“I have always felt a gravitational pull towards the ocean.” – Nick Mallos
For Nick Mallos, Director of the Trash Free Seas Program at Ocean Conservancy, the ocean is an obsession that’s stayed with him his entire life. “I somehow got lucky enough to make caring for the ocean my career.”
As a kid in Pennsylvania spending his summers at the beach, Nick dreamed of chasing waves as a professional surfer. “I still have (and surf often) my first board: a 6’2” Kechele. I surfed all the time, but you have to accept reality sometimes, especially when you live in Pennsylvania.”
Professional surfer or not, Nick couldn’t get out of the water, so he found his calling as a marine scientist. “I get to work on the ocean, and actually be part of work that creates solutions.”
For the last three decades, our IT’S NOT OK partners at Ocean Conservancy have been keeping plastics out of the ocean through their International Coastal Cleanup.
Today they’re exploring ways to close the loop –– take the overwhelming amount of plastic threatening marine life and turn it into viable goods. Nick is spearheading this effort and just returned from a research trip on the ground in Jamaica and Hong Kong with graduate students from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
“We want to understand every aspect of the ocean plastic supply chain and find out what materials make sense to repurpose.”
“It’s funny/depressing. I go to all of these beautiful places. The resorts are one way, the waste dumps are the other way. I’m always going towards the dumps…”
At Outerknown we’re using ECONYL® to make our Evolution trunks and jackets from recycled fishing nets and other nylon waste. The work Nick is doing is crucial to identifying other materials that can be used to build this kind of innovative gear, but it’s so much bigger than that. If repurposing ocean plastics could work in a large-scale way, it could make a sizeable dent in the trash epidemic currently threatening our beaches and ocean. Stimulating a recycling economy could also support local communities and help tackle the root causes of plastic pollution.
Nick travels to remote beaches all over the world where crushing amounts of debris are accumulated. To read about the issue is one thing, but to see it firsthand is eye-opening. “You travel to a place like Midway Atoll, one of the most remote islands on the planet, yet this little island in the middle of the Pacific tells the entire story of our growing plastics problem.”
Figuring out what to do with the waste is one thing; the other side is educating people to make better decisions so we can curb the amount of plastics flooding our waterways. As Nick says, “We as individuals absolutely have a role to play in eliminating this problem in our everyday life.”
IT’S NOT OK! is all about spreading the word and inspiring a sea change. With scientists like Nick leading the charge at Ocean Conservancy, there’s a lot of hope for tackling this issue in a positive and groundbreaking way.
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