Swimming with Jellyfish…. and finding out about HUGE partially invisible plastic islands. I am ashamed at how much I have underestimated the scale of the plastic problem

I am on a mission!

Because talking to the Marine Conservation Society before my swim at Brighton’s Paddle Round the Pier this year made me realise I know nothing about the extent of the environmental damage to this planet and I am definitely not doing enough about reducing my plastic consumption! My carbon footprint is no doubt worse than I think too, but being a non-driving vegetarian I can pat myself on the back smugly and ignore the flights I’ve been on in the last year…….

Hmmmm that’s not right either, is it?

Yep. I would go so far as to say I am as bad as one of the humans that Balor, the Lord of Darkness in my work in progress, has enchanted into environmental complacency.

I AM one of the humans!

And the worst thing is, I didn’t even on a conscious level even realise I was contributing to the plastic pollution as much as I am.

But unfortunately I have no evidence that there is a Sun God like my main character, Louis, to come and unite the Tuatha de Danann and save the planet from us.

And there is no Dark Lord that we can lay the blame on.

Partially invisible islands of plastic

I am a biology teacher in my other life, and I thought I knew about the scale of the environmental problems this planet is facing.

The whole point of ‘The Longhand Chronicles’ is to address the environmental disaster in a ‘not as depressing as it could be’ way. I’m directing it at young teens because they are our hope …. Though as one of my students once said ‘it’s your generation’s mess, you sort it out.’

Fair point.

Another one said ‘kill everyone over 60’ ….. Scary. I started to use that idea in an adult dystopian novel then got sucked into the ‘Longhand Chronicles’. But I will get back to that one.

Anyway, tangent.

My main character, Louis, the pre-teen Sun God in the ‘Longhand Chronicles’ basically has my knowledge.

He comes across a plastic-strewn island in Chapter three and witnesses the devastation this awful stuff brings about. He knows about the islands of plastic floating in the oceans too. He remembers his father (an environmental activist sucked into the Petroleum industry run by the Lord of Darkness) talking about them. But, like Louis, I clearly did not grasp the scale of the problem.

Because, according to the Marine Conservation Society,

one of the plastic islands floating in the pacific is estimated to be THREE TIMES the size of FRANCE.

Though, its very difficult to get an accurate measurement of the size because we’re not necessarily talking just VISIBLE plastic here – the bottles and bags that I’m regularly swimming out to grab when they float past our local beach – a lot of this stuff is INVISIBLE!! It’s floating just below the surface. The insidious microparticles that have gradually gone into the sea from the litter we dump; the stuff that marine creatures can’t help but ingest; that gets passed up the food chain until it reaches poisonous concentrations and kills pilot whale babies as seen in Blue Planet (Bioaccumulation).

These smaller particles are not visible on satellites or from a boat deck. The only way we know about them is through sampling. That often includes sampling seabirds….presumably dead. However, if you can’t see it……..

But conservative estimates put the biggest of these invisible islands at 700,000 square kilometres….The size of Texas

Or 270,000 square miles for those who, like me, work in the utterly illogical Imperial measurements of the utterly illogical Imperial era

That’s (I am bad at maths so probably wrong) a square root of 519 miles, and so 20 marathons for the running-obsessed loons like me out there.

I may well start making threats to run that one day, but I’m only just back to running 8 miles after my annoying (and ongoing) injury, so let’s do one marathon first!!!!

Other estimates put this particular pelagic garbage gyre at the size of Russia.

It’s bad!!!

So what can we do?

I stopped buying bottled water some time ago. I got a soda stream to feed my sparkling water habit. Probably that is just as bad in other ways. I don’t buy takeaway coffee much these days either, despite my coffee habit; I stopped the plastic salad bowls/trays of felafels etc but still my recycling bin is overflowing with single-use plastic.


Because I have been sucked into an easy lifestyle.

I get an organic veggie box every week, but there’s only so many cabbages and beetroot my husband will eat (let alone the 9-year-old) and the rest of my fruit and veg?

Well, I’m busy, I write books and train for marathons/triathlons/open water swims. I don’t do housework until I have to, and I buy my shopping online and get it delivered.

And there’s one of the problems right there…

EVERYTHING comes in plastic. Even the loose courgettes, peppers and broccoli I ordered to avoid plastic.

There is no way round it, I’m going to have to go back to old school shopping!

The heavy stuff I will get delivered, but fruit and veg we are going to have to go and buy. This is time-consuming, irritating and stressful. There’s no way round that, but its got me thinking what else can I do that’s quick?

So I’m going to try one new thing a week and see if I can dent the plastic environmental mayhem that lurks under my sink.

Then maybe I’ll think about running 20 marathons to raise awareness.

If there are too many more of these guys around (we saw 6 this weekend) I may want to do more running than swimming…

Or maybe it would be more appropriate to swim 520 miles….through jellyfish infested waters as some kind of penance.

I think I’ll try to reduce my plastic use first! A 5k swim is currently about my limit.

This week, I am using my neglected bread maker rather than buying plastic-wrapped loaves. It’s nicer, its cheaper, and I won’t use cling film to wrap it in!

It took me 5 minutes to chuck 500g of wholemeal flour, a teaspoon and a half of salt and sugar, 25 g butter, 370 ml of water in the tin and add yeast. The rapid wholemeal loaf programme takes 3 hours and it smells GORGEOUS.

Question is what will I use to wrap it instead…..

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