How this British island nation is tackling plastic waste – and winning – National Geographic UK

“One of the benefits of being small is we that can trial things and innovate quickly,” adds Rowan Henthorn, a marine scientist and Climate Change Researcher and Ecosystem Officer for the Isle of Man government. “There’s a real appetite for that in our community, and many of us want to put the island at the forefront of tackling plastic and climate change – and act as an example for the rest of the world.”

As part of 2018’s eXXpedition voyage, Rowan sailed into the North Pacific Gyre – the Pacific Garbage Patch – a dense zone of ocean plastic pollution collected by ocean currents and floating between Vancouver and Hawaii. Having seen the worst, she’s keen to push best practice in her own backyard. “We’ve just released a community plastics plan,” she explains, “which is set to remove single use plastics across government, and in local businesses. There’s less separation between people and policy makers here, and I think it shows.”

(What it is like to swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.)

Henthorn is also doing her own thing in the form of Sustain our Seas, a community group “that aims to connect people with their seas in a more holistic way,” she says. “Historically, the ocean is a hard thing for people to understand and care about. You look out at a big blue expanse, and for many it’s a barrier, so they can’t understand that what’s under the surface is just as vital as the beach they’re standing on.” Through education in schools, art exhibitions and her Sunday Sea Sessions, “where people can come and meet in the sea, like a coffee morning with wetsuits… I want them to feel something of what I’ve grown up with and I why I want to protect it. To see what’s under the water, and how beautiful it is – and by connecting with it, to want to fight for it.”

Elsewhere on the Island, Henthorn points to the Manx Wildlife Trust, which as part of its Wave Goodbye to Plastic campaign, has been organising ‘nurdle hunts’. The lentil-sized nurdles – pre-production pellets used to make ‘virgin’ plastic materials – get into the environment through factory and containership spills. Billions of them are in the ocean right now. “There’s no business on the island making plastics, but they still wash up on our beaches, so kids and adults are hunting these, and reporting back what they find. Because it’s really a survey, feeding into an international database that helps to track and to stop these things.” 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *