Award-winning cinematographer Bertie Gregory delivers his next release Epic adventures series on Disney+, unboxing this Friday, September 8. With part of the new series taking place in the ocean, now would be a good time to catch up on plastic pollution in the oceans.
Interview with Bertie Gregory
CleanTechnica had the opportunity to ask Mr. Gregory about his encounter with plastic pollution in an email exchange last month. We also described his experiences with new film technology and clean technologies. Here’s our full interview:
CleanTechnica: You’ve made a modification to drone technology that requires careful planning. Are there other new technologies you’ve tried – or plan to try – and how have they worked?
Gregory: In addition to their ability to give you a new perspective, drones are incredible because (if flown responsibly) they allow you to follow the path alongside wildlife. This really helps us immerse the viewer in the environment and get into the mind of our animal subjects.
The drone flies with a relatively small camera with a short zoom lens. We used a military gyro-stabilized camera system called the Shotover M1 to stabilize the larger zoom camera. This half million dollar system stabilizes a 50-1500mm lens that we mounted on vehicles to track them next to lions and ships and track them next to whales and dolphins. Even in big waves and over bumpy terrain, the system smooths out fluctuations, so our shots are rock solid when the camera is moving at speed.
CleanTechnica: Have you and your team experimented with renewable energy sources on your expeditions? Why or why not?
Gregory: For our Antarctic whaling mission, we used an ice-strengthened sailboat to cross the infamous stretch of water between South America and Antarctica known as the Drake Passage. When the wind wasn’t in our favour, we were reliant on the boat’s engine, but venturing out onto the deck in the waves to furl the sails was definitely an experience.
As a film crew, we rely heavily on battery technology to power our camera, drones and lights. I’d love to be able to charge lots of devices with portable solar power (especially in warmer locations!) but the technology isn’t there yet. I hope that changes soon.
CleanTechnica: Have you encountered plastic pollution on your travels across the ocean? If so, how has it affected your photography?
Gregory: Unfortunately, we have encountered plastic frequently even in the wildest places, such as 300 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica or the Antarctic Peninsula. While we’ve seen all kinds of trash, the most common form is discarded fishing gear.
Ocean pollution plastics and fishing gear
Discarded fishing gear – also known as ghost fishing gear – is a major contributor to plastic pollution in the oceans. Globally, the WWF estimates that about 12 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Fishing gear accounts for approximately 500,000 to 1 million tons per year.
As Mr. Gregory suggests, ghost equipment may be concentrated in certain areas, even if they only make up about 10% of the total. For example, WWF estimates that the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 46% ghosts, including nets, lines and ropes among other things.
Ghost gear also presents disproportionate impacts on marine life compared to other forms of plastic pollution.
Deadly places with ghost gear are on the Ocean Conservancy’s radar. “In the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary alone, an area smaller than the state of Connecticut, scientists suspect there are more than a million abandoned lobster and crab pots, with an estimated 85,000 of them actively ghost hunting,” they point out.
The Ocean Conservancy also proposes a financial element that could incentivize and force the global fishing industry into a more sustainable model.
“Globally, an estimated 90% of species caught in lost gear are commercially valuable, and some fish stocks are experiencing declines of up to 30% due to active ghost hunting,” they note. “This has staggering implications for food security, fisheries sustainability and ultimately the fishing industry’s bottom line.”
Ghost Gear Attack goes up
For a relatively new endeavor, GGGI is catching on quickly. This is likely due to the initiative’s ability to measure and demonstrate the economic impact of ghost gear on various nations’ fishing industries.
“GGGI is working with the Ocean and Fisheries Working Group (OFWG) of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to develop strategies to prevent ghost gear in APEC economies. This project, originally proposed by the United States and sponsored by the United States, Malaysia and Thailand, represents a major victory for cooperation across international forums on the issue of ghost gear,” the organization said in a blog post last year.
APEC includes 21 economies surrounding the Pacific Ocean, which together account for nearly 42% of the Earth’s habitable area and 38% of its human population, along with eight of the world’s 10 largest fishing economies.
The learning curve could be steep, based on the economic success of past endeavors.
In 2016, for example, researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science analyzed a program to remove abandoned crab pots from the Chesapeake Bay. “The economic benefits of the program far exceeded the total costs of the program,” the Ocean Conservancy noted, citing “a $21 million increase in harvest value over a six-year period.”
“Overall, tackling ghost gear improves the sustainability of fisheries and creates a win-win for anglers and fish,” they added.
Solving ocean plastic pollution
In addition to removing old ghosts, GGGI members fight ocean plastic pollution through prevention. One angle is a voluntary fishing gear tagging and tracking program that should help recover gear lost in an accident, in addition to creating new opportunities to catch bad actors.
Alternative fishing gear, better reporting of fishing activities and ecolabel certification are also part of the prevention mix described by the GGGI in a recent report.
“Collective and joint action to solve this global problem the problem has grown exponentially in recent years is a good indicator that this is a problem we can solve,” they conclude.
Ocean pollution with plastics: Recycling and upcycling
As for the other 90% of ocean pollution in plastics, it will take longer to solve, especially when it takes the form of microparticles in the sea, some of which come from normal everyday activities such as driving a car and doing laundry.
However, the GGGI makes a good case for the sustainability star to reach other plastic-using industries, as well as the fishing industry. Public awareness of ocean plastic is growing, and this is motivating manufacturers to improve their green credentials by incorporating recycled and recycled ocean plastic into their product lines (looking at you, Ford). This should help kickstart ghost recovery programs and other initiatives to remove plastic from the oceans.
The bottom line angle could also help spur investor interest in research and development leading to biodegradable bioplastic substitutes, so stay tuned for more information.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Bertie Gregory filming underwater in Costa Rica (National Geographic/Mark Sharman for Disney+).
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