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Waste clean future  garbage kills so get by with less | Upload Household

Clean Future? Garbage Kills So get by With Less

by: Peter Sant
clean future  garbage kills so get by with less | Upload

The terrifying true story of the garbage that could kill the whole human race. The ship plows on with groaning sails, with a heave and a shove, like a fat man shouldering through a crowd. 

Garbage That Kills: Graveyard Watch

The motion is surprisingly stop-and-go, without ever really stopping or quite going. In the open cockpit, we’ve just been holding on and talking about flotsam: things that find their way into the vastness of the seas, and float and float, and finally, maybe wash ashore. Grimmest to be mentioned so far by my knowledgeable companion—trumping the foot in the boot—is the survival suit's skeleton. Those are pearls that were his eyes! When we pause the conversation to climb up onto the pitching deck to launch the trawl, I’m keeping Mr. Bones in mind. The Sea Dragon, a 72-foot round-the-world racing sloop, is all taut lines and cleats to trip on, and a fall overboard after dark would be a possible death sentence. You’d be a mote, a speck in the black night, and wild seas.

It’s the start of the graveyard watch—2 a.m. to 6—and most everyone’s asleep in their bunks, except the captain, who’s below in the green glow of the nav station plotting our course: a knight’s move, 1,200 miles east to the middle of the South Atlantic, then 800 miles north to Ascension Island. Above, out in the weather, it’s Watch Team A: myself, young Emily from France, and the star of our show, Marcus Eriksen Ph.D.—“scientist, mariner, explorer,” as his Weather Channel gig, “Commando Weather,” introduces him (“Hi! Dr. Marcus here!”). In those TV bits, part Survivorman, part Jackass, Eriksen performs stunts, like covering himself with prognosticating crickets or being buried by an avalanche. This job is only slightly more ludicrous: cleaning up the sea.

sailing ship, sea

Eco Stuntman

For the past decade, 47-year-old Eriksen has been an eco-stuntman, drifting on rafts across seas and down rivers, as well as a serious scientist, commissioning vessels and plying his plankton trawls, collecting data, and speaking to groups—including thousands of school kids—about the threat of plastic pollution in the sea. Thanks to environmental gadflies like Eriksen and emotionally affecting documentaries about wildlife deaths resulting from plastic ingestion and entanglement, this is a well-known phenomenon—if still under-studied and vastly underestimated. Eriksen’s job is to keep poking a sharp elbow and saying, No, listen! This shit could kill us all!

For the quantities in play now beggar the human imagination. Dumped or accidentally spilled from ships, blown from landfills, washed down every river in the world, plastic trash has been amassing since World War II in floating dumps, some of which exceed millions of square miles. Round and round the all-too-durable plastic goes, imponderable quantities caught up in the great oceanic gyres. These “garbage patches,” as they are called, are out of sight and out of mind but not entirely inactive. Like all things, the sea claims, plastic suffers a sea change. And the ultimate harm our throw-away effluvia might yet do to the health of the sea and the human future, nobody knows for sure.

Recommended: Bubble Barrier Stops Plastic Soup Entering Oceans

That’s why we’re out here getting thrashed by a squall, like the rest of the crew of 11 sleep fitfully in their hammocks. The South Atlantic, in particular, is aqua incognita for marine pollution researchers. Though Marcus has voyaged to four of the world’s five major gyres (the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean), studying their respective garbage patches, this is his first trip to the South Atlantic. No one has ever sailed here specifically to explore this antipodal gyre’s burden of plastic trash. We don’t know if we’ll find a Poe-story horror-whirlpool of algae-slickened detritus or just bits and jots.

Now, mindful of the mainsail boom and hanging on to lines and cables where we can, Emily and I untie and untangle. Marcus hefts the primary research device, the high-speed plankton trawl, a contraption that resembles the starship Enterprise with a tail, and wrestles it to the back of the boat. We’re like a cartoon about the evolution of sea legs, sure-footed and athletic Eriksen leading the way along the slick deck in flip-flops, while Emily and I follow practically on all fours.

“This is a prototype based on a prototype,” Marcus says, regarding the apparatus with equal parts pride and skepticism as he hefts it out over the water. “It might sink. It might flip over.” It’s a sleek steel box with a keel and wings, trailing a long, 333-micron-mesh plankton net. It is heavy-duty and hydrodynamic enough to handle the Sea Dragon’s current cruising speed of 8 to 10 knots with any luck. It’s the 20th trawl he’s constructed, welding them in his garage workshop. “I used to own a 1950, El Dorado,” he explained earlier, with humble good humor. “It was learning to weld or walk.”

