Stories from the Blue: Million Waves Project

April 2019

"What if doing something was better than doing nothing?" That's the question that sparked the Million Waves Project, which works with Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary to turn marine debris into 3D-printed prosthetic limbs. Watch our Stories from the Blue to hear how they're making a difference for people and the ocean.


[Chris Moriarity] I literally woke up my wife, middle of the night, which is not uncommon.

[Laura Moriarity] Right.

[Chris] And I just said hey I'm I got this idea you know I think somebody should do this. What if we did this, you know, what if doing something was better than doing nothing?

So my name is Chris Moriarity and this is my wife Laura and we were actually the founders of the Million Waves Project.

[Jacqueline Laverdure] We are so fortunate to be here at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, which is one of the most beautiful and diverse areas in the world. We have the smallest little animals in the world like plankton that are abundant off our coast, which brings in some of the largest animals like humpback whales and blue whales.

And they all come here to feed, which is why getting the plastics out of the ocean and off the beach is so important. If the plastics stay out there then it could lead to their death, it could lead to their entanglement. So we just want to make sure that we keep this place as special and as natural as possible.

[Dr. Jonathan Shafer] With Million Waves Project, our plan is to try to reclaim as much ocean plastic as possible, and then we actually convert that ocean plastic into filament for 3D printers and then we use those 3D printers to print limbs. Kind of taking two different concepts, bringing them together to solve two problems at once.

We're obviously not the first people who thought about cleaning up the oceans and we're not the first people who thought about making limbs cheaply for kids and adults who need them, but pretty much one of the first groups to decide to actually bring those two ideas together to try to do as much good as possible.

Abbey is a wonderful little girl. She was born with a congenital deformity, so she doesn't have function of her right hand, but is very capable and it is amazing what she can do.

[Abbey McPherren] I'm really crazy and I'm like jumping around and climbing trees and I like doing gymnastics and like flipping around. I really like to go to the beach and go swimming, doing flips off docks.

[Chris] You know, everyone's kind of got dealing with their own issues and some children like the attention, some certainly do not. The last thing they want to talk about is maybe why they're different and Abbey, if you spent any time with her, she could care less. She's just living her life and doing things and it motivates me.

[Abbey] If I were to make the prosthetic do anything, maybe to like hang onto something where it wouldn't come off without it like breaking.

[Laura] She's really helped inform the projects. She tries things on, she tells us if they're cool or not cool, if they fit, if they don't fit. So it's been phenomenal, and her mom is amazing and has been also kind of informing you know the directions that we should go and how to navigate the population of limb-different kids.

[Melissa McPherren] Ever since Abbey was born we never treated her different. Her family, everybody, just looked at her like a normal kid with two hands. And she's a very strong independent child, and so she just grew up thinking "I can do everything." And it's her personality to really conquer everything she does. She wants to be the best. She's really taught us so much about being courageous and being brave.

Our family loves to go to the ocean and now being part of Million Waves, every time we're at the ocean and we see garbage in the water the kids want to get it out and it's been it's been really cool how that's impacted them.

[Chris] The part of the project that I've enjoyed the most is probably for every person that reaches out to us for help we probably get at least at least a dozen people asking how they can help. So we kind of have this best side of humanity on display for us every day. And of course events like this and partnerships like this it brings it all right in front of you.

I think the sanctuary system to us is probably going to be our number one vehicle to where when all the people ask us what they can do, that's the first place they can go. Because given the fact that there's so many and there's such a variety of different places that they're protecting and all the ecology around it, people want to do something a little bit more active.

So having the sanctuary systems available and so well-run as they are, it's easy for people to get involved and go out and put an event together and again just make their dent.

[Laura] Right now we're really focusing on events like this and coordinating with volunteers that are already out on the beaches pulling the refuse off. We really want to stick to our core mission of using reclaimed ocean plastics.

So we are in partnership with the Washington CoastSavers and the sanctuary system to potentially you know kind of streamline a system to where we're collecting things that they're picking up that we can use.

[James Roubal] Washington CoastSavers is a nonprofit formed by many community groups who are dedicated to protecting the coastline and getting marine debris off of the shorelines. We're all connected by the currents so we have to make sure we do the right thing and try to clean up the beaches as best as possible.

[Jacqueline] It's stories like this that really make a difference to me because we get to see how we can make a difference and we still have hope and that we can do things that's not only good for the environment but good for people. I'm very proud to be part of this.

[Abbey] Being involved with Million Waves changed me by I never thought I would need a prosthetic, but once I got started with this I realized that it was really cool to have one. They're just picking up plastic and then they can turn it into something that could help somebody.