UNCW Researchers Among International Scientists Featured in “A Plastic Ocean” Documentary

Thursday, February 11, 2016

UNCW researchers are among the experts featured in A Plastic Ocean, a feature-length documentary that sheds lights on the global effects of plastic pollution on marine life and human health.

The film was shot in 20 locations around the world over a four-year period. The documentary not only brings to light the impact of plastic in the oceans, it also shares solutions.

Bonnie Monteleone, plastic marine debris research and lab assistant/administrative assistant in the Department of Chemistry; and Susanne Brander, Alison Taylor and Rob Condon, faculty in the Department of Biology & Marine Biology, were among the team of international scientists involved in the project.

“After traveling over 10,000 nautical miles and finding plastic detritus in some of the most remote places on the planet, I hope the documentary serves as a wake-up call that there is no such place as ‘away’ when discarding plastics,” Monteleone said. “The film is not to demonize plastic, but to help educate. When plastics find their way into the ocean it wreaks havoc on marine life.”

Plastics in the ocean negatively impact micro plankton up to the largest animal on the planet, and by doing so takes out many of the building blocks necessary for a healthy ocean, Monteleone explained.

“The film addresses one of the solutions we are working on here at UNCW in the chemistry department – converting plastics back into a necessary commodity: oil,” she said. “The goal is to reduce the demand of offshore drilling and give plastic value so it is less likely to end up in the ocean.”

Assistant professor Susanne Brander and professor Alison Taylor recorded videos that showed larval fish do not differentiate well between plastics that are similar to the size of prey items and actual prey (zooplankton).

“The implications of this are that any piece of plastic we dispose of has the potential to eventually make its way into the aquatic environment … and become ‘food’ for aquatic and marine organisms,” said Brander. “I hope that people will realize that seemingly small actions, such as purchasing water in plastic bottles instead of filling a reusable container, can have a huge impact. The fact that organisms we may not even be able to see without a microscope, which are at the base of aquatic and marine food chains, can ingest these micro plastics and contribute to the overall problem is something I think very few people realize.”

-- Venita Jenkins