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Plankton Not Plastic

Marine Debris in the Hebrides, photograph by Rachel Brooks Art

The plastic problem? 

As an ocean artist, wildlife guide, scuba instructor and advocate I spend a lot of my time in and on the water. I have travelled and worked in many beautiful parts of the world, but everywhere I go there is a common problem, and that is plastic. We have all heard the projection that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea, but have you stopped to really imagine the gravity of that fact? 
The IUCN estimates that at least 14 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year, so what can we do to change that? 
One of the main issues I have found when trying to communicate the problem with plastic pollution, is that most people feel quite detached from the natural world and don't see how it affects them personally. When you live away from the ocean, you may not see how your throw away coffee cup or crisp packet has any impact on the planet once you have placed it in the bin. 
But for those of us who have seen the devastating impact plastic pollution is having on the planet, we know that there is no such thing as away. 
beach clean with Rachel Brooks Art
Beach cleaning on the Isle of Coll with equipment kindly gifted by 4Ocean 
It is no secret that we should be moving away from single use plastics, but many of us don't make the effort - despite knowing the consequences. I wanted to bring the message back in to the forefront of peoples minds with a creative new message. 
Art is a powerful tool in conservation, and is an amazing way to inspire new conversations and thought. I started this creative campaign, on my doorstep, which I believe is always a great place to start. Marine debris is not a far away issue, but something that has become a problem in every ocean globally, from the arctic ice sheets to the deepest parts of the Mariana trench. 
Home to basking sharks, whales, dolphins, seals, porpoises and a vast array of seabirds - the Hebrides are wildly beautiful, but their exposed position on the edge of the Atlantic can mean the bays here suffer from heavy tides of plastic. Combine this with their remote location cleaning these areas from land can be challenging or completely inaccessible. 
I wanted to create a design that no only celebrated our incredible wildlife but also helped raise awareness of the problem, choosing to include debris that people would recognise from their own consumer habits. 
Plankton Not Plastic Basking Shark by Rachel Brooks Art

Basking sharks, Cetorhinus maximus, are the world's second largest shark and the largest we see here in the British Isles. Growing up to an impressive 12m in length these gentle giants feed on a diet of plankton! They lead very mysterious lives during the winter but during the summer months we see them in large numbers aggregating in the Sea of the Hebrides, which has now been designated as an MPA - the first of its kind for basking sharks! Filter feeders could be particularly vulnerable to ingesting microplastics, but due to their large size we haven't been able to assess whether or not this is the case. All species, including ourselves are now at a huge risk from our over reliance on plastics. Plastic has been found in unborn children and even in our blood. 

What can I do to help?

There are so many things you can do in your day to day life to reduce your impact on the planet, so here are a few ideas to get you started! 

Take stock of your shopping and see where the most of your single use plastic is coming from, and which of those you can realistically change. You don't need to throw out every bit of plastic in your house and start from scratch, but slowly make small swaps you can stick to. Remember, we need everyone to do there bit imperfectly! I found the easiest swaps to start with were my cleaning products and toiletries. There are now so many amazing refill services, which not only saves the packaging, looks great in your kitchen and bathroom, but also saves the energy of transporting large amounts of water unnecessarily. There are lots of quality swaps out there, which are not only better for your health, but better for the planet. 

Choose to reuse - if you haven't already, ditch the throw away bags, water bottles and coffee cups. Get in to the habit or carrying reusable bags, bottles and cups. If I forget my shopping bags I look for cardboard boxes in the store that I can use to carry my shopping! 

Pick it up! - It isn't somebody else's problem, it is all of our problem. If you do see litter while you are out, put it in the bin. Join in beach or river cleans in your area, or support organisations that are actively pulling plastic! 

There are so many things you can do, but I hope these ideas inspire you to make a start on your journey against plastic! And don't forget to spread the word!

Plankton Not Plastic T-shirts by Rachel Brooks art

I plan to develop this collection coming in to the next year to include more artivism pieces and possibly events. Watch this space! 

marine debris photography by Rachel brooks art
 All images  © Rachel Brooks, 2016-2022 All Rights Reserved