Plastic Pollution Expedition to Indonesia

By Pam Longobardi

A golden light matches the wonderful golden smell that envelopes the nose upon entering the Balinese taxi: it is the pungent shavings of coconut that are part of the small baskets of flowers and symbolic items laid daily as offerings of the nature-based Balinese Hinduism. This beautiful daily ritual is evidenced everywhere: on the street, on pathways, the beach, roadside altars, and even in the taxi dashboards. A place of deep spiritual connections to the natural world, Bali was the launching port of our 10-day Oceanic Society/Drifters Project/Plastic Pollution Coalition expedition from Bali to Komodo and back, and my second trip was even more magical than my first in 2014.

Our crew was a dedicated team of international experts on plastic pollution: artists, scientists, activists, world-class photographers, philanthropists, and explorers, joined by Indonesian counterparts, naturalists, and conservation specialists. Prior to our launch, we laid important groundwork in a series of meetings with local organizations from Bali and nearby islands: Bye Bye Plastic Bag BaliDiet Kantong Plastic, and the Coral Triangle Center.

To my great joy, Amir Using was once again our Indonesian naturalist and guide. As a fellow plastic pollution warrior who by chance was our guide in 2014, our meeting was the most important outcome of the first expedition. I made him an official Drifters Project member with a gift of our Plastic Free Island team shirt and 100 stainless steel straws. He told us that these things, the team shirt and the straws, were his ‘weapons against plastic.’ Over the two years since we had met, Amir had mobilized Plastic Free Indonesia to an extent that brought tears to my eyes.

Taking the logo copied from the shirt, Amir had hand-printed large reusable collection bags that he took to nearly a dozen different islands for beach cleanups. He had broadcast to his network of ham radio operators and gained their support for remote island cleanings, spoken to children’s groups about plastic pollution dangers, and marched in festival parades with volunteers picking up plastic garbage along the way. 

Amir was a force for change within Sea Safari, the expedition company he guides with. He worked with management in the adoption of new habits and ways of reducing plastic by switching from disposable plastic cups, bottles and straws to reusable metal bottles and straws. He had built an army of plastic warriors in Indonesia. When we boarded the ship, he presented us with big beautiful hand-printed cotton bags that the whole team used for underwater and coastal plastic collection!

We had our work cut out for us. Before we even made landfall on any of the remote islands we were to visit, we found ourselves in a floating maelstrom of ocean plastics: cups, food packages, straws that we snatched from the surface and dove down to collect. Getting close to the deeper corals, we noticed monofilament plastic fishing line ensnared in the corals heads which we cut loose with knives. The amount of water-borne plastic was much worse than even two years ago. Free divers Ann, Caroline, Dianna and I untangled meters and meters of line from the coral heads, while the amazing photographer of the GYRE expedition Kip Evans, did the heavy lifting shooting all the action with his 20-pound underwater rig.

Some of it was heavily encrusted with life: sponges, corals, tunicates, barnacles, crabs. Amir and I spent an hour or more carefully extracting the living creatures from their plastic snare and returned them safely to the sea.

Our first landfall with the team was the coastal village of Moyo, that had been the site of a spontaneous beach cleaning with the children of the village in 2014. I led a forensic beach cleaning, while microplastic scientist Abby Barrows of Adventure Scientists trained crew members in the protocol for water sampling for microfibers which she will study onboard with her portable lab. Surprisingly the beach was remarkably cleaner than it had been in 2014, though there were still plenty of ocean messages in the plastic we recovered. As soon as children and other villagers gathered to help us, Amir translated that since our visit two years before, the village had been doing weekly beach cleanings, and the school teacher had been educating his classes about plastic pollution. It was a most extraordinary development, and as we waited for our boat, tiny 2-, 3- and 4- year old girls helped me sift micro plastic from the sand at the dock. Their sharp eyes and tiny fingers were excellent at this task and they were excited by the game of it.

