Sunrise, Marine Debris and International Coastal Clean-Up

23 08 2010

19 August 2010 Thursday
Latitude 35 degrees 24 minutes North
Longitude 138 degrees 10 minutes North

This morning we saw our first lovely dawn. Since our departure, we have had overcast skies. Leaving San Francisco (August 14, 2010), we saw dolphins followed by whales near the Farallones Islands, part of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary.

Part of our passion for cleaning the global ocean comes out of concern for marine mammals and other ocean life that is killed each year by ingesting plastics or being caught in ghost nets.

With the overcast skies clearing, we enjoyed a colorful sunrise. With enough breeze for sailing, our engine is off. George Schneider went astern and discovered a bright green net caught on our prop. One of our expedition’s major operational concerns is catching a net or a line in the propeller and damaging the ship. We came up into the wind to slow the ship and sailing master, Steven and crew members Kaniella Lyman-Mercereau went into water to free the net. Nets like this one roll over in the ocean, catching other nets, sea life and plastic debris becoming huge “ghost nets” that are a hazard to shipping, reefs, and sea life.

The rest of the morning was spent enthusiastically recording and collecting trash, boats from KAISEI and from our inflatables. The spirit of the crew is great, knowing the importance of our mission. Ocean Conservancy’s 25th International Coastal Clean-up has begun in the gyre (August 19, 2010) in collaboration with Ocean Voyages Institute/Project Kaisei.


Please vote for Kaisei in the Month of May

14 05 2010

You will like this video! Please spread the word, and vote every day in May, to help us get back out to the North Pacific Gyre this August on our 2nd expedition, this time to bring back a lot of debris!

You can vote here

Also, send us your videos, 30secs or less, like this one, that can help motivate people to Vote Kaisei in May! We will post it if we can! Please upload to Youtube or another site, and send us the link to:

We need your help! Motivate the world! We can really all make a difference on this.. the momentum is here..for our ocean…and you!


Chinese Art for Project Kaisei

12 10 2009

10 Chinese modern artists will exhibit their new plastic related art in honor of Project Kaisei in Hong Kong on October 15th at the Schoeni Gallery in Central. Proceeds of the sale of these pieces will go to Project Kaisei. A special thanks to Nicole Schoeni for putting the event together, and for inspiring these young artists from China to make new creations based on their view of the ocean and the problem that Project Kaisei is highlighting, related to marine debris. This is a great start to a dialogue on this topic in the mainland. Doug will be speaking at the gallery on Oct 20th (7:30pm) on Hollywood Road.,com_schoeni/id,101/view,eventdetails/

“The Clean Half” – Hong Kong Open Water Race Draws Awareness for Project Kaisei

12 10 2009

We had a huge turnout at the 3rd annual Clean Half open water swim race in Hong Kong ( on Saturday… 225 swimmers for the 15km relay event… Marcos Diaz came from the Dominican Republic to solo the swim.. he is doing some great stuff next summer to link all 5 continents together by swimming..and he is a big Kaisei supporter… so we will be following him too! Heather Osborne also came to solo from NZ…and was 14th overall out of 44 teams!! We raised over $5,000 for Project Kaisei from the swimmers, so thanks a lot! We look forward to a huge event next year!

Day 28 S/V Kaisei: The Voyage Ends/The Journey Begins

31 08 2009

Monday, 31 August 2009

San Francisco Opens Her Golden Gate

After thirty days at sea, with twenty-five expeditionaries aboard and under the flag of Project Kaisei, we are welcomed back by hundreds and hundreds of supporters on shore, the Brigantine Kaisei, under full sail entered the Golden Gate returning home from its mythical encounter with the ‘plastic dragon’. We went to the dragon’s lair in the Gyre and although we didn’t see him, we found his trash. Lots of it!

Spirits were high as scientists completed their final early morning surface trawl in the Farallons Marine Sanctuary. We were given special permission to do water sampling and manta trawls in the sanctuaries so that we can provide the sanctuaries with data as well as have comparisons with the samples we have obtained in the gyre.

Cameras lined the rail as a shark, a seal and several whales passed us by, as if welcoming us back. The video team was packing cases and wrapping equipment, the cooks were securing the galley after breakfast, the course was set to the San Francisco Entrance — heading 080º. All our personal gear was ready to be taken ashore.

