AP Photo/Ben Margot
Environmentalist David de Rothschild inspects soda bottles to be used in construction of 
Plastiki, a vessel constructed entirely of plastic (except for the masts), much like the plastic
waste that can be found in the garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean.

What Could the Voyage to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Accomplish?

August 06, 2009 07:30 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
A team of California marine scientists has embarked on a journey to a pile of plastic garbage in the North Pacific Ocean. What are they hoping to find?

Unorthodox Exploratory Mission Is Underway

A group of about 30 people left Aug. 2 from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. When they arrive at the North Pacific Ocean Gyre—a section of ocean where plastic waste has collected—they’ll attempt to gauge the amount of debris that is piling up, determine how the trash is circulated throughout the massive area, and find out how marine life is affected by it, according to Steve Gorman of Reuters.

Most of the debris is plastic, and due to ocean currents, it has collected in a vortex measuring hundreds of miles across “about midway between Japan and the West Coast of the United States,” Gorman wrote. Bob Knox, the deputy director of research at Scripps Institution, spoke to Reuters after the first day out at sea. "The concern is what kind of impact those plastic bits are having on the small critters on the low end of the ocean food chain," he said.

Watch a “Good Morning America” clip from August 2008, courtesy of YouTube, showing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch up close.

The Garbage Patch Team’s Goals

Led by Mary Crowley of Marin, Calif., the team consists of “scientists, environmentalists and ocean lovers,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

In addition to studying the ecology and biology of the garbage patch, the group will also collect different forms of debris “in order to showcase some of the new technologies that will be used for processing and recycling,” according to the Web site of Project Kaisei and New Horizon vessels, which are both part of the project.

Background: Earlier research at Garbage Patch

In 2006, the Los Angeles Times’ coverage of what it referred to as the Eastern Garbage Patch helped earn the paper a Pulitzer Prize. An article by L.A. Times writer Kenneth R. Weiss describes the deadly impact of floating plastic debris on wildlife.

Approximately 200,000 of the 500,000 albatross chicks born at Midway Atoll, near the garbage patch, die every year, “mostly from dehydration or starvation,” Weiss reported. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s two-year study of the area revealed “that chicks that died from those causes had twice as much plastic in their stomachs as those that died for other reasons.”

Related Topics: Plastiki; Plastic bags

In March, John Colapinto wrote in The New Yorker about Plastiki, a vessel constructed only from recyclable plastics, manned by adventurer David de Rothschild. The boat will set sail across the Pacific to call attention to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Watch a video in which de Rothschild and his crew discuss “the building of the boat” on The New Yorker blog.

The official Web site of Plastiki offers a closer look at the voyage and its mission.
Plastic bags are a major environmental concern, but some states have taken significant steps to reduce pileup of the lightweight satchels.

In November 2007, New York City Council put forward legislation mandating that large grocery stores recycle plastic bags, putting the city at the forefront of a growing movement to curb the harmful environmental effects of petroleum-based plastics.

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