Ocean Currents

New Book Illuminates the “Pacific Garbage Patch”


The so-called Pacific Garbage Patch is like an enormous bowl of trash stew thousands of miles across. Scientists call it the North Pacific Gyre.

Artist Rachel Hope Allison felt compelled to make the gyre the heart of her MFA thesis project, which evolved into a graphic novel called “I am Not A Plastic Bag” produced in collaboration with JeffCorwinConnect. Ocean Conservancy experts provided eight pages of the latest science about the gyre, how ocean trash impacts wildlife – and what we can all do about it. I gave Allison a ring at her home in Brooklyn recently to hear more about the story behind the story.

Tell us more about what moved you to bring art and science together to address the problem of ocean trash.

I’ve always loved learning about nature and wildlife. As a kid, when I heard about environmental problems, they scared me. I didn’t know what to do, and I think that goes on into adulthood for a lot of people. Stories are a way I can engage and spark the imagination in a way that gets you past the fear and on to what you can do.

How did the North Pacific Gyre first grab your attention?

A friend forwarded an article. It was the first time I’d heard about it. All of a sudden, I realized there’s something massive going on way out in the ocean. I found it captivating – the fact that all this trash was so isolated. This place was so lonely and poignant, it stayed in my mind.

How did you create the illustrations?   

I played around with a lot of ways to get at the images. What I ended up with was taking pieces of trash, plastic bags and other things and using collage to build my representation of the Garbage Patch itself.

I took artistic liberties. I think that the way I portrayed the “Pacific Garbage Patch” was the best way I could approach it visually. In reality, it is hard to see, it’s messy, it doesn’t have distinct borders. Making it an island was a way I could make it approachable for my audience.

What do you hope people learn from this book?
That anyone can bring whatever talent or interest they have to bear on protecting the environment.  For me it was doing this story, and for someone else it will be something different.

What’s your favorite book about our ocean? Post it in the comments section below.

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