He chucks the trawl into the foam-flecked water. The lines snap taut, the trawl, henceforth to be known as the Silver Surfer, gulps a mouthful of Atlantic, raises a beckoning wing, and flips. No matter. Upside down, it rises to the peak of a tall steep sea, nearly catching air; then down, it swoops into the trough, shifting from wing to wing, carving endless S-turns as it commences its search for signs that we’ve entered the South Atlantic gyre.
“That’s awesome!” Marcus says, laughing to see that it functions perfectly well wrong side up. Buoyed by this success, we return to the cockpit's safety and relative comfort to watch and wait and talk some more about the things that float in the sea. The hunt is on for the Great South Atlantic Garbage Patch.

Nine New Toxic Chemicals

Three days ago, the crew had a proper schmooze and send-off in Rio de Janeiro—beautiful Rio, alas dangerous and stinking of sewage. Bound to the dock like Gulliver with power cords and computer cables, the Sea Dragon hosted local press and enviros for a live-feed video conference with the United Nations office in Geneva. Down in the stifling Sea Dragon salon, an overdressed crowd watched a computer screen as the secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants announced the historic addition of nine new toxic chemicals—tongue-twisting giant molecules like alpha hexachlorocyclohexane—to the global shit list and then personally wished Marcus and crew Godspeed to the garbage patch, where POPs are feared to be accumulating in a carcinogenic brew.

The déjà vu I felt arose from dozens of sci-fi movies. We were a cliché: the small intrepid crew, the jolly send-off into the unknown. “Bon voyage! Watch out for the giant crabs!” For really, the middle of the ocean, outside shipping lanes, could just as well be Mars in terms of how little we know about what goes on out there. One study from Western Australia University had trawled the great gyres and — missed 99 percent of the plastic rubbish expected to be afloat in the oceans. Had they been in the wrong places at the wrong time? Was the plastic sinking? “Indisputably,” one scientist concluded, marine animals are eating some if not most of it. What will happen to us when we eat them? That’s Sea Dragon’s mission: Find that lurking garbage patch beast, if it’s out there, and determine how poisonous it is. So, after punch and petits fours to celebrate the nod from Geneva, we rolled up the electrical cords, hosed down the ship, and set sail that night under a spotlight full moon, bound for the South Atlantic Gyre.
Graphic the five major oceanic gyres

Five Major Oceanic Gyres

The five major oceanic gyres make up about a quarter of the Earth’s surface. Underneath the world’s weather's apparent chaos, the gyres turn like clockworks, driven by the sun and the Earth’s rotation. A bit of debris entering the current off the coast of Brazil might make it to West Africa and then bob on back to where it started in about three years. Or it might catch an eddy and maroon in mid-ocean. At the center of every subtropical gyre is a giant high-pressure zone of fair weather and little or no wind, the dreaded “doldrums” of the age of sail. Things get trapped amid these still waters, most famously, in the history books, the Conquistadors, becalmed in the dead center of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, the notorious horse latitudes, where they sacrificed their ponies to the sharks.



                             Here's How Much Plastic Trash Is Littering the Earth | National Geographic


We haven’t seen any of that calm weather yet, nor any ships or sharks—or much garbage, for that matter. But we’ve been watching for it. The Sea Dragon’s English skipper, Clive Cosby, at 35 already a veteran round the world racer, and 45-year-old first mate Dale Selvam, a classic Kiwi raconteur and renowned big-wave surfer, swap 12-hour shifts so that one or the other is always awake for an emergency; the rest of us, in three teams of three, follow a lopsided cycle of four- and six-hour watches, which somehow manages to seem both leisurely and grinding. We’re all together for the midday and evening meal, and yesterday, a couple of hours after lunch, all hands scrambled on deck when something big and white appeared on the waves. It turned out to be just a battered Styrofoam cooler, but we changed course to scoop it up with a pole net. Everybody cheered. It was absurd how much we enjoyed the capture.

A Sound Like Applause

Tonight, as the Sea Dragon crosses the western edge of the gyre—about 300 miles due east of Rio—Watch Team A can’t see squat beyond the little illumined stage created by the ship’s running lights. The seas arrive out of the darkness, implode into fractals of foam and force, then shove off aft into oblivion. They make a sound like applause. Or hissing disapproval. A fuse? A tremendous snake? It’s beautiful and eerie out here, hundreds of miles offshore, both unreal and hyper-real, and ultimately hypnotic. Why not—I woolgather, shivering in the spray—just beyond our circle of light, a bizarro Atlantis of plastic crap populated by bobbing Barbies and molded plastic action heroes? And hovering above Crapopolis, perhaps, a ring of judicious aliens holding clipboards like doctors in a surgical theater? And how surprised would I be if, with the next big wave, we crashed through construction-paper scenery, and the lights came on, revealing us to be actors in lousy community theater? Pretty fucking surprised, I suppose. And relieved.

