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.

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