Plastic is suffocating our oceans, it’s time for innovation to clean up

An unusual and sad sight greeted the people of Sotra in Norway this month, as a rare goose-beaked whale repeatedly beached on the island shoreline.

5 trillion pieces of plastic garbage
The stricken animal eventually had to be put down, leading to a grizzly find that, argues Nor-Shipping Director Birgit Liodden, should act as a wake-up call to spur society into action.

“This beautiful two ton animal was on the brink of death as its stomach was full, but devoid of nutrition,” she states. “Instead of food it had eaten a variety of rubbish, including some 30 plastic bags which had clogged its digestive system. Researchers have since suggested that it may have believed these bags were squid, a usual part of this species’ diet.

“The result was a slow and painful death, and a sad snap shot of the state of our global waters. It has been estimated that there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic garbage currently polluting our ocean habitats. This is not a problem that will simply take care of itself. We need to look at innovative ways to address it before we reach an inevitable tipping point.”

“This whale was not an isolated case – it was a sign of what lies ahead.”

The Ocean Cleanup
Liodden points to Boyan Slat and his Ocean Cleanup initiative, the winner of the Young Entrepreneur Award at Nor-Shipping 2015, as an example of how the issue can be tackled head on.

“We need this kind of innovation,” she stresses. “New thinking, from a new generation, to address the biggest challenges facing the maritime industry, and the world as a whole. Boyan Slat is the perfect example of that.

“His plan to use a passive system, driven by ocean currents, to capture and remove floating plastic waste is a stroke of genius. He was an obvious recipient for our award. What we need now is more ideas and, crucially, more action from talented people – from within and without the maritime industries – to build awareness, solutions and practical products and systems for tackling not just this problem, but also the other challenges that threaten responsible commercial and environmental sustainability.”

Catalyst for Change
The Nor-Shipping director points out that the main theme of this year’s programme is ‘Catalyst for Change’. Within that context the whole of exhibition Hall A has been devoted to the concept of Disruptive Sustainability – showcasing potential innovations from inside and outside the shipping spectrum – while a From Problem to Profit initiative looks to the next generation for ideas to remedy today’s industry problems. The latter activity will see the best sustainable concept rewarded with a 50,000 NOK prize.

Liodden concludes: “We can all effect positive change if we set our minds to it, helping to build a better marine and maritime environment for the future. The ideas are as limitless as our imaginations. It’s time to think big.”

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