Woonsocket Call

Pop-up ex­hibit brings ocean trash prob­lem closer to home

Plas­tics is­sues dra­ma­tized on col­or­ful wall dis­play

- By KITSON JAZYNKA

Ger­man ma­rine mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist Ju­lia Sch­net­zer shook her head as she pointed out items in a col­or­ful wall dis­play of plas­tic trash on the Na­tional Mall in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“We’ve got fish­ing nets, bot­tles, a con­struc­tion hel­met, a boo­gie board,” she said. “I’ve even seen a man­nequin head 600 me­ters be­low.”

The dis­play of ocean trash is part of a popup ex­hibit that Sch­net­zer and other sci­en­tists cre­ated. Their “Ocean Plas­tics Lab” con­sists of four ship­ping con­tain­ers filled with in­ter­ac­tive sci­ence ex­hibits. The idea is to raise aware­ness about plas­tics pol­lu­tion in the seas, help peo­ple un­der­stand its im­pact and en­cour­age them to ad­dress the prob­lem. The ex­hibit is on an in­ter­na­tional tour, with ear­lier stops in Italy, France and Bel­gium.

Us­ing con­tain­ers was meant to show how much trash hu­mans dump into the ocean. Ac­cord­ing to the project’s web­site, the amount is roughly equiv­a­lent to 850 ship­ping con­tain­ers full of plas­tic trash ev­ery day. This dump­ing is dis­as­trous to ocean life. It can also harm those of us who don’t live in the ocean, by con­tam­i­nat­ing Earth’s wa­ter with par­ti­cles that we can’t even see, such as plas­tic mi­crobeads and fibers from cloth­ing.

“We ac­tu­ally don’t know if plas­tic ever dis­ap­pears,” Sch­net­zer said. “The worst is the fish­ing line that takes 600 years to break down.”

Plas­tic bags, she says, take about 20 years to de­grade. But they pose other prob­lems, such as pos­si­bly killing the sea tur­tles and whales that eat them. Bags also wrap around and suf­fo­cate coral.

Nikasha Ka­pa­dia, a 12-year-old from Chan­dler, Ari­zona, ex­plored the ex­hibit Mon­day af­ter­noon. She was dis­mayed to dis­cover that only 9 per­cent of the world’s plas­tic is re­cy­cled and that much of the rest lit­ters the ocean.

“If we lit­ter in the ocean, even­tu­ally it will come back to us, and it can cause prob­lems in a lot of ways,” Nikasha said.

But Nikasha was hope­ful. She noted that kids have a lot of power to change things if they get in­ter­ested in a cause. The Ocean Plas­tics Lab, she said, will help kids learn how they can be part of the so­lu­tion.

Each of the four con­tain­ers has a theme. The first pro­vides an in­tro­duc­tion to the prob­lem. The se­cond shows ex­am­ples of ma­rine pol­lu­tion. The third dis­cusses the im­pact of this pol­lu­tion, and the fourth of­fers so­lu­tions.

Vis­i­tors to the in­ter­ac­tive ex­hibit can ex­am­ine a sand sam­ple through a mi­cro­scope, use a bar-code scan­ner to see how many years a plas­tic item will take to de­com­pose, and track garbage patches that move around oceans. Vis­i­tors can also learn about ways to help solve the prob­lem, such as by us­ing an app that tracks ma­rine de­bris and by pick­ing up trash.

“One of the mes­sages of the lab is that every­thing counts,” said Mon­ica Allen, a spokes­woman for the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, a spon­sor of the project. She says even drink­ing out of a cup in­stead of us­ing a plas­tic straw can make a real dif­fer­ence.

“The ocean is our life source,” Sch­net­zer said, point­ing out that more than 50 per­cent of the oxy­gen we breathe is pro­duced by tiny ocean plants called phy­to­plank­ton. “When the ocean dies, we die. We need to take care of it.”

 ??  ?? ABOVE: Vis­i­tors walk past a wall of plas­tics Mon­day at the pop-up ex­hibit “Ocean Plas­tics Lab” on the Na­tional Mall in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.
ABOVE: Vis­i­tors walk past a wall of plas­tics Mon­day at the pop-up ex­hibit “Ocean Plas­tics Lab” on the Na­tional Mall in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.
 ?? Dayna Smith/ Wash­ing­ton Post ?? LEFT: The “Ocean Plas­tics Lab” is a col­lec­tion of four ship­ping con­tain­ers that fea­ture hand­son sci­ence.
Dayna Smith/ Wash­ing­ton Post LEFT: The “Ocean Plas­tics Lab” is a col­lec­tion of four ship­ping con­tain­ers that fea­ture hand­son sci­ence.

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