Expedition Plastic: Bali - Christmas Island, Indian Ocean (2014)

Summer 2014: Roman Lehner from Ocean Care and Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Director of Research and co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, report about plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean. Together they sailed from Bali to Christmas Island and documented on land and on sea how much plastic they found on the beaches and in the water. They also show how local activists struggle to get the problem under control.


COPLARE often heard that plastic pollution in some waters of Indonesia and Asia is horrendous. We weren’t able to check it out for ourselves as we haven’t sailed the Indian Ocean. But we are very pleased to announce that Roman Lehner and videominutes.ch allow the visitors of our website to continue the COPLARE adventure in the Indian Ocean with their video-blog. We are also happy to share their other social media campaigns on Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, Facebook and Bluewin.


If your time is limited and you can only watch one episode, take Episode 11. This is unacceptable, don’t you think so? Also very informative is Episode 10. Few people know what Lin reveals.

Marcus interviews Lin at the landfill, because on his expeditions he has seen many places where waste goes to open landfills similar to this one. He raises the questions why e.g. straws in recent decades are always made from plastic when a century ago there already were fantastic straws made out of paper? And wonders why on so many beaches tooth brushes and shoes are found. He reflects that if industries, which produce such items, should pay for the full life cycle costs. That Lin and her helpers needed to be paid for their efforts to clean-up behind them. And that we probably would turn our backs to disposable plastics if this cost was added to the sales price. Lin wonders why Indonesians so much love small useless things made out of plastic, why they even sell cold drinks in plastic bags. Soon “Island Care” will organize a campaign against plastic bags. The soccer balls, toys, shoes and tooth brushes meanwhile will further accumulate on the landfill…

Sometimes the beach stays clean for a while. When the next load of plastic trash arrives depends on wind and currents. Lin shows Roman that marine turtles need the beach for breeding their offspring. And she tells that sometimes she finds a dried out egg out of which the baby turtle couldn’t hatch. She suspects that this is related to the plastic on the beach. Formerly the plastic was burnt on the beach but this practice bared its own ecological problems. Therefore it is now deposited inside the island on an open landfill. They are unhappy about this solution but didn’t find any better alternative.


Roman asks why not at least a small part of the plastic waste is brought by plane to Australia. Lin, who used to work in the waste management sector in Australia, explains that also there most of the plastic waste goes to landfills. The small value of the plastic wouldn’t allow cost-effective recycling. But Australia’s recyclers hope that this will change in the future and have different landfills for different kinds of plastics, hoping to use them as an urban mine at a later time. An interesting reflection!


(Voice: German & English)

Expedition plastic arrives on Christmas Island. Lin from the environmental initiative “Island Care” brings them to a beach which some locals call “flipflop beach”. It really looks terrible. Volunteers regularly clean the beach from tremendous amounts of trash that are washed ashore here. Sick!!!


(Voice: German & English)


COPLARE comment: And guess in what the plastic is taken away?! There’s still a lot happening in this world that needs improvement. Probably they lack money for a better solution.

Marcus shows Roman how much micro plastic some cosmetic products contain, e.g. facial scrubs or tooth cream. You wouldn’t imagine how much it is. Everybody who produces sells or buys such products must be aware that they willingly wash micro plastics through their sinks into the waters. Roman wants to know how Marcus sees his role as a scientist. Does he only do research or does he go beyond data collection and interpretation?


(Voice: German & English)

Roman doesn’t find micro plastic in the stomach of a small fish. At this point in the ocean Marcus didn’t expect plastic in the fish. An animated video explains the hypothesis how Persistent Organic Pollutants could get into our food chain via micro plastics.


(Voice: German & English)


COPLARE comment: To date COPLARE isn’t very concerned about this hypothesis as there still isn’t any scientific proof and right now it neither looks like this proof will be given any soon nor that it will reveal to be global problem. The tragedy of ingested plastic (and it’s not only micro plastic that gets eaten, also huge plastic tarps are swallowed – COPLARE reported about the whale that stranded in Spain – lighters, big bottle caps – COPLARE showed the photo – or plastic bags with knots on them etc.) for marine creatures is, that it is food without nutritious value that doesn’t spend energy but bares the risk that the animals will perish. Plastic can severely hurt animals and can cause their death, that’s a fact.


Marcus Eriksen shows how much plastic they fished out of ocean by skimming the water surface with a 10 cm wide net over a distance of 36 nautical miles (66.6 km). It’s not much - unless we imagine how small the thin slice of the water is through which the trawl went compared to the vastness of the ocean. The ocean surface consists of billions of such slices and when extrapolated the outcome is a huge mount of plastic trash anyhow. But Dr. Eriksen finds that even the amount of 270,000 metric tons of plastics drifting on the ocean surface is a rather small number compared to the annual plastic production and explains why a lot of plastic is not on the ocean surface but washes back ashore or sinks on the ocean floor.


(Voice: German & English)

Expedition Plastics sets sail: Roman breaks in the brand new Ocean Care Trawl Net and Dr. Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute explains that there is no plastic island in the ocean and that this isn’t good but very bad news.


(Voice: German & English)

Bali: Roman learns from a surfer that in Bali he sometimes has to paddle through huge amounts of trash floating in the ocean. Isabelle and Melati present the initiative “Bye-bye plastic bags" and Roman makes a self-experiment when shopping.

The expedition team has arrived in Bali and interviews right away a Balinese who campaigns for clean beaches and river beds. His family sells all kinds of trash in order to earn money. (Voice: German & English)

What is Expedition Plastic about?

Did you know that there is no plastic free spot in the worldwide ocean anymore? Since the invention of plastics billions of tons have been washed into the sea and will remain there for centuries – killing seabirds, seals, turtles, whales, poisoning fish and entering our food chain.