Point presentation was thwarted by a facility-based computer glitch, she changed gears deftly and with the assistance of some art work she has created (an altered re-creation of a public domain mural called the Great Wave, that blends pictures of plastic, embedded in an ocean wave), she demonstrated the problem to a small, but enthusiastic group of Sierra Club members.

Evidence, to date, has suggested that this problem has not, to any great degree, begun to affect the North Carolina coast. Along with UNCW students, she has been collecting samples off the coast, and has yet to discover signs of any widespread problem here.

“We’re gathering baseline data,” she said, “and right now, we don’t see the microplastics that we see elsewhere, which says a lot about what we have to offer here.”

(Video) Flattening the Plastic Curve 10 2020

The 'Plastic Ocean' and Bonnie Monteleone | Coastal Review (4)
This picture of a deformed turtle started Bonnie Monteleone’s on her life’s work.

Still, she notes, it is a problem that residents should not dismiss. It is also something of an intractable problem that she is anxious to address. In a blog post on the Plastic Ocean Project, she made note of the fact that she can no longer purchase her favorite Wishbone salad dressing in glass jars. A ubiquitous “they” have decided that the product will only be offered in plastic.

“I realize that big business has the upper hand on our packaging,” she wrote, “and most of us will just suck it up and buy what we want, when we want, no questions asked, and that translates to more plastic trash in our environment.”

She goes on to recommend that you actually collect trash, particularly plastic, in a selected area over a period of week or so, and determine which company is producing the largest amount of it. With pictures and videos, she suggests, compile an evidence database and send it all to the offending company.

“Suggest that they promote responsible disposal of their packaging (and) promote user responsibility in their ad campaigns,” she wrote.

“We need to find the areas where it’s concentrated, especially fishing areas, because that’s the most troubling for both man and marine life,” she said.

“Of all the environmental issues,” Monteleone told the Royal Gazette, “this is one that people might be able to clean up. At least, it’s visible.

“First,” she added, “we have to make people realize we have a problem.”


What is the film A Plastic Ocean about? ›

Who made a plastic ocean documentary? ›

A Plastic Ocean is an adventure documentary, which was shot during four years and at more than twenty locations. With a team of international scientists, Craig Leeson and Tanya Streeter documented the consequences of plastic waste in our oceans as well as pointed out solutions.

Where is the largest garbage patch in the ocean? ›

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. It is the most well known patch. While some areas of the patch have more trash than others, much of the debris is made of microplastics (by count).

What is the movie about the ocean pollution? ›

A Plastic Ocean documents the global effects of plastic pollution and highlights workable technologies and innovative solutions that everyone - from governments to individuals - can do, to create a cleaner and greener ocean.

What is the main message of A Plastic Ocean? ›

A Plastic Ocean is a beautifully shot film with an important message about the dangers of plastic pollution. The film team set out to shoot a documentary about blue whales, but ended up on a mission to inform the public about the plastic gyres floating in the oceans.

Is plastic inspired by a true story? ›

Plastic is a British-American action comedy-crime film directed by Julian Gilbey and co-written by Will Gilbey and Chris Howard. The film stars Ed Speleers, Will Poulter, Alfie Allen, Sebastian de Souza and Emma Rigby. The film is purportedly based on a true story involving con-artist Saq Mumtaz.

Why was the documentary A Plastic Ocean made? ›

A Plastic Ocean is an award-winning feature-length documentary created by a group of dedicated scientists, film-makers, social entrepreneurs, scholars, environmentalists and journalists. It explores the fragile state of our oceans and uncovers alarming truths about the consequences of our disposable lifestyle.

Where does the plastic come from in a plastic ocean from the documentary? ›

The film states that 63 billion gallons of oil are used every year just to supply the United States with plastic water bottles. Also, the U.S. alone throws away 38 billion bottles every year. This accumulates to 2 million tons of plastic going into American landfills, just in terms of water bottles.

How long is a plastic ocean documentary? ›

Can you stand on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? ›

Can you walk on The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? No, you cannot. Most of the debris floats below the surface and cannot be seen from a boat. It's possible to sail or swim through parts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and not see a single piece of plastic.

Is there a floating island of garbage in the ocean? ›

Lying between California and Hawaii, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is three times the size of France and is the world's biggest ocean waste repository, with 1.8 billion pieces of floating plastic which kill thousands of marine animals each year.

Who is responsible for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? ›

Our new study published today in Scientific Reports reveals 75% to 86% of plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) originates from fishing activities at sea. Plastic emissions from rivers remain the main source of plastic pollution from a global ocean perspective.

What is the movie where the water is toxic? ›

Dark Waters is a 2019 American legal thriller film directed by Todd Haynes and written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan. The story dramatizes Robert Bilott's case against the chemical manufacturing corporation DuPont after they contaminated a town with unregulated chemicals.

What movie has people stranded in the ocean? ›

1 Life of Pi

Its incredible technology and deeply allegorical substance results in one of the most mesmerizing movies about begin stranded at sea.

What movie was the oil leak in the ocean? ›

Deepwater Horizon is a 2016 American biographical disaster film based on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

What are some sad facts about plastic in the ocean? ›

Marine plastic pollution has affected 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabirds of those examined. Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed by ocean plastic every year. 700 species of marine animals are in danger of extinction due to plastic.

What are 3 facts about plastic in the ocean? ›

Fact Sheet: Plastics in the Ocean
  • Every minute, two garbage trucks of plastic are dumped into our oceans. ...
  • Microplastics in different forms are present in almost all water systems in the world, be they streams, rivers, lakes, or oceans. ...
  • There are five massive patches of plastic in the oceans around the world.
Mar 5, 2022

Have plastics been found in peoples lungs? ›

Highlights. Microplastics were identified in all regions of the human lungs using μFTIR analysis. Polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate fibres were the most abundant.

What happened to the little girl in plastic china? ›

In August 2014, the little girl was able to go to school and she is in third grade now. Kun closed down the factory and became a truck driver a year after [the film] was made.

Does all plastic ever made still exist? ›

Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).

What happened to the plastic in the ocean? ›

When plastic enters the ocean, 94% of it sinks to the seabed. It should come as no surprise, then, that scientists found rubbish in Mariana's Trench, too. This underwater canyon lies in the deepest part of the ocean, and, sadly, it's littered with plastic waste.

When did plastic in the ocean become a problem? ›

Plastic's devastating effect on marine mammals was first observed in the late 1970s, when scientists from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory concluded that plastic entanglement was killing up to 40,000 seals a year.

How deep in the ocean was plastic found? ›

area of the North Pacific Ocean where currents have trapped huge amounts of debris, mostly plastics. deepest place on Earth, located in the South Pacific Ocean at 11,000 meters (36,198 feet) at its deepest.

Where does the plastic from the ocean cleanup go? ›

Once our containers are full of plastic onboard, we bring them back to shore for recycling. For each system batch, we plan on making durable and valuable products. Supporters getting the products will help fund the continued ocean cleanup.

What is the most found plastic in the ocean? ›

Commonly found Plastics include cigarette butts, food wrappers, beverage bottles, straws, cups and plates, bottle caps, and single-use bags.

Is the plastic in the ocean from recycling? ›

Once plastic enters the ocean, it becomes degraded by sea salt and UV light—rendering the material brittle, fragmented and discolored—making it largely unusable for recycling. Because of this, most plastic retrieved from the ocean will not make it to the recycling plant but is stored in warehouses or incinerated.

How much of the ocean have we documented? ›

Currently, less than ten percent of the global ocean is mapped using modern sonar technology. For the ocean and coastal waters of the United States, only about 35 percent has been mapped with modern methods.

How old is the plastic in the ocean? ›

Plastic pollution was first noticed in the ocean by scientists carrying out plankton studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and oceans and beaches still receive most of the attention of those studying and working to abate plastic pollution.

What is the Netflix show about plastics in the ocean? ›

Watch Plastic Island | Netflix.

Why can't we clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? ›

First of all, because they are tiny micro plastics that aren't easily removable from the ocean. But also just because of the size of this area. We did some quick calculations that if you tried to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean it would take 67 ships one year to clean up that portion.

What happens if we don t clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? ›

But it also means that the number of microplastics might increase by a factor of 10 or more if we don't remove the plastic floating in the oceans today. The longer we wait with the cleanup, the more microplastics there will be in the oceans.

What are the negatives of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? ›

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and plastic pollution generally, is killing marine life. 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are affected every year, as well as many other species. For example, turtles often mistake plastic bags for prey such as jellyfish.

Can you see the Pacific Garbage Patch from a plane? ›

No, you can't see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from space. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a large collection of marine debris that can be seen floating on the ocean surface. It's large, but you can't see it from space.

Does Hawaii dump garbage in the ocean? ›

Hawaii has long evoked images of a remote Pacific paradise, a land of pristine beaches and extraordinary biodiversity. But its unique location has forced the islands to reckon with an unwelcome guest: plastic debris washing up in vast quantities, sullying its waters and threatening its marine life.

Does New York City still dump their garbage in the ocean? ›

New York's old garbage isn't gone. Whatever wasn't burned or beached is in places like Riker's Island, or Brooklyn, or under the U.N. and East Side Drive. South of City Hall, perhaps one-third of New York is "made" land, and much the same is true of almost any city in the world.

Which country pollutes the ocean the most? ›

10 countries pollute the world's oceans with plastic the most: the Philippines, India, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand and Brazil. The paradox is that these countries do not consume the most plastic, but at the same time, they lack a quality waste management system.

How long will it take to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? ›

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program has estimated that it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean. Many expeditions have traveled through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

What country is the most affected by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? ›

A majority of Asian countries

Japan tops the list, accounting for 33.6% of the waste identified. Next comes China (33.3%), followed by South Korea (9.9%).

Why is Deep Water movie scary? ›

Deep Water is a scary movie for kids- and adults! – from this standpoint. What is this? As such, there is killing including an on-screen drowning, dead bodies, horrific car crash, and blood.