Mission accomplished, or mission just begun? Once our eyes have been opened to the shocking reality of toxic manmade marine debris, how can we turn our attention away from this pressing reality? There will be a press conference tomorrow, our hope is that we can ignite broad awareness of what we’ve learned. Can we get sixty seconds on the Eleven O’clock news? Can viewers feel the shock of what we’ve seen? The next time we take a plastic bag, throw plastic bottles, toys, packaging and the like into the trash, will we think twice? I like the slogan: reduce, re-use, recycle.

You can believe the 25 of us will. We hope you have enjoyed these electronic messages in bottle sent from sea and that you will take them to heart, our blue heart as Mary Crowley calls the oceans.

Thanks for reading and your comments.

John Azzaro

Day 27 S/V Kaisei: Sea Change

31 08 2009

Sunday, 30 August 2009
Lat: 38° 01’ N Lon: 123° 25’ W

“Plastics are now the most common man-made objects sighted at sea” notes the Center for Marine Conservation in a Citizens Guide to Plastics in the Ocean: More Than a Little Problem.

Mary Crowley writes:

We all know that plastics last. There is no ‘away’ when we throw plastics away. Every piece of plastic ever made is still on the planet. A polystyrene cup has a projected lifetime of 500 years before degrading into small pieces. A plastic sandwich bag takes 50 years; heavier plastic bags last even longer. Plastic toys, plates, and bottle caps can last for centuries.

Fishing nets and plastic lines, once seemed a good idea until the death toll of sea turtles, dolphins, birds, seals, myriad fish and other forms of marine life trapped in lost nets (ghost nets) became clear. Ghost nets kill all in their paths, not only sea life but also coral reefs, and are a menace to navigation.

When I am interviewed about the gyre, people ask me, “How many tons of plastic are out there?” I truthfully say, ”I have no idea.” In Sylvia Earle’s great book Sea Change, I found the following statistics that can give some idea, ”More than 20 billion pounds of plastic goods were produced in the United States in 1970, 20 years later, the volume had increased more than three fold, reflecting an increasing dependence on these attractive materials…”If one adds Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, think of the billions of pounds of plastics we have to deal with in 39 years, 1970 to 2009. Where has all of this plastic gone?

The sea is our commons — the blue heart of our planet. The oceans once were brimming with life and were an amazing example of a healthy ecosystem.

After spending weeks in the North Pacific Gyre, we need to wait until the scientists have completed their shore side analysis, to share scientific results, but I can clearly state, as a citizen of the ocean world; we need to create changes, both individually and as communities, countries, companies; making international laws and national laws that preserve our oceans. Now is the time! Project Kaisei understands the vital connection between the health of the oceans and the health of our planet; between the health of the oceans and our own health. We must stop the flow of marine debris and toxins into our blue heart and clear her veins (currents) burdened by debris. We need your help and your support, from every corner of the world; to change your practices, educate your neighbor, support right policies and practices. We can and must do this!

Sylvia Earle is a scientist, explorer, diver, oceanographer, former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and most importantly a compelling and ardent spokesperson for preservation of the ocean ecosystems. I have known Sylvia for well over 30 years and have tremendous respect and admiration for her tireless and eloquent campaign for our oceans. Sylvia is on the advisory board of Project Kaisei. I will quote her now,

“But, if I had to name the single most frightening and dangerous threat to the health of the ocean, the one that stands alone, yet is at the base of all the others, is ignorance: lack of understanding, a failure to relate our destiny to that of the sea, or to make connections between the health of coral reefs and our own health, between the fate of the great whales and the future of humankind. There is much to learn before it is possible to intelligently create a harmonious, viable place for our selves on the planet. The best place to begin is by recognizing the magnitude of our ignorance and not to destroy species and natural systems that we cannot re-create, nor effectively restore, once they are gone.”

We all need to be part of the solution and educate our selves and others. Having had the privilege to voyage on a tall ship to the gyre and see first-hand the burden of marine debris in our oceanic wilderness, I must share the reality of the problem as dynamically as possible with you and ask you to educate others.

