By June Grønseth
I’m very happy to have been born and raised in my current home of Lofoten, Norway, where I am able to capture the beauty each day brings in my photographs.
Unfortunately, though, the story that I tell in my work does not have a happy ending. As humans, we have hard work to do across the globe to confront what I call “the beast.” The beast has become HUGE, not only in my region but also around the world, making a happy ending elusive.
As I see it, the beast is the massive marine pollution of plastic debris that washes up on our beaches and coastlines each day.
This is a large plastic sachet buried in sand.
No one can dispute that the Lofoten archipelago in Norway, just above the polar circle, is beautiful.
High and steep mountains are dressed in white from October to May, and in summer, the green is indescribable.
Many people come to visit the north of Norway and land up losing their heart to the region. Driving along E10, the road that connects all of the islands, brings new scenery on each side.
Lofoten is the narrow peak in the map of Norway as you leave the mainland in the north, pointing southwest. The seven islands of Lofoten have more than 3,728 miles of coastline.
The gulf stream follows the whole coast of Norway, and when it comes by the peak of Lofoten, its swirls in between Værøy (Sørland in the map) and Moskenes. This creates the huge current “Moskenesstraumen,” caused when the tide comes in to the pool of Vestfjorden twice a day. In this way, the islands work like a huge strainer collecting all of the debris that float in the ocean, causing trouble to animals, fish, birds, and mankind.
As we were on our way home after collecting marine plastic debris, this plastic band was floating in the ocean and swirled around our propeller.
The Beauty and the Beast
In the long season of winter, we are blessed to see the lightshow of Aurora Borealis, when the sky explodes in colors with waves and curtains of red, green, purple, and yellow.
And in summer, we enjoy light both day and night, as the sun never sets from late May until late July.
The region has had long traditions for more than 1,000 years of fishing the Barents cod. During the winter months, the “Gadus morhua” (or “skrei,” as we call it) arrive in our region to spawn, and the fishing goes from January to April. Most of the cod are hung up on fish racks to dry from February until June.
In 2015, the total catch was about 65,000 tons of cod.
Last year, volunteers picked up 65 tons of plastics debris just in Lofoten. The 65 tons washed up with the tide and waves.
It takes more than 500 years for plastic debris to break down. My concern is: What are we doing to the millions of fish born in our region by polluting their home with plastics?
And fish are not the only living species that rely on and live in the ocean. The region of Lofoten houses more than 20 different species of seabirds. Millions of birds come to nest on the islands each year. It is always heartbreaking to find dead gannets (Morus Bassanus) trapped in plastic fishermen’s tools.
Plastic travels the world by sea. By counting the debris and registering where the plastics originate, we see that more than 90 percent of all plastic bottles come from southern Europe and Asia.
Whales and sea-animals that eat plastic die when the plastic blocks their intestines, preventing them from digesting the food.
Seabirds can also get trapped in plastics and drown or have their growth stunted. Stories told by the travel of plastics come by way of the ocean each day, telling the sad tale of this human-created tragedy.
So, What to Do?
First of all, we need to ban all plastics from use in future consumer packaging. This includes a ban on the plastic that’s used to wrap the non-food articles bought worldwide by the billions each day.
Glass containers can be reused several times, and food articles can be delivered in glass or paper instead of in plastic. There are many ways to reuse containers. One such way is by simply adding a pledge to all plastic cans so that they can be used several times.
In most of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, all of the drinking water is sold in plastic bottles without a pledge or care to recycle. Many of these bottles are dumped in nature after first use and find their way to the ocean. Plastic bags in all colors are flying with the wind, ending up in the sea.
What Will the Future Bring?
Each year in April, I like to sit and watch the beauty of the returning seabirds as they arrive back to Lofoten. I enjoy walking around with my camera, capturing their love stories as they their build nests, hatch, and finally become parents to the next generation.
It is my hope that my grandchildren and also their grandchildren will be able to witness these love stories themselves and enjoy them as I have.
I want them to be able to taste the cod in winter and the stoccafish that we from Lofoten export to Europe to make Bacalao.
But I’m afraid. I am afraid that this won’t happen in the future if we continue to produce and use plastics in our daily life.
Humans need to be aware of the large threat that plastic poses. We have to make reforming the plastic industry a priority and undertake serious changes in the production and use of a material that has such a long lifetime on our planet.
I know what I can do personally to avoid plastic from reaching the ocean. To begin with, I make an effort to pick up all of the plastic I find out in nature.
My hope is that others will take their own personal actions to combat this beast that is destroying our oceans and the animals that call the sea home.
June Grønseth, AFIAP, PPSA, is an award-winning photographer based in Lofoten, Norway. She loves nature and is especially concerned about the environmental threats of plastic pollution. You can find more of her work at her professional website, www.bestphotolofoten.no.
[Photos courtesy of June Grønseth]
This article first appeared on the World Policy Institute website.