KAREN TOIRKENS: Simple step for sea 

IN recent years, health-conscious consumers began buying "BPA-free" plastic containers amid fears that the substance could make its way into our food and drinks.

There is now a growing concern within the scientific community that our seafood could become contaminated with toxic chemicals as a result of plastic waste in the ocean.

Plastic pollution is entering the sea at an unknown rate. Ocean currents have gradually swept this global rubbish into five known gigantic "garbage patches" between the world's continents to date.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the North Pacific Ocean, is thought to be roughly the size of NSW.

While garbage patches are popularly regarded as giant floating islands of trash, the reality is an abundance of confetti-sized plastic fragments that are suspended throughout the entire water column.

"The sun and interaction with the ocean breaks the plastics down into very small pellets that are almost invisible to the naked eye," said Dr Erik van Sebille, a research fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

Scientists are concerned that toxic chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA), are leaching from the decomposing plastics into the seawater. The fragmented plastics also act as a "sponge" for other toxic chemicals, such as pesticides, already present in the marine environment. As the plastics are mistaken for fish eggs and other food by marine life - plastic bags can resemble jellyfish in the water - the toxins enter the food chain.

The pollutants become more concentrated as larger animals eat smaller contaminated animals, posing a risk for those at the top of the food chain - humans.

About 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting or becoming tangled in plastic debris, such as shopping bags, bottle tops, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes.

It is the gradual degradation of plastic into minute pieces that not only causes the most harm, but also makes the issue so problematic to solve.

A plastic pollution spokesperson and co-founder of non-profit organisation Take 3, Tim Silverwood, likens the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to a "giant plastic soup".

It is impossible to simply scoop up and remove the pollution from the ocean, he said.

The Take 3 initiative inspires people to take three pieces of litter whenever they leave a beach or waterway, even though they did not put them there. It also encourages people to refuse disposable plastic products.

Tim says the Take 3 message allows people to take simple and positive action.

"It doesn't need to cost you money or time or any real effort. It's as simple as just taking three [pieces of rubbish] and using less plastic," he said.

Tim sees school students, surfers and the surf lifesaving community as the key groups for driving the success of the Take 3 message.

"As surfers, we are on the front line with the plastic pollution issue. We use the vast ocean as our playground, our gym and for some our temple, but when we see plastic on the sand and in the sea not all of us act," he said.

"I think the global surfing community is really yet to step in and say 'enough is enough', but we're getting there.

"Last year Kelly Slater spoke out about the growing pollution problems in Bali and guys like Mick Fanning, Dave Rastovich and Occy are also doing their part."

Tim will share anecdotes from his research expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch at Dixon Park Surf Life Saving Club on Friday as part of The City of Newcastle's and The Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority's surf film night, Board Shorts.

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