UNTIL recently, Canadian adventurer Adrian Midwood lived in paradise. A private coach for several ocean sports on the coast of Tahiti, his spare time was spent kitesurfing, sailing, swimming with whales and relaxing in the Pacific.
Spending so much time on and near the ocean, the extent of the pollution and debris threatening it became apparent to Midwood quite quickly.
"There was a moment when I was anchored on my old boat when I realised I needed to find another route. I'd reached the point where I'd achieved everything I'd wanted and couldn't think of anything else I needed to do there," he says.
"I was 28 years old and didn't believe in what I was doing for work. It was great fun but it was empty. I was thinking about what I could do to get back to the ocean and work with nature and promote what we could do to support the resources we have."
There was no question in his mind that ignoring the problem would have dire consequences for not only his lifestyle and the Pacific, but the entire world.
Pretty soon, Midwood was hired by Upcycle the Gyres, an eco-group, as their marine director.
Saying goodbye to his island life, Midwood has spent the past couple of years dedicating his time and energy to ridding the world of ocean plastic and waste, educating communities as he goes.
"I miss it but I'll go back."
Founding member of Ocean Ambassadors, an eco-group devoted to researching solutions to threats to ocean health, Midwood has had plenty of firsthand experience with the problem of plastics in the ocean.
"People need to understand that the plastics photodegrade into tiny pieces which means they enter the food chain and end up poisoning us. It's not just about saving the pretty fish any more. This is killing us."
Wanting to tell people about what they could do to help fix the problem, Midwood set about organising the Talking Trash tour down the east coast of Australia, educating coastal communities along the way.
That's when he met Tim Silverwood.
Silverwood grew up in the Central Coast with his mother and grandmother. The area's renowned beaches triggered Silverwood's passion for surfing and ocean sports.
While deferring a degree in environmental science at the University of Newcastle Silverwood went travelling, skiing, surfing and looking for adventure. Even after completing his degree, he continued to travel.
During his stay in Gulmarg, a skiing town in Kashmir, India, Silverwood was shocked and appalled at the pollution he encountered.
"It was a real slap across the face, seeing all the pollution created by tourists," he says. "How are we accepting the waste that comes from our tourism? It all gets dumped off a mountain and left to pollute.
"At that point, in 2007, it was all very evident that the oceans were all connected and that the ocean is downhill from everything."
Deciding that enough was enough, he returned to Australia, motivated to improve waste management and lessen the impact we have on ocean health. His initiative, Take 3, encourages beach patrons to bin three pieces of rubbish every visit.
It's a problem that certainly seems worth talking about.
There are, on average, 18,000 pieces of marine debris per square kilometre of ocean. Between 60 and 80 per cent of these are plastics, and those figures account for only the visible objects.
Plastic bags were only introduced into the market in 1977, yet they are the most common kind of garbage found in the ocean.
Non-biodegradable plastics are ubiquitous with modern living. Since the 1950s, plastics have become an inextricable part of our everyday lives, and make up part of almost everything we buy, from bottles and packaging, to pens, computers and furniture.
When we take into account that approximately 10 per cent of all plastic produced ends up in the ocean, we're left with a sobering figure.
Approximately 30 million tonnes were dumped into the ocean in 2010 alone. To give that number a practical reference point, though not much easier to imagine, one tonne of plastics is the equivalent of 20,000 two-litre bottles or 120,000 shopping bags.
Given that plastics are estimated to take anywhere from 500 to 1000 years and, potentially, longer to break down entirely, we've got a bit of a problem. The ocean is big, but these numbers are bigger.
Not only are these plastics choking wildlife, polluting waterways and ruining ecosystems, they also poison our food.
Despite the fact that plastic breaks into tiny pieces in the sunlight, they never biodegrade. That means the ocean is filled with tiny, floating plastic particles which look suspiciously like fish eggs. More and more plastic is being found in the stomachs of fish, birds and other sea animals, posing a harm to their health.
Plastic is also hydrophobic, meaning that it attracts and absorbs harmful chemicals in the ocean. The levels of these chemicals in the ocean itself are not particularly concerning, but plastic can have up to one million times as much concentration.
Once they enter the bloodstream of fish and birds, they carry on up the food chain, concentrating further as they go. By the time they have reached the food we consume, they often exist in quite high doses.
These chemicals disrupt the way our hormones behave and are believed to cause cancer, early onset of puberty and other hormonal changes, as well as gender dysphoria.
But it's not all doom and gloom, as the pair of eco-warriors are keen to point out. There are plenty of ways individuals are able to do to reduce their environmental impact.
Silverwood's suggestions include refusing to buy disposable products, bringing your own reusable containers, composting food waste, utilising e-waste collections, buying and growing food locally, supporting the container deposit scheme and similar legislative changes, cleaning up areas around you and only buying groceries with an acceptable amount of packaging.
Plenty of interesting initiatives are starting to crop up as environmentalism becomes more mainstream.
Coles have bins in some of their stores for disposal of soft plastics from food packaging that can't be recycled. The plastics are then "upcycled" into furniture, kids' toys and many multiuse items.
A spokesperson for Coles said the RED Recycling Program was in over 470 stores across the country.
"In the 2013 financial year our customers recycled 102 tonnes, amounting to approximately 25.5 million pieces of plastic packaging," the company has stated.
Midwood has an upcycling program of his own, turning the waste in island nations into clothing for his Leisure Activist label. Polyethylene drinking bottles are spun into a fibre that can be used to weave a sturdy cloth that is manufactured into sportswear and sold to fund his environmental work.
It's not easy work, and a lot of the time it's thankless, but Midwood and Silverwood say the Talking Trash tour was absolutely rewarding.
"The people that helped out and volunteered their time and hospitality along the way really reminded me why I'm doing this," Silverwood says. "It's great to see people who say, 'Hey, your work inspired me and my family to help out cleaning up the beaches'."