Ryan Cope: Bridging the Conversation Between People, Plastic, and the Pacific

Researcher turned blogger, urging action against plastic one story at a time.

"It's like turning a tanker around."

She didn’t grow up around the ocean, but nothing fascinated Ryan Cope more during her childhood in Western New York. The allure of the sea drove Ryan to achieve a marine sciences degree at the University of Maine, and her career (and passion for ocean conservancy) blossomed from there. Hawaii, California, Canada, Vermont; no Northwestern hemisphere coastal location was out of reach for Ryan, and she’s explored and researched for the better part of her life. What she’s found is both beautiful, but also troubling. Oceans are facing an unprecedented obstacle: plastic pollution.

 

“That [SEA research cruise] experience is what catapulted me into where I am now. There was this massive problem [plastic pollution] that not a lot of people were talking about and if they were, were talking about it the wrong way.” Ryan says it’s not a relatively new issue, but the hardest part about this fight is communicating its scale to the general public: “It’s like turning a tanker around. I feel like some things move at a snail’s pace. It’s really important not to get discouraged, though.”

Don’t tell me the odds

Ryan believes hope is an effective route to change. You can see that belief in the ways she speaks about disseminating visceral accounts of a threat we often feel is invisible, especially when its influence seldom touches landlocked communities. But that doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to our own consumption; ocean pollution is expected to cost billions of dollars in damage to coastal economies like fishing and tourism, with price tags hitting hardest in our own grocery stores.

Speaking of consumption, Ryan advocates a greener path for everyone to follow. “The biggest thing that people should know about is the importance in being aware of what they throw away and how they dispose of it.” Everything from plastic to glass can make its way to a large body of water. She gives the example of meat packaging, something people use daily without thinking about its environmental impact.

Don’t tell me the stats

So how does Ryan spread her message? She initially recognized a gap between research being done in top academic circles, and real change going on at the local level. What gets through to the majority? Stories. “It was more important for me to shift my focus to finding ways to relay the science through storytelling. For me that’s not just throwing facts at people, but sharing them in a way that people can absorb.” Follow Ryan’s mission at Seven In The Ocean.

Her passion for local action is pretty apparent, as she recently joined forces with two like-minded sustainability minds to co-create Green Okanagan: a grassroots campaign aimed at reducing plastic-consumption at the individual level.

So what can the average person do to get involved? It may seem cliche, but water is a precious and abundant resource; it’s our mission to protect it. And you should do so with a fresh perspective: “There’s a lot of reasons to be angry but there’s also a lot of hope and optimism, and today more than ever we need more hope.”

Ryan is pretty psyched about FactSumo’s deck on ocean animals, which you can click through below. She emphasizes that accessible, digestible education is at the heart of her cause. Something we hold pretty dearly, too.