Surrounded by Plastic

27 12 2010

Surrounded by Plastic

The state of our ocean today is a perfect example of tragedy of the commons. We all use and take from the sea, but the majority of it is not “owned” or governed by any one country, much like the air we breathe, having no borders. As groups like Plastiki and Project Kaisei draw attention to the plight of the ocean, and the amount of waste in the North Pacific Gyre, the world is becoming shocked to know that this has all happened under our watch, and that it snuck under the radar to get to the scale it is today. This is because of the size, extent and relative underuse of the sea by the general population. Without using or experiencing something (like the ocean), there is little appreciation for it, frame of reference to know what to compare to, and therefore, thought or knowledge of how to fix it.

Information about the extent of the amount of plastic in the ocean is only just becoming widely known, but the average citizen has little personal affiliation with such an issue. This is the case even though many people seek the beach for their holidays, or continue to eat seafood not knowing exactly the toxins that it might contain. The boating community can play a large ambassadorial role in helping to educate the general public about what we are doing to our planet. The ocean is a huge place, yet our impact can be readily seen, and it is merely a derivative of the problems we are creating on land. This means that we have really overstretched the limits if “dilution” of the problem does not even work (not that it ever should have, but now that the presence of plastic in our waters is so apparent, dilution can no longer hide the problem).

Today the ocean is crying for a variety of reasons, plastic pollution being one of them, and one that is solvable. Acidification is a tough one to overcome, but we can readily think about the materials we use in our daily lives and how they can be used in better ways, redesigned, or re-purposed into something truly remarkable. The main issue with our plastic waste problem is single-use items, and our throw-away mentality. The growth in consumption has well outpaced our ability to capture all of this material back into the waste stream for recycling or other uses. Bottles are not the only material presenting us with challenges and new opportunities as they rapidly proliferate, but they are often the most widely seen, along with plastic bags. In the end, however, all plastic needs to be handled in a better way, and thought of as a resource, not as a waste product. Roughly 90% of the plastic in the world today does not get recycled, and that is a big opportunity for entrepreneurs to address. Most plastic today is a solidified petroleum product after all.

The challenge we face today is how to create a “bounty”, or a value to the many types of waste that are being created from our growing economies. Most of this material has value to it, if aggregated in the proper way so that economies of scale can kick in and provide cost effective re-processing potential. As soon as there is value to something that now is worth nothing, people will find ways to collect and capture it for economic gain. How can we speed up this process on a global scale? Many times the recycling technology may exist, but too often governments do not support or assist with the infrastructure needed for this new feedstock. The environment never gets improved upon in the scale it needs with purely volunteer efforts. Governments and companies will need to give incentives, and penalties, in order to shift the goal posts so that people can begin to treat waste materials in new ways. This will bring about a myriad of new technologies, innovations, jobs and the creativity that much of the world’s countries strive for, yet they simply are not putting the basic frameworks in place to allow this to happen.

Our economy is a 100% subsidiary of the ecology, yet until now, we have been raping and pillaging the environment as if there is an endless supply to go around. This is particularly the case with the oceans, with the lack of an ability to fully govern what gets taken from its waters. We can now see that this “freedom to exploit” is not endless, as our atmosphere is choking on our growing outputs, and our sea is suffocating due to the long lasting materials we are depositing to its shores, and vice versa. The state of the ocean today should be the tipping point that wakes us up from the trance of consumption that we haven lulled into complacency with, and which sends us into a new era of material science, bio and ocean degradability, and new re-use technologies.

We all need to help, as there is no easy single solution. Governments can grab the opportunity for the benefit of growth and job creation, and companies can lead the way with their consumers and employees, really showing that they care about their surroundings and the markets they serve to. The boating community can help by pushing for recycling at ports, making sure food services use less plastic or alternative materials, and that “black spots” in normally pristine areas are reported.

Groups like Project Kaisei and Plastiki have been an excellent focal point for the world’s audience to learn more about the ocean and its plights. Their expeditions compliment one another, as Plastiki helped to raise awareness, and Project Kaisei is bringing together a collaborative team of science, technology, innovation, policy and education. We are already studying and testing ways in which we can begin to clean some of what we have put into the water over the years, while at the same time driving inspiration for prevention and opportunities that can be sustainable for the long run. We all have heard of Gen X and Gen Y, now we need to all work together to make sure there is no Generation Zero.


