Great Pacific Garbage Patch Haul

The Honolulu-based motorsailing vessel Kwai has recently returned to port with a record-setting haul of 103 tons of marine debris collected from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. After being chartered by the Ocean Voyages Institute of Sausalito, the Kwai departed from Hilo in early May and embarked on a 48-day voyage to the Garbage Patch to collect previously tagged ‘ghost nets’ and other marine debris. An effort spearheaded by Bay Area sailor Mary Crowley, the Ocean Voyages Institute has now chartered the Kwai on multiple missions, including a trip last year that netted some 42 tons of rubbish. Continuing to shoot for the stars, Crowley and the Ocean Voyages Institute have said that they aim to recover about 400 tons of debris from the Garbage Patch in 2020 alone.

Removing a locator beacon from a net
Two crewmembers of the Kwai remove a GPS locating beacon from a derelict fishing net before it is craned onto the Kwai.
© 2020 Ocean Voyages Institute

“I am so proud of our hard-working crew,” said Ocean Voyages Institute founder and executive director Mary Crowley in a statement. “We exceeded our goal of capturing 100 tons of toxic consumer plastics and derelict ‘ghost nets,’ and in these challenging times, we are continuing to help restore the health of our ocean, which influences our own health and the health of the planet.”

ship hold full of debris
The cargo motorsailer Kwai full of marine debris and derelict fishing nets. As well as the deck’s being full, the entire cargo hold was stuffed to capacity.
© 2020 Ocean Voyages Institute

The trip to the Garbage Patch is just the latest effort by the Ocean Voyages Institute, which plans to send the Kwai to the North Pacific Gyre multiple times this year. One of the great dangers of the ocean, large derelict fishing nets litter the waters and pose a major threat to marine wildlife, coral reefs and even other vessels.

Once it’s tagged with a GPS locating beacon by a volunteer vessel — oftentimes a Transpac or Pacific Cup racing vessel that is being delivered home to the West Coast — the net will continue to drift at sea until the Kwai motorsails to its position and recovers the net, or until the net washes up onto an unsuspecting coral reef and leaves a trail of destruction. Crowley and her team have noticed that once they are on scene to retrieve one net, they tend to find several others nearby.

Nets underwater
The Kwai motors up to the scene of a couple of massive ghost nets. Ghost nets tend to get caught up with one another and make small islands of floating plastic. Ironically, these small toxic islands attract a lot of marine life and make for fantastic fishing. Sail next to one of these islands and chances are pretty high that you will be eating mahi mahi for dinner. 
© 2020 Ocean Voyages Institute

“Our solutions are scalable, and next year, we could have three vessels operating in the North Pacific Gyre for three months, all bringing in large cargoes of debris,” says Crowley. “We are aiming to expand to other parts of the world desperately needing efficient cleanup technologies. There is no doubt in my mind that our work is making the oceans healthier for the planet and safer for marine wildlife, as these nets will never again entangle or harm a whale, dolphin, turtle or reefs.” The Kwai should be headed back to sea around the time that you read this.

The success of the Ocean Voyages Institute’s missions to the Garbage Patch is a welcome sign of relief to any sailor who has sailed through the region, or to any environmentally conscious individual who has become aware of how truly devastating the problem of marine debris and plastic pollution is. While bringing in record-setting hauls of rubbish may sound great, it’s just further evidence that record amounts of rubbish are in the oceans.

The only way to really help solve the problem is for consumers to stop consuming single-use plastics. We try to be pretty environmentally friendly at Latitude 38. We urge all our readers to do the same. Whether it’s carrying a reusable metal water bottle or a reusable travel coffee mug, or even a spare Tupperware container for extra takeout food items, we can all make small adjustments every day that will help reduce our total plastic consumption, and thus how much ends up in the ocean or in a landfill.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Arthur 1 month ago

    Was wondering if there would be a way to send a empty tanker to the North Pacific Gyre (NPG)?
    The tanker would be set up and equipped to convert plastic to Oil or Diesel fuel. When the tanker
    tanks are full it would return to port, empty the tanks, it would return to NPG and repeat the process.
    The fuel from the waste could be used in Hawaii, or sent to the west coast. Have read there are some
    models that can convert plastic back to oil or diesel. This would be a great PR project for the oil companies.
    and help clean up the Oceans. The energy needed to convert the plastic to fuel could come from the use of
    fuel cells. Would be happy to work on such a project.

  2. Avatar
    Denise de Joseph 1 month ago

    Take a look at this photo – and all the others like it from the GPGP – and you will see that the majority of debris is from fishing and other commercial vessels. Not single-use plastics (although those add immensely to the problem of marine debris, of course). So the answer to addressing this type of ubiquitous macro plastic debris in the Pacific Gyre, alas, lies in addressing the fishing industry’s use of plastic nets and gear, as well as their Illegal dumping and abandonment of nets. Not a mission for the faint of heart. As the former Research Coordinator for Algalita Marine Research & Education, I can tell you that land-based, single-use consumer plastics have already largely broken down to micro plastic “confetti” by the time it is trapped in the Gyre. As an archaeologist who has seen Gyre plastics up close and personal, my personal opinion is that much of the small decomposing plastic debris in the Gyre is decades old and has been upwelling and recirculating in the ocean currents from the times before MARPOL IV.
    Best of luck to the Kwai and Ocean Voyages-
    I hope they are to expand their good work.

  3. Avatar
    Steve Berl 1 month ago

    Is there anything that can be done to reduce the number of ghost nets? Doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with water bottles or takeout containers.
    Are there certain fisheries that should be avoided, or outright boycotted?

  4. Avatar
    Steve Wolff 1 month ago

    I worked a tuna boat (super seiner) in the early eighties. The commercial fisherman care only about one thing, and that’s filling the hold with the species of fish they’re after. They change engine oil while out at sea, dumping the old oil overboard, constantly look for schools of porpoise to set nets on, because usually the tuna are swimming below the porpoise, and do nothing to help the species and kill tons of “undesirable” fish and marine life while out at sea. They’re a disgusting lot!

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