A massive ocean cleanup operation has performed the largest plastic removal in recorded history by hauling 103 US tons (93,440 kg) of consumer waste and commercial fishing nets from the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, more commonly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or Gyre.
The operation, run by the Ocean Voyages Institute, took place in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between California and Hawaii over the course of 48 days. The remote dumping ground is thought to contain upward of 80,000 US tons (approx. 72.6 million kg) of plastic trash, making it the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.
The Institute’s marine plastic-recovery vessel, S/V KWAI, armed with GPS satellite trackers, set out on May 4 and returned on June 23 having completed its mammoth expedition.
“I am so proud of our hardworking crew,” said Mary Crowley, who is also known as “Ghost Net Buster,” the Institute’s founder and executive director, in a statement. “We exceeded our goal of capturing 100 tons of toxic consumer plastics and derelict ‘ghost’ nets [used fishing nets disposed of overboard].”
If fishing nets and debris are left to break down into microplastics in the ocean, Crowley explained, they can poison the marine food chain and impair the ocean’s vital ability to store carbon.
Ocean “garbage patches” are formed when ocean currents, or gyres, circulate and sweep plastic waste, fishing gear, and other debris into a single area. Owing to the low-density microplastics that comprise much of the ocean’s plastic waste, these insidious submarine garbage dumps are hard to find and cause many marine fatalities.
Sadly, among the fishing nets and miscellaneous plastic debris, the Ocean Voyages Institute team found a number of turtle skeletons tangled in the nets.
In terms of tonnage, almost half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is abandoned commercial fishing gear, according to a 2018 Ocean Cleanup study published in Scientific Reports. The Pacific patch, according to the report, is also between four and 16 times larger than oceanographers previously estimated.
While the Ocean Voyages Institute’s 103-ton cleanup is a brilliant step in the right direction, the job is far from done.
Locky MacLean, former director of the marine conservation charity Sea Shepherd UK, said in a statement that perseverance is everything. “It is the long days at sea with dedicated crew scanning the horizon, grappling nets, and retrieving huge amounts of trash that makes it happen,” he shared.
In lifting 103 tons of plastic waste in their latest mission, the Ocean Voyages Institute has beaten their personal best; the massive haul doubles their previous record from a 25-day operation in 2019. All plastic recovered from the record-breaking 48-day venture will be recycled, repurposed, or properly disposed of with help from Matson, a Honolulu-based logistics company.
“Ocean Voyages Institute has been a leader in researching and accomplishing ocean clean-up for over a decade,” Crowley explained, “granted with less fanfare and attention than others, but with passion and commitment and making meaningful impacts.”
Pending sufficient donations, Crowley is hoping to expand the operation to include a fleet of three ships and expeditions to other parts of the world desperately besieged by plastic waste. In the meantime, the Pacific team is planning a second mammoth cleanup later in 2020.
Watch the video:
(Courtesy of Ocean Voyages Institute)
We would love to hear your stories! You can share them with us at email@example.com