What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
The initial conversation that gave way to Trash-Patch did not happened on land, nor water; It so happens that it happened on the air while overflying the Atlantic ocean in the summer of 2008. My wife and I had purchased a Scientific American Earth 3.0 before we left New York and found one of the first [if not the first] articles that the described the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The article described a floating amalgamation of the worlds trash, mostly plastic floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It also depicted a very compelling image by famous illustrator John Blanchard that tried to give a scale and a shape to what seemed to us a rather abstract and almost absurd phenomenon.
Sharing a love for the ocean and being passionate about marine species; I must say we were both as appalled as exited about this. How fascinating, we thought, that the ocean was actually collecting our trash for us! This would mean that if the article and the illustration were accurate: this massive amount of unaccounted floating plastic could be recycled, better yet, it could be claimed!
The trash-patch seemed to be an irreversible environmental threat, yet at the same time the fact that the ocean had amassed all of this plastic in one location struck us as a huge potential resource, if re-conceived as useful material rather than as waste. Over the 2,820 miles of our flight we outlined a roadmap to what we thought would make a great idea for a project; all we needed now was a competition to pitch it to.
In the fall of 2008 we put together a proposal for the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Challenge. We believed that the unitary co-ordination of the sub-tropical convergent zones transporting plastics to the center of the ocean’s gyres without any visible mechanical or structural interconnection was displaying Buckminster Fuller’s principle of synergy.
We proposed to create an open-source-do-tank for experimental solutions devoted to re-introduce plastic pollution into the global consciousness and economy by creating an online community that would gather and distribute data necessary to help raise the collective awareness of plastic marine debris. Our goal was to connect people, multinational corporations and other interest groups that could act as catalysts to produce unprecedented maximum advantageous change.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
I was born in Guatemala in 1978. I was lucky enough to have grown up away from the city, separated from steel and concrete and was brought up surrounded by earth and water; focusing my attention on the wonders and realities of the natural world away from the man-made artificial one. I was only four months old when I first visited the Belize Barrier Reef. My father would hold me underwater in order to take my first glimpses of the amazing underwater world, while my mother would tell him: “You know, the open sea is a strange place for anything as fragile as a newly born to be set adrift.”
As I clumsily splashed my way through the upper layer of the ocean I was met face to face with its incredible abundant life, yet little did any of us ‘marine species’ know that at the same time the global volume of plastics production was outstripping that of steel, the same plastic that would change our lives for better and worse.
During my childhood I visited some of the most remote and pristine marine ecosystems in the atlantic coast of Guatemala, traveling from the Dulce River, all the way north to the Belize Islands on a small boat with my parents.
Baby octopus, jellyfish, baby eels, starfish, sea urchins and the occasional sea horse, are among the many ‘acquaintances’ I would come across swimming or crawling in the shallow waters near the reef. The reef became my ‘sanctum’ were I was lucky enough to witness the finespun relations of marine species and thus became aware of the complex pattern of life.
I was terribly shocked when I once found a beached Ridley chocking on a piece of plastic, I could not believe other people insisting on taking pictures of it while their kids stood next to it, I realized then that there was something fundamentally wrong about the way we relate to nature. I carried the gasping turtle to the local turtle shelter to see if they could help. The turtle died the next day.
If the common belief that Olive Ridley turtles nest on the same beach where they once hatched is true, some of the turtles I once met when I was a little boy should be close now [considering that it takes approximately thirty years for a Ridley to circle the worlds oceans]. It feels me with joy to think that I am now using my own resources to help ease their ever increasingly precarious journey.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company