Pick up your plastic: Plastic on South Florida's beaches is ruining ecosystem

MIAMI – Biscayne Bay is full of plastic, but you can't see it. 

"You go 500 miles off Miami's coast and there's this smog of small particles that permeate the ocean," Marcus Eriksen said. 

For the past 10 years, Eriksen has been on a mission to identify the amount of plastic in the sea. 

"We have found it falling from the sky -- micro fibers falling into our cities," he said. 

Through his nonprofit, 5 Gyres, he's been sounding the alarm bell, because the numbers are staggering. 

Right now, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the world's oceans and it's killing us. 

"The small stuff is absorbing all kinds of toxins," Eriksen said. "It's so small, it becomes, as we say, bioavailable -- it's available to marine life through ingestion."

Fish mistake it for food -- toxic fish are eaten by our marine life. 

Toxic fish also wind up on our dinner plates. 

"We're trying to understand how much trash is out there, where it is and what kind of trash it is -- that allows cities to understand what is the contribution of plastics to the ocean problem," Eriksen said. 

Showing off a small piece of plastic, Eriksen said, "This is what we were looking for -- these tiny films of plastic. I know it doesn't seem like much, but multiply this times millions because they're everywhere, right? These are the one we're concerned about because, not only are they toxic, but they're so small, that it’s impossible to clean up."

South Florida's beaches and marinas are littered with plastic -- plastic that over time is eroded by the elements, becomes fragmented and then goes out to sea.

"You cannot clean this up. This is destined for the ocean. This is fish food, all this trash," Eriksen said. "This gets me fired up, this tells me that we got to work upstream. We got to work harder."

Eriksen said the problem is that consumers are addicted to single-use plastics -- plastics we only use once, then throw away.

"When you throw plastic away, there is no away. It’s all of our problem to own," he said. "Our one-time use of these materials is killing us."

Sabra Krock is the owner of Everything but Water, a popular swimsuit and resort wear boutique, and is committed to ocean conservation through her company's Water is Everything campaign, creating awareness and contributing to the solution. 

"We feel in order to solve this issue, it takes corporate responsibility and personal activism," Krock said. 

There was no fancy party heralding her new South Beach boutique. Instead, Krock sponsored the trawling expedition and a beach cleanup behind the One Hotel. 

An army of people showed up to help pick up trash and restore the dune. 

"Take one piece of trash a day (and) throw it away. If everyone does that, it'll make a huge difference," one person said. 

The good news is people are waking up. 

"The conversations are here and it's really inspiring," another person said. "This morning, we had 120 people come here on a Wednesday morning and volunteer on a work day and pick up trash."

"We can start a movement. We are staring a movement," Krock added. "Let's get this movement going and get these people inspired."

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.