Final Day at Sea / Reflection on Marine Debris Issues

8 09 2010

1 September 2010 Wednesday
Latitude 32 degrees, 30 minutes North
Longitude 118 degrees, 23 minutes West

This is our last day at sea. It is overcast with a light breeze. Our morning included a wonderful display of dolphins welcoming us.
We have been discussing what we have learned during this voyage. During the course of our journey into the Pacific, we encountered whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and fishes; yet the most frequent observation we made was of marine debris, 99% plastics. The opportunity of visiting this remote oceanic region leaves the crew of KAISEI concerned about communicating what we have experienced. We determined five points to be most important for discussion.

1. The ocean covers 72% of our planet. The health of the ocean is vital to the health of the planet and our own health. A majority of the air we breathe comes from the ocean. On our voyage we encountered one of the fish caught in the ghost net eating plastic. Marine debris is a global issue that drastically effects the ocean’s ecosystem, and infiltrates our food web.

2. Trash in the ocean is a significant threat globally and one of the most widespread pollution problems facing us today. Although the North Pacific Gyre is the largest and most publicized aggregation of marine debris, this phenomenon is occurring in all gyres around the globe.

3. This is KAISEI’S second voyage studying the marine debris situation and in search of solutions. The first year’s expedition (2009) concentrated on marine biology and the effects of toxins aggregated in plastic debris. Through the Project Kaisei Science Team headed by Dr Andrea Neal and through our collaboration with Scripps Institute on their ship New Horizon, we were able to accomplish ground-breaking science. In 2010, our emphasis has been working with oceanographers and ocean current experts at the University of Hawaii and NOAA to do ground proofing of their ocean current models to add to the knowledge of debris distribution. In 2009, the expedition repeatedly found large ghost nets weighing several tons and a wide range of consumer plastics, while in 2010 we came across an abundance of ghost net remnants, packing straps, lines, consumer plastics and thousands of bits of degraded plastics less than 1″ in diameter.

4. When people ask what they can do to help, effective assistance includes making friends, family and associates aware of the major issue of marine debris in our ocean. Individuals can also affect small changes in behavior that can be emulated by others and be part of the solution. Individuals can also make donations to Project Kaisei / Ocean Voyages Institute to assist us in our work. Volunteers can help us on board the ship, in the office and in communicating information to their family, friends and communities via conversations and presentations that communicate the urgent problem of plastics in our global ocean.

5. Solutions begin with acknowledging and defining the problem. Through Project Kaisei/Ocean Voyages Institute’s expeditions, we seek to inform, educate and encourage individual consumers all the way up to state and federal government officials to devise innovative solutions to reduce one-time use plastics. This includes awareness of personal consumption habits and ways to live a lifestyle that has less impact on the environment. Stopping the flow of marine debris into the global ocean is of urgent importance. Project Kaisei / Ocean Voyages Institute is working with experts in the maritime industry to devise marine debris collection devices to be used both in coastal areas and in the Gyre for cleanup. Ocean Conservancy’s 25th International Coastal Cleanup on September 25th also heralds the importance of continual cleanup and awareness. PK/OVI’s expeditions are meant to educate and create change globally. PK/OVI and Ocean Conservancy’s collaboration on the marine debris issue is an important step towards future global collaborations to address solutions.

The issue of marine debris is complicated and solutions include recycling, legislation that encourages recycling, a philosophy of manufacturing that encourages reusing products. You can ask your representatives in Congress to strengthen and reauthorize the Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act.

