Underwater photographer to kids: Plastic, oceans don’t mix

SNOHOMISH — She’s exposing kids to the real sea monster.

It’s not man-eating sharks, killer whales or giant jellyfish — it’s people and the plastics they use.

That’s the message “Ocean Annie” Crawley is bringing to 100 schools.

The underwater photographer and author is encouraging everyone to rethink their relationship with plastic by sharing the environmental problems she’s documented while diving around the world.

On Tuesday, about 250 students gathered at Riverview Elementary School in Snohomish to see Crawley’s underwater photos and videos. “The ocean is a mysterious place and it’s full of critters better than SpongeBob SquarePants,” she told the fourth, fifth and sixth graders.

Crawley explained that oceans produce oxygen so everything that breathes is connected to them.

“Without a healthy ocean, we’re not healthy,” she said.

But, despite oceans being an important source of food, water and air, they’re becoming increasingly polluted.

Crawley, of Edmonds, shared with students images and water samples from a trip she documented for researchers who were looking into the effects of plastics on oceans. The group spent 22 days in 2009 studying the Great Pacific garbage patch, a vortex of trash and plastics in the North Pacific Ocean that is estimated to be at least twice the size of Texas.

“Our ocean has become plastic soup,” Crawley said. “Every single piece of plastic we’ve ever used is still on our planet.”

Closer to home, she told students about a gray whale that died in 2010 on a West Seattle beach with a large amount of garbage in its stomach. The whale had ingested plastic bags, surgical gloves and numerous other products discarded by people.

She explained that animals can’t tell the difference between food and tiny pieces of plastic.

“There’s all these plastics that get smaller and smaller and get in the fish,” said Grady VerHoeven, 11. “So we’re eating plastic, too.”

Crawley told the kids that millions of tons of plastic are being dumped into the oceans every year. She shared an image of a green-eyed baby doll that was stuck on a coral reef, staring into the camera. The doll was decomposing, except for it’s plastic head, hands and feet.

“We’ve become a throw- away society,” Crawley said. “But there is no away, it all goes somewhere.”

She pointed out that Americans use an estimated 500 million straws everyday.

“Sea turtles are actually sucking up the straws into their noses. It’s pretty sad,” said Brendan Cross, 11. “I’m definitely going to use way less straws and reuse water bottles.”

That’s exactly the commitment Crawley was hoping for as she encouraged students to rethink the way they use plastics. She urged them to skip straws and opt for reusable containers instead of plastic bags and bottles.

“That will reduce the effect of climate change,” she said. “Youth are 40 percent of the population but 100 percent of our future.”

Crawley is still booking schools for her tour, which runs through World Oceans Day on June 8. Until then, she plans to post every Tuesday five ways to reduce the use of plastic on the blog on her website.

Those who don’t catch her at school can check out one of her four presentations at the Seattle Boat Show, which takes place from Jan. 29 to Feb.6 at CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle. She’s also speaking at the Seattle Aquarium on Jan. 30.

“I believe we can make a difference,” she said. “Our ocean needs you now.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports

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