Film Review: The Smog of the Sea by Dede Tabak, April 19 2017
The Smog of the Sea, directed by Emmy-nominated Ian Cheney, may only be 30 minutes long, but its message will definitely stay with you for longer. The film follows oceanographer Marcus Eriksen on a week-long boat trip to the Bermuda Triangle. Along for the journey are fellow ocean-lovers, surfers Keith and Dan Malloy, spearfisher Kimi Werner, bodysurfer Mark Cunnigham, founder of the Bahama Plastic Movement Kristal Ambrose and musician Jack Johnson who is also an executive producer of the film.
But this isn’t a normal, leisurely boating trip. Eriksen puts the team to work and shows them something that he’s known for a while. That even out in the middle of nowhere, miles away from civilization, the seemingly clear blue ocean is permeated with plastic.
“The public sees an island of trash.” Eriksen says in the documentary, “They picture this giant place that you can go visit, this Jules Verne-esque kind of space. It doesn’t exist at all. It’s much worse than that. It’s this plastic smog of small particles that are being ingested by billions of organisms in the world’s oceans.”
In the film, Eriksen uses trawls on the side of his boat to collect natural ocean debris. Then, the team separates the plastic and at first to their untrained eyes, it doesn’t seem that bad. But then they realized that they’re not looking for large plastic debris they’re used to seeing on the shore. They're searching for microscopic plastic called micro-plastic— which is everywhere. Hence why Eriksen calls it the smog of the sea, “the fossil of our time.”
One of the main issues is that plastic pollution is harming our ocean wildlife. The micro-plastic is so small that it resembles fish larvae or plankton, which fish and other marine life eat. This is seen in the film as plastic with tiny bites on it. On top of that, plastic absorbs pollutants making it toxic to anything that ingests it. The micro-plastics are also eaten by larger wildlife, which in turn are eaten by humans (us). In the end, it's our bodies that are contaminated.
So, what is the solution to our plastic problem?
According to Matt Prindiville, Executive Director of Upstream, a National Environmental Policy organization, the solution needs to come from the companies who make these plastic products.
“It’s really about fairness. If you make something, you need to take responsibility for the environmental and social impact of that product," says Prindiville. "When consumer goods companies sell all of their products wrapped in packaging into developing countries that don’t have any solid waste or recycling infrastructure, you get rivers of plastic that are literally flowing into the ocean.”
Each year, more than 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean. According to some estimates, at the rate we are dumping plastic bottles, bags and cups, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish in weight. This is an issue that needs to be solved and can be solved, Eriksen says.
“We can redesign plastic keeping its full life cycle in mind, refuse single use plastic. We require plastic makers to be responsible for where this stuff ends up so that it doesn’t pile up in less developed countries or in the Sargasso Spring.”
Jack Johnson, who is also a UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador, has kept a plastic free backstage since 2005. He offers free water-refill stations at his concerts for fans. He has pledged to work with venues and get the message out to fans to reduce single-use plastics on his 2017 summer tour and he began selling merchandise made from upcycled material. As Johnson said in the film, “We really have to ask ourselves, do we want to keep making things that are meant to be used for a second that last in our oceans forever?”
EDITORIAL NOTE: EcoPlum Business Gifts aims to do its part in reducing plastic waste by providing companies and organizations with ethically-sourced and sustainable alternatives to promotional products made from 1st-use, petroleum-based plastic.