Sea Change, a Message of the Oceans

7 09 2010

Saturday 28 August 2010
Latitude 32 degrees 02 minutes North
Longitude 131 degrees 31 minutes West

KAISEI has a truly wonderful and diverse team of people on board! Andrew Blackwell is a Canadian-American writer and filmmaker currently living in New York City. He has edited a range of documentaries over the past ten years. Andrew was in touch with Project Kaisei about his interest to visit the Gyre. He first met Mary Crowley in Malibu at a FusionStorm Foundation benefit for Project Kaisei. Andrew is doing research for his first book of non-fiction, a travel memoir about visiting the world’s most polluted places entitled “Visit Sunny Chernobyl.” Andrew will not only be visiting the Gyre, but other problem spots in the US, China, India, and the former Soviet Union. Mary was very impressed with Andrew’s intellect, sincerity and great sense of humor and welcomed him onboard.
Another crewmember who has been very generous with her time and energy for the past months is Nicole Caputo. Nikki is a graduate student at Humboldt State University, studying Natural Resources Planning, with a focus on plastic pollution in the water cycle. She graduated from New College in Sarasota, FL, studying Natural Sciences, with a focus on Marine Studies, interning at Mote Marine Laboratory in the Marine Mammal Department under the guidance of Randy Wells. Nikki has done research on coral reefs in Belize, and has worked on fishing boats in Alaska and along the West Coast. Her next goal is to study Environmental Law and Marine Affairs, and to continue her ocean advocacy.
Adam Chang is a Hawaiian native who is a productive and wonderful volunteer. He is a chef who has cooked in Hawaii and on the West Coast, and who graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Adam helped with the important tasks of provisioning and meal planning for our voyage. Adam is very interested in helping to preserve the ocean as a food source. His style is creative, with an Asian- Hawaiian flair, and his meals are eagerly anticipated by the crew.
Today is sunny, and the wind has shifted, allowing us to a good sailing angle. The seas are a bit calmer, and the team is diligently logging plastic sightings. We appear to be in an area of the ocean where there are fewer ghost nets, but still regular sightings of plastic household items and bottles.
“Clearly, it is not possible to go back and redirect history. But now–not for long–there is a chance, a brief window of opportunity, to restore and protect the remaining healthy ecosystems that support us. Most important, most urgent, we must protect the principal substance of the biosphere; the sea.”

Sylvia A. Earle, “Sea Change, a Message of the Oceans,” 1995

Ocean Conservancy / Ocean Voyages Institute/ Project Kaisei

1 09 2010

27 August 2010 Friday
Latitude 31 degrees minutes North
Longitude 135 degrees minutes West

Nicholas Mallos is an important part of our team. He is here as a representative of Ocean Conservancy, and is a coordinator for their International Coastal Cleanup Project. September 25th is the designated day for this global cleanup effort that is celebrating its 25th year. Nick graduated from Dickenson College having majored in Biology and Marine Science. He went on to Duke University where he graduated in 2010 with a Masters of Environmental Management with a concentration in Coastal and Ocean Management. Nick spent 3 weeks at Midway atoll in the NW Hawaiian Islands, researching the impacts of marine debris on wildlife, most specifically albatross, Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles.

The collaboration between Ocean Conservancy and Project Kaisei/ Ocean Voyages Institute is a dynamic step towards advocating solutions to marine debris issues. We are honored to have Ocean Conservancy’s 25th International Coastal Cleanup begin with Project Kaisei mid ocean. We know we must create significant change in manufacturing, consumer habits and recycling, as we continue to do coastal and offshore cleanups. Nick’s Greek heritage seems to give him a natural affinity for water with his love of surfing, diving and the oceans. He is a fine and able crew person on KAISEI.

Kaniela Lyman-Mersereau comes from a family of great seafarers and water people on both his Mother and Father’s side. Kaniela has naturally become a key crew person on board KAISEI. He graduated in 2010 from the University of Otego with a degree in Geography. At home in Oahu, he surfs, paddle boards, plays water polo and loves anything to do with the ocean. He enjoys sailing and helps with daily beach cleanup. He works as a lifeguard, coach and substitute teacher.

Today is partially overcast with a breeze of 10 to 15 knots and seas
of 3 to 5 feet. We continue to spot some debris, but only items that are close to Kaisei, in these sea conditions. The action of the waves tends to submerge things a few feet. Besides seeing bottles and containers, we saw a 3′ x 5′ green plastic storage container top that came next to the ship but was submerged 2-3 feet.

Our nightly meetings create excellent interchange as everyone onboard has been very moved by what we have seen, and we are all discussing future actions.