What movie was the contaminated water lawsuit in? ›

An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply.

What is blackwater for drinking? ›

“Black water” is a term that describes water that contains fulvic acid (FvA) and sometimes otherminerals or vitamin additives. Black water is also known by other names, such as “fulvic water” and “natural mineral alkaline water”.

What is the longest someone has been stranded in the ocean? ›

José Salvador Alvarenga holds the record for the longest solo survival at sea. He was adrift for 438 days, and traveled over 6,700 miles.

What is the best survival video movie? ›

This post contains affiliate links. We may earn a commission if you buy through these links.
  • 127 Hours (2010) Directed by: Danny Boyle. ...
  • The Book of Eli (2010) Directed by: Albert and Allen Hughes. ...
  • The Way Back (2010) ...
  • The Edge (1997) ...
  • Apollo 13 (1995) ...
  • The Omega Man (1971) ...
  • Rescue Dawn (2006) ...
  • The Grey (2011)

What is the movie where the girls are stuck underwater? ›

47 Meters Down is a 2017 survival horror film directed by Johannes Roberts, written by Roberts and Ernest Riera, and starring Claire Holt and Mandy Moore. The plot follows sisters who are invited to cage dive while on holiday in Mexico.

What was the biggest oil rig disaster? ›

Deepwater Horizon oil spill, also called Gulf of Mexico oil spill, largest marine oil spill in history, caused by an April 20, 2010, explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig—located in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 41 miles (66 km) off the coast of Louisiana—and its subsequent sinking on April 22.

What movie did the oil rig explode? ›

A dramatization of the disaster in April 2010, when the offshore drilling rig called the Deepwater Horizon exploded, resulting in the worst oil spill in American history.

What was the worst oil rig fire? ›

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion was an April 20, 2010 explosion and subsequent fire on the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit, which was owned and operated by Transocean and drilling for BP in the Macondo Prospect oil field about 40 miles (64 km) southeast off the Louisiana ...

What is the story behind plastic? ›

In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature. Baekeland had been searching for a synthetic substitute for shellac, a natural electrical insulator, to meet the needs of the rapidly electrifying United States.

What is the question the film A Plastic Ocean answers? ›

What happens to all the rest? This is the question the film A Plastic Ocean answers. It is a documentary that looks at the impact that plastic waste has on the environment. Spoiler alert: the impact is devastating.

Why is plastic ending up in the ocean? ›

Rainwater and wind carries plastic waste into streams and rivers, and through drains. Drains lead to the ocean! Careless and improper waste disposal is also a big contributor – illegal dumping of waste adds greatly to the plastic surge in our seas.

How long does plastic take to decompose? ›

Plastic can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose, depending on the material's structure and environmental factors such as sunlight exposure.

What is a sad fact about plastic? ›

8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our ocean daily. 79% of plastic waste is sent to landfills or the ocean, while only 9% is recycled, and 12% gets incinerated. 25 trillion macro & 51 trillion microplastics litter our oceans. Of that, 269,000 tonnes float on the surface.

When was plastic invented a mistake? ›

5. Plastic. Although earlier plastics had relied on organic material, the first fully synthetic plastic was invented in 1907 when Leo Hendrik Baekeland accidentally created Bakelite. His initial quest was to invent a ready replacement for shellac, an expensive product derived from lac beetles.

Why are microplastics poison pills? ›

Microplastics can absorb unwanted and undesirable chemicals including heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's), and pesticides. Human consumption of microplastics can result in an increased exposure to these chemicals and might lead to poisonous effects.

Is there still plastic in the ocean? ›

Much of the plastic in the ocean is in the form of abandoned fishing nets. The first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of microplastics are the small beads found in some soaps and other personal care products. But microplastics also include bits of what were once larger items.

What happens to all the plastic we throw away? ›

Only 9% of that waste plastic is recycled and 12% is incinerated. The remaining 79% ends up in landfills or in the environment, where they will stay forever in one form or another, as plastic does not decompose.

Where does all the plastic in the ocean end up? ›

The vast majority – 82 million tonnes of macroplastics and 40 million tonnes of microplastics – is washed up, buried or resurfaced along the world's shorelines.

How many plastic containers end up in the ocean? ›

How many plastic bottles are in the ocean? The number of plastic bottles in the sea is unknown, but over 250 billion were not recycled. Around 8-9 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. That's the equivalent of a garbage truck emptying plastic into the ocean every single minute.


1. Gyre in a pan
(Bonnie Monteleone)
2. v-NERIC 2021 - Marine Microplastics Pollution: Impact on Coastal Ecosystem and Human Health
(Admin RI-INBRE)
3. Jo Ruxton - Challenges/Achievements of the fight against plastic pollution.
(Solo Driven Art)
4. Plastics In The Marine Environment
5. Plastic Crisis: Our Oceans in Peril
(Nix The Norm)
6. Flattening the Plastic Curve 2020 10 13 at 15 45 GMT 7 1 mp4
(North Carolina Wildlife Federation)


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