When 29-year-old Cal Major set off to paddleboard around a remote Scottish island, she was prepared for choppy waters and a possible downpour or two.
It hadn’t crossed her mind, however, that she would have to cope with the heartbreaking scene of a helpless cow chewing for at least 30 minutes on a half-swallowed plastic fishing net.
The cow eventually managed to bring the net back up. But, as Major points out in the video she recorded of the experience, it’s only a matter of time before that cow, or one of the other animals on the beach, finds “another tasty bit of fishing net”.
It’s predicted there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050 unless we stop producing so much of it.
“It’s not just the animals out in the oceans that are affected by this stuff,” says Major, “it’s everything.”
As a diver who has witnessed coral reef destruction first hand, Major says she has always been passionate about the oceans. It was only when she moved to the south-west of England and started surfing regularly two years ago, however, that she realised how widespread the problem of marine plastics pollution really was.
“I just kept thinking how completely ludicrous it all was,” Major, who is also a vet, told HuffPost. “I realised I had to find a way to show people not just what was happening but also the solutions.”
After paddleboarding round the Cornish coast, collecting thousands of plastic bottles en route (“they float so they’re easy to do something about,” she says), Major set off earlier this year for a 12-day adventure covering more than 200 miles around the Scottish island of Skye.
During the day she collected marine plastics, filming her experiences as she went. At night she camped on whichever beach she’d reached. Despite being uninhabited, these beaches were covered in bottle tops, packaging and other plastic debris that had washed up onto the shore.
The result of all this hard work is Skye’s The Limit, a film which premiered in the UK in October. The film has now been entered into several film festivals around the world and will be online in full for free in 2018. For Major, the aim is simple: “to inspire change”.
A Marine Conservation Society (MSC) report, published on Thursday, highlights just how widespread the growing problem of plastics pollution on UK beaches is. A total of 255,209 individual pieces of litter were collected from 339 beaches during the MSC’s Great British Beach Clean in September – a 10% rise in the amount of litter collected last year.
Almost a third of the litter the MSC collected was identified as coming directly from the public (as opposed, for example, from sewage or the shipping industry), including items such as crisp packets, sweet wrappers and plastic bottles. Fishing waste – such as the net the cow swallowed – was responsible for more than 10% of the litter found.
Then there’s the stuff we can’t see so well, such as microfibres and nurdles. A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, published on Tuesday, says that as much as 60% of our clothing is made from plastic. Every time we wash our clothes, tiny plastic microfibres get released into the washing machine before escaping into the oceans, where they’re eaten by fish – and us.
“We’ve made plastic so widely available,” says Major, “but it doesn’t need to be. Our plastics pollution problem is a stark reminder that it’s easier to live without all this plastic. I’m just one person – we need policy change and companies to step up. But we all have a responsibility to look after our world and should take pride in looking after what we love.”
Follow Cal Major or contact her to arrange a screening of “Skye’s The Limit” here.
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