New Roads School student Brendan Terry has a good story to tell when asked about his summer vacation.
He spent several weeks traveling by boat from Bermuda to New York as part of an ocean cleaning service mission with the nonprofit 5Gyres.
5Gyres is a Santa Monica-based nonprofit dedicated to researching aquatic plastic pollution and finding ways to combat it. They’re best know for their current campaign to ban microbeads, tiny pieces of plastic often found in body washes and toothpaste that often end up in oceans and lakes.
This expedition was the group’s 16th and consisted of three legs of travel by boat, during which they conducted research on plastic pollution and brought together experts in the field to discuss new ideas for 5Gyres’ communication with the public. The first leg took the nonprofit from Miami to the Bahamas and the second from the Bahamas to Bermuda. Terry joined them on the third leg, which took him and a crew of about 30people from Bermuda to New York City.
“I did community service in high school with 5Gyres so I knew the expedition was happening a couple months beforehand,” Terry said. “But I wasn’t able to shell out the money to go.”
However, things changed when he received a call from 5Gyres co-founder Marcus Eriksen who told him his ticket had been sponsored by the outerwear company Helly Hansen.
With his spot on the trip secured Terry flew to Bermuda to meet up with the nonprofit before the trip to New York.
“I was really excited to meet all the incredible people taking part in the expedition,” said Terry. “It was a good chance to start networking.” Among these people taking part in leg three were musician Jack Johnson, Nat Geo reporters Sergio Izquierdo and Eric Gonzales, and Mike Biddle, founder of MBA Polymers.
When the expedition began Terry and the crew got to work conducting research and discussing ideas for 5Gyres.
“Every day we trawled for plastic non-stop and every sample had to be analyzed,” said Terry. “This meant using tweezers to pick out micro and macro plastic, which took hours.”
When they weren’t trawling, members of the expedition were giving presentations. “After every meal someone gave a presentation on what they do and their ideas for 5Gyres,” said Terry. “Everyone gave a talk and we’d have even longer discussions afterwards, which I took part in.”
For Terry, one of the standout moments of the trip was his presentation and the reception it got from the crew. “They were very enthusiastic about me continuing my policy work with Starbucks,” said Terry. “It was great to get validation from that group of people.”
This work with Starbucks was something Terry had conducted as part of an independent study program offered by his school. The main goal of his work was developing a policy proposal for coffee chains like Starbucks that aimed to cut down in-store waste by providing reusable mugs to “for-here” customers. Now, back in Santa Monica, he plans to continue this project in addition to working with 5Gyres more generally.
“Marcus wants me to be a public face of 5Gyres for the public youth base,” said Terry. “I’ll be giving talks on the work I’ve done and getting more involved with their microbead campaign.”
Reflecting on the voyage, Terry believes the nonprofit accomplished what itset out to do.
“The expedition ended with 5Gyres having a clear new message,” said Terry. “Many people still believe in the apocryphal island of trash in the middle of the Pacific which leads to suggestions of cleanup efforts. Plastic pollution in our oceans is more akin to a plastic smog. Plastic is being pumped out of ‘horizontal smokestacks’ such as our rivers and sewers.”
The nonprofit believes the solution to this problem is reducing the use of plastic “upstream” in cities like Santa Monica. Terry has already begun working with them to accomplish this.