This week we are hearing from a local ocean hero that helps run a great organization that tries to reduce the use of plastic and the harmful affects of marine debris on our ocean habitats and the animals that live in them.
My name is Tricia Monteleone. I work mostly behind the scenes for Plastic Ocean Project, Inc. (POP, Inc.), lining up outreach opportunities, organizing fundraising and mentoring the Ocean Friendly Establishment program through University of North Carolina Wilmington’s POP student organization. My involvement started with my mother. She read an article in graduate school about the plastic ocean and she couldn’t get it out of her mind. She contacted Captain Charlie Moore and ended up sailing with him through the North Pacific Garbage Patch on his tenth anniversary voyage to gather samples, in 2009. Since then it has been her passion to educate people about the problem, how to stop it from happening and potential solutions to eradicate the plastic plague. Her passion has become a family passion project, she has inspired us to be involved in any way we can to help the non-profit to realize its mission.
The idea of Ocean Friendly Establishments (OFEs) started a year and a half ago at the 2014 North Carolina Marine Debris Symposium. There was a program proposed to reward establishments for reducing waste. In her cleanups on Wrightsville Beach, one of the most common items found were straws. So we wanted to start there with restaurants on the beach. By the time the 2015 symposium came around we had our first establishment signed on, Blockade Runner. Since then, we have signed on 16 more. Now it isn’t just us going out and hitting the pavement to pitch the program, establishments are now contacting us to join. That kind of response has been really rewarding to our small team of ocean champions.
The goal of Ocean Friendly Establishments is for restaurants to only serve straws upon request by the customer. This serves to reduce the amount of straws wasted every day. It also creates a conversation between the wait staff and the customer about one piece of waste we don’t think about. Eventually we would like to expand the program and create levels of Ocean Friendliness.
So far we have had great feedback from restaurants; one said they haven’t had to order a box of straws since they signed on! Plus, every time we are going out to eat we refer to the list on our website so that we can give an Ocean Friendly Establishment business. So OFEs are generating business and spending less money on straws. If anyone wants to see who is on the list they can go to www.plasticoceanproject.org and go to the page dedicated to Ocean Friendly Establishments. Anyone interested in becoming an OFE, can do so on the site.
What I love about being involved with this non-profit organization is the engagement we get in the community. I love that “Ah ha” moment where people get what the impact can be from plastics. The next question is almost always, “What can I do?” Our answer is talk about the problem. The more awareness there is, the more we can all change our habits. We say start with using less single-use plastics – those things you use only once and throw away. And join us for our beach cleanups. They are fun and it feels even more like you’re making a difference when you see all of the stuff the group prevents from entering our oceans.
If you are ever visiting the Wilmington area, try and eat at an Ocean Friendly Establishment! Or try to politely decline plastic straws whenever you go out to a restaurant. Thankfully, our hatchlings don’t have to worry about plastic straws while they are in our Aquarium care. This week, Turtle A weighs 1166 grams and measures 19.7 cm long and Turtle B weighs 1072 grams and measures 18.4 cm long. Use this data in our Hatchling to Yearling lesson plan.