Our next major island stop was Padar, a spectacular uninhabited island formation. On landfall, we were greeted by a sparsely plasticized beach, and a carved wooden sign saying “No Litter” in Indonesian. Climbing the steep dusty trail, the island’s amazing shape is slowly revealed. I started noticing small plastic bits on the trail and began to collect them, realizing I had a whole collection of decorative elements from designer shoe soles that fell apart on the rugged trail: Nike, Crocs, Bata etc. With 35 or more by the time I reached the top, the trail became a plastic ‘walk of shame’ for all the companies that left their plastic parts in paradise. I created an impromptu collage of these red and black designer garbage – a temple of shoe shame.

From the top, I could see three distinct half-moon shaped beaches, one white, one black and one pink. We had landed on the white one, and directly opposite it, on the windward side, was the black beach being pounded by huge perfect peeling waves.  We could see signs of massive plastic inundation, so on the way back down, several of us veered off and hiked the steep path to the shore.

It was a plastic beach, just full of every sort of namable and unnamable object, much of it very old. I heard later from Amir and other crew who had been there many times that they had never looked there before, and likely the beach had never been cleaned. Abby found a nearly disintegrating plastic durian fruit with remarkable detail; Steve, a beautifully ornate picture frame of plastic mimicking carved wood; and I found numerous odd fishing floats in shapes I had never seen before. We were without water and overheated to the point of exhaustion but the beach was so raw, so despoiled and so untouched we stayed for several more hours gathering as much as we could carry away.

The spaces between islands were raucous with life. We encountered pairs of sperm whales, emitters of the loudest sound on earth, and a pod stretching to the horizon of probably thousands of small cetaceans the onboard naturalists Identified as melon-headed whales. We boarded the smaller dingies and approached them and as dolphins do, they bow-ride the pressure wave off the front of the small craft, surfacing and jumping in unison, playing in the wake.

Another day we snorkeled in an area that was having a major planktonic event. The water was thick with iridescent flashing darting forms at the surface while the bottom had enormous rafts of sea urchins clustered in mating that were releasing millions of small brick red eggs that attracted huge schools of fish swirling in bait balls and scores of manta rays gliding through the soup of food. This was a pristine day of almost no plastic encounters – a true paradise.

Our final days were full of interesting encounters from the ocean – in the form of messages in plastic. This is the part of my practice that feels the most connected to the larger network of life-force, and when others experience it, I see their thrill and feel the same amazement I feel every time it happens to me, even after 10 years.  I talk about the ocean communicating with us through the material of our own making, the plastic. As the team had been actively collecting for over a week, they were finely tuned to plastic awareness. Caroline found the first symbol, a beautiful translucent turquoise water faucet, of particular meaning to her: she has just started a water protection foundation. Artist and musician Alvaro Soler Arpa found his message: a big plastic decal that said ‘Studio Music.’ Wayne, who makes much of his magic at Oceanic happen through countless hours on phone conferences: a cell phone cover. Lisa and Jean found an amazing readymade installation- an ancient Ultraman arm sticking out of the sand, ‘drowning in plastic.’ And Ann, deep diving breath-hold diver, found a spectacular plastic chicken meters under the sea in perfect shape: it was a children’s piggy bank.

Much of the plastic that we recovered was transported back to Lombok and will be donated to a most fantastic social enterprise group called the Bank Sampah NTB Mandiri or “Garbage Bank”. Brainchild of Aisyah Odist, this enterprise actually pays individuals rupiah for the collection and cleaning of plastic trash, like the ubiquitous food packages everywhere in Indonesia. More ambitious individuals can also cut and fold the plastic into interlocking links that create beautiful handbags, wallets, purses and other finely crafted items that are for sale in their boutique. Additionally, they compost organic matter into fine planting soil and make inventive planters for sprouts and seedlings. The level of skill and organization was truly impressive, and the output of stunning products of Bank Sampah make this a model organization of upscaling and creative reuse. Many of us bought beautiful works to gift to others.

