A passion to clean up the Pacific Ocean's great 'garbage patch'
Avid sailor and educator Mary Crowley is recruiting help to clean up the North Pacific Trash Gyre, a 'garbage patch' of plastic and other trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
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Around her are mainly men, many with beards, and many with baseball caps pulled down low and arms crossed tight. They are listening. Many of them would also rather be at sea.
Can these wishes be joined? We shall see in the next month or so.
Ms. Crowley has long hair, a ruddy outdoor complexion, and a sincere manner. She wants to sail west in the next month or two, out to what is called the North Pacific Trash Gyre. Her goal is to start cleaning up the plastic trash that has leaped into social consciousness over the past couple of years.
And she is urging some of the independent fishermen meeting here for the annual gathering of the Western Fishboat Owners Association to join her, using their boats to haul back garbage.
Whether they do or not, and it seems possible some will, Crowley leaves little doubt she will set sail this spring, regardless. That determination is bringing her cleanup effort, called Project Kaisei, attention and resources to combat what strikes many as an overwhelming problem.
"It's audacious because the scale is so intimidating," says Matt Tinning, a spokesman for the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit group that mounts an annual global volunteer effort to clean the world's beaches. "Project Kaisei has captured the public spotlight by shining a light on the problem."
The exact dimensions of the North Pacific Trash Gyre aren't known. Some say it's the largest concentration of plastic debris in the world, a huge plastic garbage patch estimated to be either the size of Texas or twice that size.
Either way, there is general agreement that there is lots of plastic out there. But it is not a solid or even semisolid mass, as might be suggested by some descriptions. Nor is there any real data on the exact volume.
"Due to the limited sample size, as well as a tendency for observing ships to explore only areas thought to concentrate debris, there is really no accurate estimate on the size or mass of the 'garbage patch' or any other concentrations of marine debris in the open ocean," according to NOAA, the US government's National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
But Crowley has all the proof she needs.
Last summer, her Project Kaisei launched a month-long expedition to the North Pacific Gyre. Its tall, majestic sailing ship, the Kaisei, was accompanied by the New Horizon, a vessel from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
Given the vastness of the ocean, some of the graduate students heading the voyage for Scripps were prepared to find less debris than forecast. But after the voyage the Scripps team reported: "The plastic indeed was there in the gyre. And there was lots and lots of it."