It is clear from voyaging on the ocean that now is the time for change. The blue heart of our planet has its veins and arteries, i.e. currents and eddies, clogged with massive amounts of plastic. Environmental organizations, nations, corporations and individuals must work in unison to stop the flow of garbage, do cleanup and restore the ecosystem of our global ocean. As the Hopi prophecy states, “We are the one we have been waiting for.”

Plastic Trash Survey at Sea Continues

27 08 2010

26 August 2010 Thursday
Latitude 32 degrees 47 minutes North
Longitude 137 degrees, 52 minutes West

Our Sailing Master, Stephen Mann, is an experienced Tall Ship Captain as well as a circumnavigator in his own yacht. We have all been very impressed by the ship’s compliment. Henry Whittaker and Gabe Goldthwaite began volunteering in the Ocean Voyages Institute office and helping Project Kaisei with social networking. Their enthusiasm and spirit led Mary Crowley to invite them to participate in the voyage. They are childhood friends and recent college graduates from Oberlin College, Gabe with a degree in Biology and Environmental Studies and Henry with a degree in Economics and Environmental Studies. They have shown an enthusiasm for every part of this adventure, from climbing in the rig to setting sails, standing watches, and hauling in garbage. We hope they will stay involved to help us communicate the mission’s experiences to millions of people globally through social networking.

Andrea Daly also volunteered in the Ocean Voyages Institute office. She is a student at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and will be doing an art show with reflections on this voyage during the dates Sept 12-24 on campus. Annie has been a great addition to our voyage crew and Project Kaisei.

We have another father and son team on board, Tim Jones and his son Chip. Tim is an experienced Alaskan Captain as well as an excellent photographer and writer. Chip has been around boats but had never done a passage before. This experience, as our youngest crew member at 20, has left his him interested in enrolling in the California Maritime Academy. We welcome Tim and Chip as good additions to the Project Kaisei team.

Gabe, Henry, Annie and Chip, as young people who had never been to sea before, have all shown real aptitude for Tall Ship sailing as well as great interest and passion in our plastics mission.

Kelsey Richardson comes from a sailing family and lives on a boat in the Berkeley Marina, however, this type of long voyaging experience has opened new worlds to her as well. She is looking forward to assisting OVI in the office with some projects after our voyage as she deeply believes in our work.

Today the wind has come up, blowing 10 to 15 knots and making our plastic sightings more difficult, however we continue our cataloging work. This morning we were able to retrieve a ghost net fragment in the early morning hours. We are under sail and are continuing our survey.

Friends of Kaisei / Age of Plastics

27 08 2010

25 August 2010 Wednesday
Latitude 33 degrees 03 minutes North
Longitude 140 degrees 54 minutes West

Today we want to give special acknowledgment to our Second Mate, Art Lyman-Mercereau. Art is another valued friend and sea mate of Mary Crowley’s. Art’s background includes many years of captaining award-winning international racing yachts. He hails from the East Coast and grew up sailing. After marrying Marian Lyman (who we wish was with us, but she is ashore teaching), he settled down in Hawaii and briefly ran a fishing boat out of Oahu before starting his career as a Physics Professor. Art is a musician, playing saxophone, piano and harmonica. One can easily tell that Art loves being at sea as he has a sparkle in his eye and a smile as he carefully tunes the sails for good performance. Art’s background of sailing, fishing, physics and teaching make him an ideal person for Project Kaisei. It is great to watch Art sharing his wisdom with all of our young crew members, including his son, Kaniella.

Robin Otagaki is a sailor and recently retired Science Teacher, having won awards for being the best science teacher in the state of Hawaii. Robin is very interested in marine debris issues and we value his expertise in assisting us with messaging that will reach young people. Art, Robin and Drew Maples have been using our experiences aboard KAISEI to create and design collection methods. Robin’s smiling face, good humor and great singing voice makes him an excellent watch companion.

Drew, our skilled Bosun, sets a fine example as one of the hardest working people on board KAISEI. Originally from Maine, he has a background in sailing as well as boat building. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska. Drew is always willing to lend a hand in all important ship’s projects and leads the crew in maintenance on board KAISEI. He is another natural seafarer who is very happy at sea.

The weather remains calm and windless. We are definitely sailing through the “home” of our things that are thrown “away.” As all of us that are part of Project Kaisei will verify, there is clearly no “away.” Plastics can last for centuries!