Our first seeds planted two years ago have taken root and flourished in ways beyond my wildest expectations. We are now joined to a network of plastic-fighting warriors with firm traction in place because of dedicated individuals and organizations from the Coral Triangle Center ambitious and far-reaching goals to the super kids of Bye Bye Plastic Bag Bali to Amir’s tireless efforts on island after island. It is a moment of great joy and celebration that we end our expedition on…. only to come back to learn that our election has taken a most disastrous turn. What will this mean for our collective future? For me, it galvanizes my commitment to fight for the beauty and infinite creativity of nature. We are an army, we are growing, and we have only just begun. But we are racing against time.

Pam Longobardi is the founder of Drifter’s Project. She is a notable member of Plastic Pollution Coalition, and the Oceanic Society’s Artist-In-Nature. This piece originally appeared here.

How much plastic pollution fills the waters around Indonesia? How are flora and fauna reacting to plastic garbage in their environment? These are the questions scientists, artists, and leaders will ask on their 10-day expedition on schooner Sea Safari VII from Bali to Komodo, Indonesia, Nov. 1-10, 2016.

Passengers on the boat include: Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition; Pam Longobardi, Oceanic Society Artist in Nature; Abby Barrows, Adventure Scientists Microplastics Principal Investigator; Lisa Christensen, CEO of Ecozine and Hong Kong Cleanup; Kip Evans of Mission Blue; Wayne Sentman of Oceanic Society; and artist Alvaro Soler Arpa.

“We’re expecting to see plastic garbage on the remote islands and waters of Indonesia,” said Cohen. “We will collect and document the plastic and report our findings.”

Pam Longobardi, who traveled the same course in 2014, saw “coral gardens of indescribable beauty” and “fish in ten thousand hues,” but also the “troubling” reality of plastic pollution throughout her voyage.

On the island of Lombok she witnessed a mother and baby macaque eating plastic, “the mother scavenging food that looked like carrots packaged in plastic” while the baby chewed on a plastic bottle.

While snorkeling, Longobardi retrieved sunken plastic. “I cut fishing line and nets free from coral,” she wrote. “Some plastic had been underwater so long it had been colonized and encrusted with life.”

One stop on the voyage will be Komodo Island, the only place in the world home to living dinosaurs: the Komodo dragon. Even these massive creatures are not immune to the effects of plastic pollution in their environment. Longobardi has seen plastic in a Komodo dragon’s “bolus” (material that has been eaten, swallowed, and regurgitated) in the way that albatross, owls, and other birds have done with plastic pieces.

What animals will the voyagers see on this trip? And what types of plastic will they collect? Stay tuned for the next update.

Take the pledge to refuse single-use, disposable plastic. 

TOO MUCH — This was the conclusion that the 60 participants of the Marine Science Youth Camp in Valparaiso, Chile, reached after analyzing the results of the first-ever international litter sampling Oct. 2-5. The national Marine Science Youth Camp brought together students from across the country as international leaders convened for the International Conference “Our Ocean.” 

During two days packed with activities, the children also visited a local beach with their teachers to examine the state of marine litter. In this standardized scientific sampling, local students were joined by fellow students from Taiwan, South Korea, South Africa, Australia, and Germany to classify and count all litter in a 3m-by-3m quadrant (6 to 60 quadrants per beach). View the slideshow:

This is the first time that this sampling method, which was developed and is frequently employed by “Cientificos de la Basura” (Litter Scientists) from Chile, has also been used in other countries. 

From the global sampling, litter densities ranged from approximately one item per square meter to more than 12 items per square meter, most of which were single-use plastics. 

The participants of the science camp concluded that the quantity of litter is too much for a healthy ocean, and are committed to act in their homes and schools. In addition, the students encouraged others to join them in this important challenge. Despite the challenge’s difficulties, the students expressed their wishes to help each other become better guardians of the oceans along with family members, friends, neighbors, politicians, and businesses to reduce the use of single-use plastic items. 