I want to especially thank the Captain, Mike Smith, First Mate, Adrian Thibeault-Stone, and engineer Cathy Strohecker, all of the crew, cooks, scientists, media and communications teams, particular thanks to Norton and Melanie Smith, who worked tirelessly and effectively on our passive capture technology. All 25 of us have the opportunity to help create a “Sea-Change.” I thank everyone for their contributions on the voyage and hope that your commitment to the oceans and our historic mission will continue. I thank those who have followed our voyage, via this blog, and invite you to continue participating with us to make a “sea change.” We need you, your friends, and associates.

Thank you,

Mary Crowley

Day 26 S/V Kaisei: What Kind of People are Changing our World?

30 08 2009

Saturday, 29 August 2009
Lat: 38° 01’ N Lon: 123° 25’ W

Karen Hawes, deckhand, ship’s “medic” and blogger extraordinaire:

People make waste, no matter how ecologically forward-thinking they may be; it is a fact of life. What kinds of waste we make, how much of it we generate, and what we do with it is the issue. Like others, I am in search of ideas and possible solutions.

This year, I am traveling from Alaska to Argentina, “exploring waste, from coast to coast.” Having been born in Alaska, forty years ago, I felt it an appropriate place to start. After having traveled around the world as a skydiver, traveling through a variety of cultures was my chosen platform for this trip; I wanted to find out how people from different places view and handle their waste. So, I decided to do what has already been done before – by many people before me but with my own twist – to travel, from the top to the bottom of the Americas, asking questions along the way.

This tactic, if one could even consider it one, has lead me from riding in a garbage truck in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to crewing on a square-rigged brigantine in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Did I mention that my trip has only just begun? There is much more yet to come.

On board the tall ship Kaisei, I am volunteering as part of a 25-member crew, in search of “the place where forgotten things go.” Things that people forgot to tie down, to put away, to secure in place – on deck or on land – ending up in the wind and the waterways, which flow to the ocean. There is no curbside service to gather up the debris brought out to the oceans’ gyres around the globe. The efforts of those on board are to study what the effect of our forgotten goods has on the marine environment, as well as possible methods of removing it.

By the time we make it back on land, it will have been four weeks. This is the first time I’ve been out to sea and on a square-rigged ship. I wouldn’t consider myself a seasoned sailor; I have the basic training and boating experience one gets while living in the Bay Area. On deck, it became a small goal of mine to make it to the topgallant yard; it’s not the highest point on the ship, but it’s the second highest – and you’re hanging out at the end of a metal beam to boot. I did it, once, and I’m happy to say that it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it to be. Like skydiving, it’s the imagination that’s always the scariest part. Riding out swells and bow surges, while peering down onto the deck below – while trying to heave up the sail and lock it in – was more tiring than anything; I would have preferred my first time aloft to have been in a harbor, truth be told. I will leave the Kaisei with a newly-found respect for those who make the seas their home and their office. Meanwhile, however, I will be continuing my travels south, mainly by land.

I spent hours aloft counting plastic pieces floating by and was alarmed by their number, mile after mile, within easy sight. Ben Franklin had it right – small acts by many people out-weigh great efforts by few people. My goal is to get as many people to make small changes, in order to make a greater difference in our shared world.

Day 25 S/V Kaisei: Beginnings and Endings

28 08 2009

Friday, 28 August 2009
Lat: 38° 01’ N Lon: 123° 25’ W

Cordell Banks off Pt. Reyes, CA
National Marine Sanctuary

Project Kaisei received permission to do some water samples in these protected waters. We will report our findings and those we hope to take near the Farallone Islands to the directors and scientists in charge of both marine sanctuaries. We were greeted here by dolphins and sharks and more seabirds than we’ve seen in over three weeks. The contrast between the lack of a profusion of life in the gyre and our entrance to the Cordell Banks National Marine Sanctuary was really striking. Project Kaisei strongly supports all of the National Marine Sanctuaries and particularly the Farallones and Cordell Banks. We are getting close to home.

