Posted on: July 8, 2020 at 4:01 pm
Last updated: January 17, 2021 at 9:01 pm

Did you know that there is a place in the world called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It is a real place, with a real problem. This group of ocean activists from Hawaii took to the sea to tackle this issue and ended up removing a record-breaking amount of plastic waste from the ocean.

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of the Pacific Ocean where hundreds of tons of trash have ended up spinning around in the ocean. The area stretches from the North American West Coast all the way to Japan. It’s divided into two sections (1):

  • The western garbage patch near Japan
  • The eastern garbage patch between the United States of Hawaii and California

The two sections are connected via the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone a few hundred kilometers north of Hawaii. This zone, where warm waters from the South Pacific meet the cold water coming up from the Arctic, acts as a sort of garbage highway, transporting the trash from one section to the other. (1)

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Image Credit: The Ocean Institute

Read: Coca-Cola is World’s Largest Plastic Polluter for Second Year straight

It is referred to as a vortex because there is a gyre, or large system of swirling ocean currents, that forms. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is four clockwise-rotating currents that cover 7.7 million square miles (20 million square kilometers). (1)

National Geographic uses this example to explain the movement of the debris:

“The area in the center of a gyre tends to be very calm and stable. The circular motion of the gyre draws debris into this stable center, where it becomes trapped. A plastic water bottle discarded off the coast of California, for instance, takes the California Current south toward Mexico. There, it may catch the North Equatorial Current, which crosses the vast Pacific. Near the coast of Japan, the bottle may travel north on the powerful Kuroshiro Current. Finally, the bottle travels westward on the North Pacific Current. The gently rolling vortexes of the Eastern and Western Garbage Patches gradually draw in the bottle.” (1)

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S/V Kwai crew remove a GPS-enabled satellite tracker from a ghost net in the Gyre.
Image Credit: The Ocean Institute

So trash that gets discarded on a beach in California can travel all the way to Japan and vice versa. The majority of this trash is made of plastic and is therefore not biodegradable, which allows this trash to accumulate over time. It does, however, break down into microplastics. Though we can’t see these with the human eye, they make their way into our environment and food chain. This is incredibly dangerous to the health of our oceans and the plant and animal life in them, which eventually makes its way into our own ecosystems on land, affecting our health as well. (1)

The Ocean Voyages Institute Makes History

On June 23, 2020, the Ocean Voyages Institute returned from a 48-hour mission into The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. With them, they brought in 103 tons of plastic consumer trash and fishing nets. This was a record-breaking haul, more than doubling its previous record from a 25-day mission they undertook last year. (2, 3)

The group’s founder and executive director Mary Crowley, also known as “The Ghost Net Buster” is extremely proud of the work of her team. She is responsible for developing highly effective methods to remove large amounts of plastic waste from the Oceans. (3)

Recovered nets and consumer plastic on the deck of S/V Kwai.
Image Credit: The Ocean Institute

“We are utilizing proven nautical equipment to effectively clean-up the oceans while innovating with new technologies,” Crowley said in a press release“Ocean Voyages Institute has been a leader in researching and accomplishing ocean clean-up for over a decade, granted with less fanfare and attention than others, but with passion and commitment and making meaningful impacts.” (3)

The plan is to upcycle all of the waste that has been collected so that none of it ends up in a landfill. The debris will be sorted and used for things such as energy production, insulation, and more. (2, 3)

The COVID Question

Of course in June 2020, the additional challenge of completing this task was the outbreak of COVID-19 that is still raging in much of the United States. To ensure the safety of the crew and everyone involved, each person who took part in the voyage completed a three-week self-isolation before launch. Once it was confirmed that each member was healthy and COVID-free, they took off into the ocean. (2, 3)

A second, longer voyage is set to take place in July. This mission will be 25 to 30 days long, depending on how much money they can raise through fundraising and donations. (2, 3)

If you would like to support their cause, you can visit their webpage here to donate and to learn more.

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Julie Hambleton
Team Writer
Julie Hambleton is a fitness and nutrition expert and co-founder of The Taste Archives along with her twin sister Brittany Hambleton.