The organizing institutions, participating teachers, and especially the students were excited about this unique opportunity to learn about marine science together, and collaborate with fellow students from other countries. We are planning to repeat this experience in the future, and in particular hope that plastic pollution in the oceans will soon improve, because the students would prefer to explore marine life rather than count litter. The students and this sampling reminded us once more that keeping the oceans clean is everybody’s task.

For more information: and

For contact:, Universidad Católica del Norte, Coquimbo, Chile

At the 2015 Our Ocean conference in the host Chilean port city of Valparaiso Oct. 5, the Chilean government, along with the United States’ and others’, committed to a series of actions to protect precious ocean areas and marine resources, continuing last year’s momentum

Chile blocked off a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean near Easter Island to protect it from threats, including pollution, overfishing and oil and gas exploration. The United States, meanwhile, is moving to create the first new National Marine Sanctuary since 2001, one in Maryland and the other in the Great Lakes. President Barack Obama, in a videotaped statement, said he would seek to protect more American waters in the coming months.

Britain, Gabon, Kiribati, New Zealand and Palau have taken steps as well to protect sections of the sea in recent months.

Other moves explored at the summit to deal with plastic pollution include:

  • A new partnership between the U.S. and the UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme in the wider Caribbean region to implement Trash Free Waters, a collaborative approach to reduce land-based sources of trash and marine debris;
  • A U.S. commitment of over $1.5 million in 2016 to work with partners to remove marine debris from sensitive ecosystems in the U.S. and to develop innovative projects that change behavior to minimize the amounts and impacts of marine debris;
  • A partnership between the coastal cities of Xiamen and Weihai in China, and San Francisco and New York, to share best practices related to waste management to reduce the flow of trash into the ocean.

Secretary of State John Kerry made these remarks in a keynote address:

We’re not just fishing unsustainably, my friends; we are living unsustainably. Our ocean is taking in a massive amount of pollution—8 million tons of plastic alone every single day. To put that into context, scientists say that the ocean may soon contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish. Not only that, but the chemistry of our ocean is changing rapidly. Why? Because nearly a third of greenhouse gasses that are coming out of tailpipes of cars and smokestacks of power plants end up getting absorbed by the ocean. And that may seem helpful, but when carbon dioxide dissolves into saltwater, it forms an acid—carbonic acid. And as a result, the sea is acidifying 10 times faster than at any point in history, stunting the growth of shellfish, degrading coral reefs, and putting the entire marine food web at risk.

The U.S. will host the summit in 2016. For more information on Our Ocean Conference 2015, go to the U.S. Department of State website here.

Photo: A boat on a Chilean waterway, [ROBZ] / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The Clean Oceans 2015 Joint Seminar on September 14th ended successfully in the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology with a new Memorandum of Engagement on plastic pollution in the ocean. The International Symposium on Cross-Strait included 47 NGOs, voluntary service units, research centers, and the general public, with more than 150 people attending. The participants included experts from Chile, the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, speaking about plastic pollution and marine litter monitoring and marine conservation issues. 

For the first time ever, the national experts and representatives spoke about “civic education,” “government policy” and “industrial responsibility,” and created a three-point consensus for Engagement in a new Cross Straits memorandum for collaboration on plastic pollution issues.  

The three main focal points of the Memorandum of Engagement on Cross Straits Plastic Pollution, created by the General Assembly, include:

1)  A unified challenge for others to join us to reduce plastic pollution in the environment, and the ocean, 

2)  To increase users’ responsibility: to think reusable, not disposable, and 

3)  To challenge all industries and individuals who use and enjoy the ocean to be better stewards/guardians with the entities at this event.  

Organizers of the meeting included the Society of Wilderness (Taiwan), the Shenzhen Mangrove Wetlands Foundation (China), the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology, and was sponsored by the Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology (SEE: a foundation in China formed by entrepreneurs of Taiwan and China).   