Whether the building of a bridge or the demolishing of a skyscraper, the beginnings and endings of most things are often messy. The ending of our voyage is approaching and when one considers all of the marine debris we have collected, a messy ending is guaranteed. Here, Norton Smith tells of his experience at the beginning of the mission:

May 13, 2009 I arrived on the Kaisei to a maze of extension cords, dark rooms, complicated mechanical systems, and mysterious wires and pipes that seemed to lead to nowhere. No one knew how to run the equipment when I first went to inspect the ship. No engineer with experience was available that day. Mary Crowley planned to fly in chief engineer, Kevin Grogin from New Zealand as he was very familiar with the ship. Mary said that money was tight, but it was going to come, and thankfully it did. We washed the walls and floors and then built lab tables and shelving and a media section. As the weeks passed my doubts increased. What was I doing here? Each day we rebuilt pumps, rewired and re-plumbed systems and things started to come together.

Two weeks before departure some of the crew began arriving; the countdown clock was running. Equipment was ordered and began arriving. It was clear that we would leave, and I stayed busy and worked on the toilet system and other mechanical mysteries that had some chance of my solving.

Finally August 2, departure day minus one. An even greater chaos of items arrived– laboratory and video equipment, office supplies and more people. We would be 25 in total. At last we were off. It was an amazing day. Despite all the odds, and all the doubts, the trip had begun. It was a credit to the perseverance and vision of Mary and others. The management may have been a bit chaotic due to monies coming in slowly, some rushed decisions may have been made, but the trip was happening. We were at sea with a full crew and a lot of equipment and amazingly most of the necessary experiments were done due to resourcefulness and dedication of the crew in finding good ways to work. We created a successful, though sometimes stressful, expedition out of a vortex of chaos.

Norton Smith

Day 24 S/V Kaisei: Reflections of Our First Mate

28 08 2009

Thursday, 27 August 2009
Lat: 38° 50’ N Lon: 126° 36’ W

Adrian Thibeault-Stone

Adrian Thibeault-Stone

The sea is my life; I have chosen to live my life by the rules of the sea as a profession and as a lifestyle. I began this as a child, sailing with my father on tall ships on the east coast. However the bug did not truly bite until I was 19: Mary Crowley sent a naive teenager out to Okinawa to sail the brigantine Kaisei back to California. Over the summer of 2004 I had many a wild adventure, from typhoon-tossed seas off of Yokohama, to hitchhiking around Hawaii – to the simple, meditative calm of the North Pacific high; decorated brightly by the random cast of characters who called this vessel their home over those halcyon months.

From there, I knew that I had fallen in love with the freedom that sailing had provided me: the ability to make the means to feed my voracious wanderlust. Since then, I have made my passion my profession; sailing, delivering, maintaining and racing modern and classic yachts as far and as fast and as wide as I can, acquiring my Master’s License along the way.

I was in England when Mary Crowley called me out of the blue one morning in June, asking me to be first mate on Kaisei. She explained the mission, detailing the great gravity of this undertaking. The threat of plastics had been no stranger to me. All too often have I sailed into the shallows of an isolated anchorage, into the lee of some rocky island, or navigated the shoals of some exciting new coast – only to find myself sharing water with invasive bits of plastic. The last few Atlantic and Pacific crossings proved to me that not even in the middle of the widest oceans am I free from plastic’s pasty, suffocating presence. Twice, while blasting under spinnaker across the Atlantic, I nearly pegged a submerged plastic barrel; at 13 knots the effect on the rudder would have been catastrophic.

With this in mind I agreed to return to Californian shores to help outfit Kaisei for this mission to the middle of the great gyre and see with my own eyes the onslaught of the plastic tide. This was a challenge in itself; I have grown accustomed to working on multi-million dollar yachts with astronomic budgets. To turn Kaisei from a tall ship into a research vessel, on a short dime, was going to require some ingenuity; the bulk of which I can attribute to Capt. Mike and Norton Smith. In the course of these three and a half weeks at sea, we have become our own floating civilization; which is, in large, where my responsibilities as first mate come in to play. To operate a vessel such as Kaisei, the strength of many is required; the participation of all is mandatory, to maintain her. From the romantic: setting the t’gallant under the glow of a full moon, to the mundane: daily chores and watch rotation. These tasks require a language and a format of its own that comes off as archaic and outdated to those with little experience at sea on a tall ship – yet, it serves its purpose, to keep all aboard safe and functional as a team.

