The Great Garbage Patch exposed Science Features ABC Science
To become ‘becalmed’ when sailing could be considered a curse, or is at very least an inconvenience. After eight days and 1500 kilometres of rough seas north of Hawaii to be becalmed was all I could dream for.
My journey to the middle of the North Pacific Ocean on a 72 foot sailboat to research plastic pollution started around four years ago when I travelled to India and saw huge levels of trash entering waterways and the ocean.
I was confronted by the realisation that my big blue backyard was under attack from levels of plastic pollution I’d never thought imaginable, so I started organising informal beach clean ups in my local area on the Central Coast of NSW.
Together with Amanda Marechal and Roberta Dixon Valk, I helped establish ‘Take 3 A Clean Beach Initiative, a non profit organisation where we encourage everyone to simply take three pieces of rubbish with them when they visit a beach, waterway or coastal area.
Then earlier this year, I read an article from the San Diego Union Tribune titled ‘$10K buys a trip to see floating trash’ mocking the announcement of a call for participation in a research expedition to the Great Pacific Ga marc jacobs rbage Patch.
“Still looking for that perfect Valentine’s gift? How about a 20 day tour on the high seas to search for the world’s largest garbage dump?” it asked in the opening line.
I didn’t have $10K but boy did I want to sail to see that trash. Within a week I’d confirmed my spot on the voyage and decided this wouldn’t just be a holiday, this would be the start of a new chapter.
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First stop Hawaii
Not pretty: Kamilo Beach is known as the ‘world’s dirtiest beach’.
(Source: Tim Silverwood)
My journey started in Hawaii, launch point for the sailboat, and innocent victim of the scourge of debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
On many of the islands’ windward, easterly facing beaches, huge amounts of debris are dumped by waves in an unrelenting assault on these beautiful shorelines. Kamilo Beach on the southernmost tip of the Big Island of Hawaii has earned a tag line as ‘the world’s dirtiest beach’.
I visited the notorious 500 metres of craggy coast with the founders of Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii to help with a clean up and document their work.
I was mentally prepared to see the ‘plastic sand’ of Kamilo, I’d seen it portrayed on TV and in photos before, but after only minutes of excitedly darting around and photographing piles of colourful junk I had to stop and digest exactly what I was witnessing. The tiny chips of plastic spread all over the beach had once been serviceable items that had clearly spent a long and bouncy second life on the wild seas and were now reduced to unrecognisable bits of plastic, stranded high and dry on this abominable stretch.
A beach clean up in Australia relies upon thick bags, gloves and litter pickers, but on Kamilo the team from BEACH have had to modify their utensils to dustpans and brushes and specially designed ‘sand sifters’ to collect the tiny shards marc jacobs of plastic.
We removed over 400 kilograms of rope/net, huge amounts of ‘plastic sand’ and an array of plastic items ranging from hagfish traps (used widely in coastal Asia), plastic tubing (used as spacers for oyster farming in Japan), fishing crates, half eaten plastic bottles, crates, buckets, toothbrushes, bottle c marc jacobs aps and broken fishing buoys.
The next weekend we removed another 700 kilograms of rope and net from Kahuku Beach on the north east coast of Oahu.
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Time to sail
Trawling for trash: Dr Marcus Eriksen examines a trawl sample.
After spending ten days documenting the impact of marine debris in Hawaii, I gathered at Honolulu Marina to meet the 12 people I would sail with over the next three weeks.
The group included scientists, artists, film makers, PhD students, divers and environmentalists from seven countries. Together we would collect data for a range of studies for seven scientists from five universities.
The captain and first mate, the only two paid crew, were quick to advise that we would be working every day to help run the boat and the research, whic marc jacobs h was coordinated by Dr Marcus Eriksen, director of Research and Education with Algalita Marine Research Foundation and co founder of the 5 Gyres Institute.
Eriksen was undertaking his fourth crossing of the North Pacific Gyre to research marine debris and completing the final stage of a two year project gathering evidence of plastic accumulation in each of the world’s five major gyres.
We planned to sail along a transect from Hawaii to Vancouver that would pass directly through the central accumulation zone of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, known the infamous Garbage Patch.