Plastic Ocean Project shows campus eye-opening film on ocean conservation


Sara Bayles, 32, collects garbage that includes discarded plastic toys as part of a 365-day project of documenting trash she’s gathered in Santa Monica, California, September 2, 2010. She photographs some of the debris and after a 20-minute period she weighs the trash. She blogs about her activities on her post The Daily Ocean along with posting her photographs. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Megan Romanchok | Contributing Writer

To a sold-out Lumina Theater, the UNC Wilmington student chapter of Plastic Ocean Project screened the movie “A Plastic Ocean” Tuesday, Jan. 25.

Families, students, and community members of all ages showed up to see the documentary, featured on CNN, projected up on the big screen, enter a raffle featuring prizes donated by local businesses and hear a knowledgeable panel of environmental advocates speak and answer questions on the issue of plastics in the environment.

The feature-length film followed a team of researchers, adventurers and filmmakers on their four-year quest to understand the story of single-use plastic and how it has found its way into the ecosystem.

Starting with blue whales, the team explores the negative impact of plastic on fish, turtles, and dolphins, all of whom have be observed ingesting or becoming ensnared in plastic debris. Also covered are dangers of the chemicals in plastics as well as the accumulation of the waste and how it poses a risk to the health and lives of humans. This ends on a high note about environmental solutions and technologies and hope for the future of planet earth.

Audience members left the theater discussing their various reactions and emotions towards the film including shock, awe, anger and sadness as well as hope, a sense of fierce protectiveness, and inspiration. After the film, movie-goer James Stroud stated that “A Plastic Ocean” gave him the desire “to make a difference in the world. To help stop the pollution of our environment and make the world a healthier place for future generations.”

The president of UNCW’s chapter of the Plastic Ocean Project, Arisa Yoon, was overjoyed to see “the campus and community coming out in response to this issue [of plastic littering],” especially since “it is a topic with not much discussion around it yet”

The film also features some names familiar to the Wilmington community. The audience erupted in applause when Dr. Bonnie Monteleone, who works in the Chemistry Department at UNCW as an Administration Assistant as well as a Plastic Marine Debris Lab assistant, appeared on screen to assist in explaining oceanic plastic distribution to the viewers.

Dr. Monteleone serves as Executive Director and Director of Science, Research and Academic Partnership for Plastic Ocean Project, Inc. She also has an extensive research portfolio having collected samples for study in 4 out of the 5 ocean gyres or circulating ocean currents that collect ocean debris in the center, the Caribbean, Lake Pyramid in Nevada, and all four oceans.

 Also contributing, as a scientific advisor, was UNCW professor and phytoplankton researcher, Dr. Susanne Brander. She provided information about plankton on their tendency to feed on microplastics.

The evening concluded with a brief speech from the local Audubon chapter, a conservation organization focusing on protecting birds, other wildlife and their habitats, and then a question and answer session with a panel of community members highly knowledgeable on the subject of ocean conservation.

The panel comprised of Dr. Susanne Brander, an assistant professor in the Biology and Marine Biology Department at UNCW, Dr. Monteleone and Kat Pohlman, the Sustainability Coordinator for UNCW’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

UNCW’s student chapter Plastic Ocean Project ended the night having screened an informational movie to an audience of Wilmington community members, potentially inspiring them to take a stand against plastics and conserve the oceans.