Why Ocean Trash is Everyone's Problem

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The Isles of Shoals (above) are common patrolling grounds for the plastic hunters of the Rozalia Project. Photo: Flickr/PHOTOPHANATIC1

Off the eastern coast of the U.S., out from the border between New Hampshire and Maine, the Isles of Shoals rest peacefully in the early morning. Underwater, whales feed, schools of fish flutter by, and yellow, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) clasp old cans, discarded lobster traps and other debris on the ocean floor.

On the American Promise floating overhead, the ship’s crew, who sport accolades including Ivy League degrees, U.S. Coastguard Captain certifications, and a U.S. Sailing Team coach, operate the ROVs using sophisticated imaging systems that allow them to target and remove trash in a non-invasive way. The team from the Rozalia Project has a goal: to remove every, single bit of waste from the ocean that they can through direct action, and to show people what it looks like to see the impact of ocean litter through awareness education.

“We’re connecting people to their underwater world, not the underwater world, not the nameless, faceless ocean they think of,” says Rachael Miller, founder of the Rozalia Project. “Right under anybody’s feet, in any water body, there’s something cool – and probably right next to it, there’s something not cool, like a beer can or a chip bag or somebody’s shoe.”

Named after her great-grandmother, Rozalia Belsky, the Rozalia Project aims to protect the seas that brought Miller’s family to a better life in America almost 90 years ago.

Taking Individual Responsibility

Miller travels around the country with her ROVs, showing everyone from children to yacht club members what their local body of water really looks like, hoping that the reality of the images they see will change behaviors that are trashing the world’s seas, rivers, harbors and lakes.

“I think sometimes the unexpectedness of seeing a cool underwater habitat interrupted by [trash], that is very alarming. We were at one yacht club and showing people the images from the ROV, and someone said ‘Let’s go over to Bob’s boat and see what it looks like.’ His boat was surrounded by forks, plates cups, cans – basically, Bob was busted. I’m willing to bet he hasn’t added anything to the pile since our visit.”

But since there are 13,000 pieces of litter per square kilometer in the world’s oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Miller and her team can’t do it alone.

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