“Our planet is choking with trash and no number of beach or waterway cleanups can stop it. We are treating the symptoms, not the disease. As a country, as a species, as individuals we need to stop consuming single use plastics.”
Caroline Power is an environmentalist and passionate photographer whose photographs recently went viral, highlighting the global issue of plastic in our oceans. Equipped with her Olympus OM-D EM-5 and underwater housing she takes to the oceans to document the beauty and destruction of our marine life, witnessing orcas hunting and eating a tiger shark and playing tag with sea lions. In this exclusive interview with Caroline Power for In Focus we discuss the issue, how we can address it and the power of visual communication.
Words by Caroline Power The facts are shocking. Over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are already in the world's ocean. That number is predicted to double by 2025. Each minute, one dump truck of trash enters the oceans; by 2050 it will be three per minute and the number of plastic pieces in our seas will outnumber fish. Over 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were used globally in 2016, the equivalent of 20,000 per second. Per second! That is enough to reach half way to the sun. Only a small percentage were recycled. More than 5 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded annually. The United States uses 500 million plastic straws every day and 60 billion plastic drinking bottles per year -1500 per second. Even though the majority of bottles in the USA are recyclable, over 80% end up at landfills. Our planet is choking with trash and no number of beach or waterway cleanups can stop it. We are treating the symptoms, not the disease. As a country, as a species, as individuals we need to stop consuming single use plastics. Collectively, we need to write to our politicians, restaurant owners, super market chains, etc and ask them to ban single use plastics. France just banned all plastic dishes, cups, and utensils. Rwanda and Kenya have banned plastic bags. It is possible.
People know there is a global plastic trash problem, they know overfishing is depleting the oceans, global warming is killing off our coral reefs, deforestation is robbing animals of their homes, overpopulation has reached critical levels, the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs is underway, etc . But reading about something is not the same as seeing it. Seeing invokes emotion, stirs passion, and inspires change. That is the power of photography.
I started using a Canon However, a few years back I began hearing whispers of a small mirrorless camera from Olympus that could match the image quality of DSLRs. While the size of modern DSLRs is relatively small, everything becomes bulkier when modified to go underwater. I did not want to drag around the microwave sized chunk of machined aluminium required to make my DSLR water proof. When the Em5 came out, I jumped on it. It is so light weight and compact, I can easily out swim DSLR shooters when photographing fast swimming marine creatures. Plus my entire setup including strobes, tray, housing, and port fits in a regular sized backpack. At the moment, I am upgrading from the EM5 to the EM1 mark ii (both in Nauticam housings) as the 4k video ability is just too good to pass up.
What can we do?
There are so many simple every day things people can do to cut down on plastic use:
- No more bottled water - buy a reusable bottle.
- At restaurants, specify tap water, not bottled and ask for no straw
- Buy drinks in cans or glass bottles as they are easier to recycle than plastic.
- Don't put plastic lids on your to-go cups and buy a reusable coffee cup.
- No more plastic bags. This means Ziplocks, produce bags, and dog poop bags. There is no excuse. Inexpensive, easy-to-carry eco-alternatives.
- No more cling film. There are several companies that now make reusables.
- Switch to bamboo toothbrushes. Widely available online or at Whole Foods, they are competitively priced.
We also need more financial support for local charities and NGOs that are working tirelessly to protect our oceans. The Roatan Marine Park works with the local schools to teach better environmental practices. Go Blue Central America works with businesses to educate and offer eco alternatives. Plastic Free Cayman is doing similar work. There are countless other small organizations all over the world that work at a ground level. But they need funding and support.
Never give up. It is so easy to become disheartened by increasingly depressing news reports and grim scientific studies but we cannot stop trying. The advent of social media has given unknown photographers such as myself now have the chance to reach large audiences and have a platform on which to inspire change. The reaction to these photos has given me hope. I have been utterly blown away by the response. In the last two weeks, I have been inundated with emails and calls from publications and organisations all over the world. Countless environmental groups, anti plastic campaigners, engineers, inventors, and government agencies have contacted me. All of them want to spread awareness of this issue. Some have offered help. It seems I was wrong.
People do care. There may still be hope for this planet.