When a piece of trash floats away on the wind or slips down a storm drain, let's be real: We don't give it much thought. Unfortunately, all those little pieces of trash (and tons more that are dumped by ships and freighters) are building seas of plastic debris in our oceans, killing wildlife and entire ecosystems. Aspiring ad campaign designer Christian Waters wanted to bring attention to this issue, so he created a series of striking images that illustrate how we really treat our oceans.
"People are basically using the oceans as their trash cans," Waters told Refinery29. "I thought, maybe I can make a difference and try to create something that will help people change their lives and change how they act towards the creatures in the sea."
What first inspired Waters was a recent snorkeling excursion in Malaysia with his girlfriend. He was admiring the beautiful sky and the crystal-clear sea, with mountains and clouds reflecting on its surface; then, he started seeing pieces of trash floating around. "In such beautiful scenery, that’s something so vile that just disrupts it," Waters said. On top of that, he'd also recently seen a graphic and emotionally wrenching video of someone trying to dislodge a bendy straw from the nose of a sea turtle.
"I knew it only takes one piece of trash to kill one piece of wildlife, and it made me really upset," he said.
Inspired by the style of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF)'s designs and advertisements, Waters' Cost of Convenience images depict how we actually treat the oceans: as a trash can (see his image of a sea turtle). The ads express how we're trying — however unintentionally — to get rid of these animals, and that we're killing fish with our quests for grooming and beauty. (Note that the images were created as Waters' personal project, not as an advertising campaign for the WWF.)
Over 80% of marine pollution comes from land-based activities. Oil spills, sewage, fertilizers, and toxic chemicals taint our waterways, but so does plastic trash, which decomposes extremely slowly. While plastic does eventually break down into smaller pieces, it's different from paper products in that bacteria doesn't break it down into tiny, harmless organic particles. Plastic products find their way into the oceans from land and from ships that dump their trash overboard rather than hauling it back to shore.
Tiny animals at the bottom of the food chain, such as plankton in the oceans, absorb the chemicals as they feed. Because they do not break down easily, the chemicals accumulate in these organisms, becoming much more concentrated in their bodies than in the surrounding water or soil. These organisms are eaten by small animals, and the concentration rises again. These animals are in turn eaten by larger animals, which can travel large distances with their even further increased chemical load.
We kill millions of fish every year because of small, plastic micro beads from beauty products that head straight down the drain and into our waterways. These tiny beads are too small to be filtered out, and fish confuse them with food. Larger animals can also get entangled in plastic debris, often permanently or fatally.
All this plastic has a drastic effect on the global scale: There are at least three major garbage patches where large, small, and microscopic plastic fragments collect in the Pacific Ocean.
If you want to help fix this problem, you can do several (really easy) things. Stop using plastic bags; use reusable bags at the grocery store instead. Recycle your used plastic bottles, containers, and other waste. Be a good samaritan: Pick up and properly dispose of plastic trash you see on the sidewalk, rather than letting it end up in the sewer.
"A small thing like a straw created so much pain to an animal like that sea turtle," Waters said. "It’s a small problem that should be fixed at the source." And that's us.