At the opening ceremony on the 12th, the chairman of the Society of Wilderness, Lai Rong-xiao, spoke of the impacts of marine litter which are far-reaching, and are common issues facing mankind, hoping that the two sides can overcome geographic barriers between the groups. Huo Liu, Shenzhen Mangrove Wetlands Conservation Foundation (MCF), Head of Cooperation and Development, said “since 2014 the Shanghai Rendu Ocean NPO Development Center jointly launched the Guardian of the Chinese coastline project, and has so far set up 12 monitoring points in Chinese coastal provinces, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, and continued to recruit volunteers to join the team.” SEE Secretary-General, Wang Li-Min, explains that this indicates that the essence of cross-strait exchanges created by marine environmental groups, and entrepreneurs such as SEE, constitute new ideas which will devote more attention to the effort of marine litter issues, fulfilling both corporate and social forces.  Wu Jun-Ren from the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology, encourages the participants and all sectors of society with the slogan “know the sea, love the sea, and care for sustainable oceans.”

The symposium’s slogan is “NGO action + Scientific research = the power to protect our oceans.” A clean beach is the easiest way to encourage care for the ocean, and marine litter monitoring with more scientific data will bring joint solutions in the regions waters. In addition to scientific research, public initiatives, policies legislation, industrial research and lectures, all participants personally went to the Jinshan District, New Taipei City State to conduct a beach litter survey which included identifying the country of origin of some of the litter found, and the micro plastic pollution density on the beach. Through statistical analysis of material collected during the beach study, the group found that 93 percent of marine litter was plastic, of which 20 percent was plastic bottles originating from China and Taiwan, unifying the need for cross-strait collaboration on marine plastic pollution. 

NGO/NPO participants

Taiwan participating organizations:

  • Society of Wilderness
  • National Museum of Marine Science and Technology
  • National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium
  • Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation
  •  Plastics Industry Development Center
  • Slow Down, Mr. Plastic
  • Taiwan Watch Institute
  • Orchid Island Tribal Cultural Foundation
  • Penghu Chimei marine ecosystems Care Association
  • Taiwan marine environment education promotion association
  • Taiwan Environmental Information Association
  • Marine Education Center in Taiwan
  • New Taipei Water Sports Association
  • R.A.R.E. environmental art studio

Chinese mainland participating organizations:

  • Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology (SEE)
  • Shenzhen Mangrove Wetlands Conservation Foundation (MCF)
  • Shanghai Rendu Ocean NPO Development Center
  • North Sea Community Volunteers Association
  • Beijing Water Conservation Foundation
  • Dalian Municipal Environmental Protection Volunteers Association
  • Fujian Provincial Environmental Protection Volunteers Association
  • Fujian Green Technology Culture Promotion
  • Guangxi Academy
  • Guangzhou outlook and love of nature conservation center
  • Sanya Coral Reef National Nature Reserve Management Office
  • Hainan shellfish and coral Conservation Society
  • Hainan Dong Fang Miaoxi Public Service Association
  • Hainan Marine Conservation Society
  • Birds and insects Wood Conservation Center
  • Ningbo Beilun District Volunteers Association
  • Panjin City Dawa environmental science, public service association (green Panjin)
  • Panjin Gull Protection Association
  • Qinhuangdao City Entrepreneurs Association (urban environment and development laboratories formats)
  • Clean Coast volunteer group
  • Sanya City, the Blue Ribbon Marine Conservation Society
  • Siming District, Xiamen Greencross Environmental Service
  • Xiamen Little Gull natural ecological science promotion center
  • Shenzhen Blue Marine Conservation Society
  • The beautiful coastal town of Shishi City Xiangzhi Environmental Protection Volunteers Association
  • Tianjin Eco-city green eco-cultural Association of Friends (Friends of Tianjin Green)
  • Fish Conservation and Center for Sustainable Development
  • Zhejiang Culture Promotion of green technology
  • Wenling City Youth Volunteers Association
  • Chinese mangrove Lin Baoyu Union

And other NGO groups:

  • Cientificos de la Basura
  • Hong Kong Clean Up (Ecozine)
  • Japan Envrionemental Action Network (JEAN)
  • Ocean Recovery Alliance
  • Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC)