Turning the Tide on Ocean Plastic: A Data-Driven Approach

The ocean plastic crisis is quickly becoming one of our world’s biggest environmental challenges. Discover how data is our most powerful weapon in the fight to save our oceans.
January 11, 2024
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“Unless we change course, we’ll have more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050,” says Tez Steinberg of the United World Challenge. It’s a harrowing mental image, but begins to seem plausible when you consider that plastic production is currently expected to increase by 40% in the next 10 years.

But Tez isn’t willing to surrender the health of our oceans without putting up a fight. Last month, he embarked on a four-month solo rowing expedition from Hawaii to Australia to raise awareness of our oceans’ plight—an expedition of over 5,000 miles that will take over two million row strokes to complete. 

Along his way, he’ll be collecting groundbreaking data on microplastics and biodiversity that, together with impact partners like Hakkoda, he hopes can be used to turn the tide on ocean plastics.

Understanding the Magnitude of the Ocean Plastic Problem

Before we can talk about accelerating solutions to the ocean plastic crisis, however, it’s vital to use the data we have to get a better sense of the problem’s scale.

Picture this: every minute, the equivalent of two garbage trucks of plastic are dumped into our oceans. Annually, that translates into a staggering 8 million metric tons of plastic. Stepping even further back to consider the cumulative impact of years, even decades, of relentless pollution, and we’re just beginning to understand the sheer magnitude of the problem: an underwater Everest of plastic waste.

Uniting for a Better World

All hope is not lost, however. In March of this year, delegates of the United Nations reached a historic agreement to protect marine biodiversity in international waters, signaling a huge breakthrough for multilateral conservation efforts after decades of unproductive talks. Referred to colloquially as the High Seas Treaty, the result of this agreement covers access to and use of marine genetic resources while ramping up international funding for ocean conservation. 

This is a huge step toward meeting the objectives laid out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—better known as the “30 by 30”—which pledges to protect 30 percent of the planet’s lands, inland waters, marine habitats, and coastal areas by the end of the decade. 

Swimming Upstream: How Our Rivers are Poisoning Our Oceans

Meeting the objectives of the 30 by 30, meanwhile, means taking the battle against ocean plastic inland to its source. 

In addition to raising awareness of the ocean plastic crisis with his world record attempt solo rowing expedition, another essential part of Tez’s mission is raising funds to build river barriers in the world’s most polluted regions to keep even more plastic from flowing out to sea. 

These rivers demarcate a critical theater in the war on ocean plastics, as studies indicate that roughly 1000 rivers account for nearly 80% of the world’s riverine plastic emissions. That’s between 0.8 million and 2.7 million metric tons of plastic per year each.

Accelerating Ocean Plastic Interventions with the United World Challenge and Hakkōda

Like Tez, Hakkoda understands that the ocean plastic crisis is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, threatening not only marine life but also the health of the global ecosystem. 

We also believe that, more than any other resource available to us, initiatives like our Data for Good will be the key to developing a deeper understanding of the problem, developing targeted interventions, and ultimately turn the tide on the ocean plastic crisis. 

By acting as an Impact Partner for the United World Challenge, we are committed to helping Tez raise a call to action before it’s too late and to bringing our data expertise to the table to help other partners like the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Ocean Conservation Network, and the International SeaKeepers Society turn the data Tez collects into actionable insights that translate into cleaner oceans tomorrow. 

If you’d like to join Tez and Hakkoda in our fight to reduce oceanic microplastics, please consider contributing to the United World Challenge Giving Circle today. You can also follow the latest developments in Tez’s 5,000-mile rowing expedition using the GPS Tracker on Hakkoda’s Data for Good page.

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