Periodically we go through small areas that have a heavier concentration of debris, but in general, today there is a consistent flow of similar items to what we have been seeing. We hope to do more collections in the California current where we may find items that are newer to the ocean environment. The ocean current experts from the University of Hawaii, Nikolai Maximenko and his team, are extremely interested in verifying the age of items we collect to confirm how long they have been in the ocean environment.

“The fact that plastic lasts for centuries, combined with the magnitude of plastic proliferation in our global ocean, makes plastic the most deadly debris in the marine environment. Please join all of us in Project Kaisei / Ocean Voyages Institute and Ocean Conservancy in making changes in our awareness of disposable plastics to help our ocean, its creatures and ourselves.”

Mary Crowley
Project Kaisei /Ocean Voyages Institute

Kaisei Crew / Current Lines

27 08 2010

24 August 2010 Tuesday
Latitude 32 degrees 49 minutes North
Longitude 144 degrees 20 minutes West

We very pleased to have George Schneider on board as engineer for this voyage. George is a 4th year student at the California Maritime Academy. George is energetic, skillful and does quality work. He assisted us with preparing the vessel for the voyage. All of us find him a helpful shipmate, always ready to lend a hand with a smile. He not only is an extremely qualified at engineering, but he is also curious and eager to help by going aloft to set sails, and offers assistance with garbage collections.

Last year our engineer was also a 4th year student at the California Maritime Academy, Cathy Reinhart, another admirable shipmate and a fine engineer. Ocean Voyages Institute, with the goal of preservation of the maritime arts and sciences, as well as the ocean environment, very much values our relationship with CMA and thinks very highly of their curriculum and cadets. The late Captain David Belden Lyman was a valued Board member of Ocean Voyages Institute, an illustrious alumnae of the California Maritime Academy, and one of Mary Crowley’s closest and most valued friends.

We are extremely honored to have Joe Lacey join us as Chief Engineer. He is a graduate of King’s Point Academy and a member of Marine Engineer’s Beneficial Association. After his years of professional seafaring on a variety of vessels including ferries, container ships and other steam and motor vessels, we appreciate his intelligence and his great competence as an engineer. As a professional merchant seaman, he enhances our voyage with his expertise and teaching ability. Ocean Voyages Institute greatly believes in the education offered by the fine maritime academies throughout the country and the world.

Another person who has made extremely important contributions to our voyage is Janine Oros Amon, who spent several months helping with voyage logistics and preparations. Juanita, as she is also known, is a long time close friend of Mary Crowley’s and combines a passion for sailing and concern for the marine environment with skills in business and project management. Juanita has logged thousands of miles of global blue water sailing, but, until now, has never known the joys of climbing in a Tall Ship’s rig on a long voyage. In her early professional life, Juanita was a nurse, and is also serving on board as KAISEI’S Medical Officer, taking good care of the crew with everything from splinters to tonsillitis. She is a talented addition to any ship’s compliment, and plans to help PK/OVI as our work continues in years to come.

Today is a windless day with calm seas. We are in the North Pacific High Pressure area and in excellent conditions for spotting and collecting marine debris. For our debris logging system we put in a description of each object that is sighted that is an inch or larger, noting color, shape, type and latitude and longitude. For the many pieces under an inch, we just keep track of numbers and today we had over 5,000 of these small inch long or less size pieces. When you consider that we are just one ship with a fairly small range of vision, you can extrapolate how much plastic is in our ocean.

Today we also saw current lines one of which was marked by a stream of mainly white plastic pieces, roughly one to three inches in diameter (it was like a small river flowing with broken down white plastic pieces) and this stream had a heavier concentration of the more broken down plastic pieces known as confetti. Our collections today include more bottles of all shapes and sizes, as well as larger containers. These plastics look to have been in the ocean for quite some time as they are worn and weathered.

“On board KAISEI, mid-ocean, we have all become quite accustomed to our life and watches centering on counting debris. This has become our normal daily routine. When one steps back and realizes how extraordinary it is to be so far from land and yet surrounded by the spoils of our society, it strengthens our commitment to create change in governmental policies, corporate sustainability practices and individual’s actions.”

Nick Mallos, Ocean Conservancy
Mary Crowley, Ocean Voyages Institute