Paper Money

Microcurrencies from Pacific Ocean in denominations of ‘debris’

The Trash Isles, a “micronation” representing spots in the north Pacific Ocean where converging currents lead to vast patches of plastic debris, issued three notes in a microcurrency in 100-debris, 50-debris, and 20-debris denominations.

Images courtesy of Adeevee, The Plastics Oceans Foundation.

Several decades ago, in 1973, much ado was made over a $35 coin issued by the Republic of Minerva, a group of coral reefs near Tonga barely visible except at low tide, at least until barges laden with sand were dumped on them. It made them more visible, and was a source of controversy between Tonga, Fiji, and private entrepreneurs who claimed the reefs as their own.

The Minerva coin is one of more than two dozen coin or bank note “microcurrencies.” Another one surfaced in 2017 and was recently brought to the attention of readers of the E-Sylum weekly newsletter that pointed to a July 2017 story in Creative Review by Rachael Steven.

The Trash Isles will never be a vacation destination, even if a better name is chosen. The isles are actually two patches of garbage the size of France floating in the north Pacific Ocean and having a disastrous effect on marine life. One is located in the east, southwest of California, and the other is positioned to the west, southeast of Japan.

In what was in essence a publicity campaign to call attention to the problems the rubbish was creating, the Plastic Oceans Foundation and media site LADbible submitted an application to the United Nations on June 8, 2017, World Ocean’s Day, asking that the Trash Isles be recognized as an official country.

Among the steps the two entities took were naming Al Gore an honorary citizen, the first of 200,000, and creating its own passports, stamps, and currency. All were the work of the English designer Mario Kerkstra.

Three pieces of paper money, in 100-debris, 50-debris, and 20-debris denominations, were created, complete with holograms and security stripes. All show maritime wildlife amid piles of garbage. The 100 debris shows a whale’s tail in a sea of floating plastic and a sea gull with a plastic six-pack holder lodged around its neck. The 50 debris has birds on a trash-strewn shore and a seal being choked by a fishing net. The 20 debris depicts a sea turtle on a pile of trash.

While many hearing of something called “the Trash Isles” might envision huge floating piles of unaltered plastic garbage, the reality is a little different. While many of the plastics found in the patch are not biodegradable, they “simply break into tinier and tinier pieces,” according to National Geographic. In an online news article, the publication stated, “For many people, the idea of a ‘garbage patch’ conjures up images of an island of trash floating on the ocean. In reality, these patches are almost entirely made up of tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics. Microplastics can’t always be seen by the naked eye. Even satellite imagery doesn’t show a giant patch of garbage. The microplastics of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can simply make the water look like a cloudy soup. This soup is intermixed with larger items, such as fishing gear and shoes.”

More information about the “garbage patches” can be found at the National Geographic website.

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