Thoughts about the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference
from the Perspective of a Newcomer
In March I was fortunate to present at the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference where over 700 people from more than 50 countries gathered to tackle the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways. Many participants had been to other conferences and knew each other well. But there was a significant portion who, like me, were first-timers. We were a little starry eyed to meet our heroes like Captain Charles Moore, Jenna Jambeck and Jack Johnson and ready to listen and learn, hoping we could contribute in some small way to moving the discussion forward.
Besides giving my presentations, I was there to share and promote the International SplashTrash ArtExpo. What an amazing experience! The feedback about the ArtExpo after my presentations was overwhelming. But the most fun was giving away ArtExpo postcards, providing me the opportunity to talk with 250 people about the ArtExpo goals and artists. They encouraged me to share the ArtExpo with wider and more diverse audiences.
Personal highlights were being able to spend time with ArtExpo artists Jennifer MacLatchy, Shannon McCarthy, Janis Jones and Anne Hyde. And showing off the amazing hat that ArtExpo artist Mariana, The Ocean Corner had sent me from England via her husband. It made quite a splash!
Here are a few more newcomer take-aways:
We not alone; There are some days it’s hard to remain optimistic. We work all day cleaning a beach only to return the next day to find it covered in plastic once again. We're brought a straw at a restaurant even when we’ve asked them not to. We encourage our friends to reduce their single use plastic consumption, only to be told, “it’s ok, I recycle everything”. For old-timers it was probably fun to see old friends. For us new-comers, it was electric to be in the same place with 700 people who share our addictive passion to save our oceans and to talk about marine pollution from every perspective – for five whole days.
We are a young movement in our social process: Social movement theory posits that there are four stages to social movements – emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization and decline. The first marine debris conference was only held 30-years ago and the issue has only gained significant public awareness in the last five or so. We are moving quickly through the first two stages to build a movement with a strong foundation; we are growing exponentially every day, gaining a broader base of advocates and political power.
We are a young movement demographically. This was the first conference I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a lot!) that the majority of participants were under 50 – maybe even under 40! And look out for the Heirs to Our Oceans, teenagers who were leading panel presentations and a 20-minute #breakfreefromplastic rally in the lobby.
Women are scientists (duh!): As a lifelong feminist who was told by her high school guidance councilor in 1967 that ‘girls don’t go into science’, it made tears come to my eyes to see three women leading the ‘State of the Science Panel’. Indeed women were prominent in all the panels and are a major force inthis movement.
We all play an important role: We need the scientists. We need the beach cleaners. We need the teachers. We need the artists. Each one of us is making a difference and together we are changing the world.
I met so many amazing people, I've never been so sad to leave a conference in my life.