You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Competitive diving behind her, Tanya Streeter fights plastic pollution

Austin athlete appears in ‘A Plastic Ocean’ documentary


Retired world champion free diver Tanya Streeter appears in a new documentary called “A Plastic Ocean.”

The documentary examines the science and health impact of discarded plastic.

Salt, sunlight, wind and wave action break up discarded plastic, which winds up in the center of the ocean.

People can make a difference by decreasing their use of plastics, filmmaker says.

We use a lot of plastic here on planet Earth.

We sip from disposable plastic water bottles, carry purchases in throw-away plastic bags and eat with tossable plastic dishes and cutlery. Ever wonder where it all goes?

Retired world champion free diver Tanya Streeter did. The 43-year-old Austin athlete appears in a new documentary called “A Plastic Ocean,” set for release later this month, which examines the science and health impact of discarded plastic.

“In a nutshell, we believe (plastic pollution) is the next global warming,” Streeter says. “Every piece of plastic ever manufactured is still on this planet. It doesn’t degrade. It breaks down and leaches toxins that have been linked to cancer and endocrine problems.”

Streeter grew up in the Cayman Islands, where she first took up free diving, a sport that sends athletes plunging beneath the ocean’s surface without air tanks or scuba gear. She dove competitively from the late 1990s to 2006, reaching depths up to 525 feet and setting several world records.

Since then she’s gradually shifted into the role of an environmental advocate, appearing in films and on television, including an eight-part BBC series about free diving and a program that required her to spend eight days alone in the outback of Botswana. She now lives in Austin with her husband Paul and their two children, Tilly, 8, and Charlie, 19 months.

Her role as parent — and the suspicion that plastic pollution may have contributed to her fertility issues — have motivated her to do whatever she can to protect the planet for her children and future generations. That’s why she got involved with Plastic Oceans, a nonprofit organization founded by film producer Jo Ruxton.

Ruxton had spent 12 years working with the BBC, making underwater films and working as part of the “Blue Planet” team, but she was frustrated because those films depicted oceans as full of life and ignored issues facing them. She decided to make her own documentary after joining a team of scientists who headed out to sea to find what many of us have heard about anecdotally — the great Pacific Ocean garbage patch. But what they found wasn’t the Texas-sized floating mass of plastic toys, bottles and ice chests you might have envisioned.

“When you put a plankton trawl across the surface, we started to see little bits of plastic,” Ruxton says. “The closer we got to the center, the thicker this plastic was. Our nets were choked with it.”

The crew discovered pulverized bits of plastic floating at the ocean surface — a slurry rich with chemical toxins and mixed with the plankton that provides a food source for fish. That, Ruxton says, was more alarming than a floating island of trash.

“(At first) I thought it was just an issue of pollution, of eyesore and entanglement,” she says. “I had no idea of the insidious nature of it and that it was a threat to human health.”

Humans have manufactured more plastic in the last decade than in the 100 years prior, Ruxton says. Much of that ends up in waterways, where it breaks down over time.

According to the film, more than 8 million tons of plastics end up in the world’s oceans each year, eventually becoming a sort of plastic smog. Some plastic is dumped by shipping vessels, but most comes from the land. It takes an estimated 20 years for a plastic object to work its way from the coastline to the center of the ocean, where it concentrates.

“During that 20 years, it’s subjected to salt, sunlight, wind and wave action,” Ruxton says. “That’s what makes plastic brittle, so it breaks up into tiny fragments.”

The plastic leaches out toxins, but also attracts — and adsorbs — other toxins from decades of industrial and agricultural runoff, creating what Ruxton describes as “poison pills” in the ocean. Tiny planktonic creatures eat those plastic fragments, and it’s passed as fish eat the plankton. Once a fish eats anything containing plastic particles, the attached chemicals are released and stored in the animal’s fatty tissue, increasing the chemical load as it moves up the food chain. And humans are at the top.

People need to understand that plastic is not and never was disposable, Ruxton says. Despite the film’s grim message, she says people shouldn’t feel helpless.

“We’ve been told since the 1950s that plastic is disposable. We don’t think about it, we’ve grown up with it,” she says. “We’ve just got to cut down, stop thinking it’s disposable. The sooner people realize that, the sooner politicians get on board, the sooner we can change this. I have no doubt we can do it.”

Ruxton and Streeter hope the film will remind people that they can make a difference through small changes. Buying bar soap instead of liquid soap, using paper-wrapped sticks of butter instead of tub butter, refusing single-use plastic bags, using refillable water bottles and skipping straws all make a difference, they say.

“Don’t underestimate the power of these things,” Streeter says. “As individuals, we have so much power and so much influence.”

The hour-and-40-minute documentary, which includes scenes filmed in Austin, is set for release Jan. 19 and will be available on iTunes starting Jan. 20. An Austin screening is planned, but a time and date have not yet been set. (For more information, go to

“I feel like my work on this film has brought me full circle to the person I am, me making good on my bond with the sea,” Streeter says.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Lifestyle

Stone sink naturally brings up questions
Stone sink naturally brings up questions

Q: Dear Ed: We’re planning to remodel our powder room and missed your column on natural stone vessel-type sinks. Can you please revisit your thoughts on stone sinks? Also, what other types of natural vessel sinks have you seen? — Vanessa, North Carolina A: My articles on bathroom sinks generate a lot of questions. So, here’s some...
10 tips for decorating with white
10 tips for decorating with white

White is one of the easiest colors to work with, and for some, one of the most difficult. Many are surprised when they browse the paint aisles and discover literally hundreds of shades of white. One of the many design tips relating to the use of white is that white often takes on a neighboring shade. Ever wonder why some whites appear more green, blue...
Pillow pairings to perk up a space
Pillow pairings to perk up a space

I love the changing of the seasons. One of my favorite rituals is to switch out the accent pillows on my sofa, chairs and bedding. I unzip my heavy weight plaids and replace them with lightweight florals and stripes. And just like that, my living spaces will feel new for spring. This spring, you can give your sofa, chairs and bed a quick pick-me-up...
Couple’s art collection finds the perfect match in this family home
Couple’s art collection finds the perfect match in this family home

SEATTLE — This particular match made in heaven owes Cupid nothing. There were no flapping wings, no flaming arrows — just one divine convergence that created a truly picture-perfect pairing. Steve and Carol Schulte, founders of Schulte Fine Art, are private art dealers from the East Coast. One of their three children, a daughter in Medina...
Grow your own paleo grains
Grow your own paleo grains

It may be the oldest cultivated grain in the Western Hemisphere. It predates maize by centuries. When the first corn was still weedy grass called teosinte in southern Mexico, the people of the region were growing an earlier grain. It’s the sophisticated ancestor of our garden pig weed, which has carried many settlers through rough times with...
More Stories