Kaoru Ogimi-san, the Japanese owner of Kaisei before it came to Ocean Voyages Institute, said, “To have a functioning ship you need hands, hearts and minds. Hands first and foremost, to respond quickly and efficiently to the task at hand without question or thought. Secondly you need heart, for without putting heart into what you are doing you only doing half of what you can. Lastly the mind, or the wisdom and thought put into running the ship as best as you possibly can.” Such words resonate deeply on this vessel; our slice of civilization adrift in the middle of the deep Pacific blue.

We are now sailing back to San Francisco, coursing our way through the vibrant waters of the Pacific – still a couple hundred miles from civilization. We voyage back to our known world, our earthly comforts, back to the coddled rules of terra firma. We sail away from this vast ocean that can, at whim, benignly wrap her subjects in the austere beauty that the empty sky and sea offers – free of the clutter of life on land. Then, with a terrific ease, she can conjure up great seas and great winds without the slightest bit of sympathy. This ocean makes it very clear, to those within her grasp: you are – at all times – at her mercy. This stark siren call has drawn many, over countless generations, to traverse her trackless wave-tossed realm; seeking nothing more than to commune with something greater than our selves. It pains me to see this noble water polluted with the refuse of an inconsiderate and ungrateful species. I hope that, when we return to land, that we can convince one and all to use their hands, hearts, and minds towards eradicating our parasitic need for so much consumption of plastic and set about cleaning this majestic ocean – the life-blood of this planet.

Day 23 S/V Kaisei: Full Circle

27 08 2009

Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Lat: 39° 05’ N Lon: 130° 09’ W

Dennis Roger's Catch of the Day

Dennis Roger's Catch of the Day

A lesson taken from the Kaisei voyage is that the simple life yields greater joy than a busy, throwaway culture in which we all get wrapped up.

The Kaisei is now bounding toward the Bay Area after three weeks of research, documentation, and experimentation in the North Pacific Gyre. My primary duty on this mission has been simple: sail the boat. While doing this, I saw exactly what I expected to see: the plastic was about in the concentration that credible media had reported; the pelagic wildlife I was expecting to see was here; and the weather was as expected and sometimes better.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m coming home with some memorable experiences. I’ve seen beautiful sunrises give light to shocking areas of plastic accumulation, held handfuls of plastic particles filtered from the surface of the ocean, and shared the simple joy of sailing while storytelling with ocean enthusiasts from around the world. You do not need to sail to the middle of the Pacific to know what to do about plastic in our oceans, in our streams, and on our shores, but sailing to it makes the message even more compelling.

Most people reading this blog know the personal solution already; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Many of us have found new ways to live with less stuff; how to make things last; and how to properly dispose of what we use. If you have done this, you know that we are all works in progress and that it’s only with constant attention to details that one can succeed. On the other hand, how do you make a whole culture pay constant attention? It seems that, while we’ve been chanting, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” somehow our throwaway culture has marched forward unaware.

While on this voyage I’ve been thinking a lot about scale. It’s hard not too, when the horizon stretches full circle in all directions. How does the individual effect the whole? How do large-scale cultural shifts happen? It seems that all cultural shifts occur in waves. Waves that build momentum over generations – only to crest in larger, lasting change when social, political, and economic conditions align.

I believe we are lining up to harness such a shift in consciousness, regarding persistent products such as plastic. Businesses are racing to be greener; individuals are learning about the effect of persistent products; the United States has an administration that is now willing to support change. We now know that the production and delivery chains developed 60 years ago have resulted in worldwide harm to people, the environment, and even the economy.

We know that the harm that we do today will poison our planet for untold generations. The questions I now ask are, “Exactly who will take the lead today and harness this wave of opportunity?” Who will lead the way, to re-engineer our production chains at a macro level? Who will bringing together the thousands of individuals and groups who have done so much to effect change already? I believe I am not alone, when asking these questions and many more.

I got involved in this project, because I saw an international organization stepping into a leadership role at just the right time and place. The first mission of project Kaisei was a success. We did meaningful science, documented plastic debris in the Pacific Gyre, and successful tested a number of prototype devices for cleaning up the ocean surface. But, like all successful missions, we return largely to the same place that we left, having only relearned our objectives. What happens next remains to be seen – but we all come back knowing what we’ve seen is very real and that immediate action needs to be taken.
Each and every one of us must take immediate action.

– Dennis Rogers