“The degree of surrender,” Marcus says now, bringing me back to our shared illusion, this boat, the sea, “that’s the main difference between rafting and sailing, I think. Sailing, you conquer nature. With a raft, you submit to nature and go where it wants to take you.”
Man diving in sea between garbage
Photo by Sergio Izquierdo

Rafts, Built From Garbage And Recyclables

This isn’t a non-sequitur so much as the resumption of our long, desultory conversation as watch-mates. Emily, who speaks only 'un petit peu' of English, and is still recovering from seasickness, lies curled up like a cat against the hatchway. At the same time, Marcus and I sit in identical rough-weather posture, backs against the high side bulkhead, feet braced against the low side bench. We’ve talked a lot about the First Gulf War, where then-Sgt. Eriksen led a recon squad, and where, splattered with oil droplets and breathing the fumes of the Kuwaiti oil field fires, he saw the savagery of resource war and began groping toward the environmental activism that would become his career.

We’ve been talking a lot about rafts. He’s built at least seven, from scrap and recyclables, most notably Junk, 18,000 plastic bottles bundled into two pontoons, with a derelict Cessna fuselage as a cabin. In the summer of 2008, he and a fellow activist, Joel Paschal, drifted from Los Angeles to Honolulu in 88 days—“pretty much a walking pace”—to publicize the plastic trash issue.

A thousand waves try to topple the Sea Dragon and are crushed—it’s a formidable rough-weather ship, a sea-going 4x4—and the moon drifts toward the horizon until it’s time to check the trawl, looking for the spoor of the garbage patch beast.

Marcus springs up onto the deck to detach its safety line and haul in the Silver Surfer. Its 40-pound bulk comes out streaming seawater, rattling against the hull. Marcus muscles it over the rail and lays it carefully on the deck. At the end of the net is a PVC collection tube that has to be unclamped—my bit of labor—and by the time I’m done, Emily has returned. We gather in the cockpit and train our headlamps on a shallow cake pan, eager to see what shakes out. Lots of little fish battered to a pulp like anchovies from a pizza. “Myctophids,” Eriksen says. “Lantern fish.” The better-preserved resemble miniature gargoyles, an inch or two long, with underslung bulldog jaws. “It’s the greatest migration in the world, the vertical migration. These little guys are coming up out of the darkness of the deep by the billions to feed on the surface every night.” Many little black flies, Halobates, tiny marine insects stride upon the surface of the sea, feeding on fish eggs. (What a planet, eh? Where you think there’s nothing; there’s always teeming strangeness!) And finally, among unidentifiable hunks of mucous-like stuff, little bright bits of colorful confetti.
plastic particles many colors in pan
Photo by Algalita Marine Research

Marcus is speaking into a microphone, recording for the BBC, as he pokes around in the pan with surgical tweezers. “We have crossed the western edge of the South Atlantic Subtropical Gyre and have entered the accumulation zone predicted by drift buoy data,” he says. “And as predicted, we are finding plastic.” That confetti is indeed garbage patch scat. Particulate plastic pollution. Fear in a handful of dust?

Watching What ‘The Great Current’ Would Bring

The old Hawaiians — beachcombers par excellence— knew something of gyres and their power to catch and hold. As the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer writes in his book, Flotsametrics and the Floating World, Hawaiian kings would post sentinels on coastal lookout spots, watching to see what the significant current would bring. Based on the Big Island, King Kamehameha was finally able to conquer Oahu and Maui only after a tremendous storm ravaged the American Northwest's coastal forests. Some 3,000 miles away from Hawaii, floods uprooted massive spruce and redwoods and swept them out to sea. When these gyre gifts eventually arrived, they made excellent war canoes, far superior to anything that could be fashioned from endemic trees after a journey of some months or years.

The same Hawaiian beaches still receive the gyre's dubious bounty these days by the dump truck-full. Unfortunately positioned spot on the Big Island, known now as Junk Beach, is periodically inundated with plastic trash from the notorious Great Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch. Ebbesmeyer, who coined the phrase “garbage patch” in the 1990s, compares it to “a big animal without a leash.” It sloshes around at the whim of the weather, and when it strays close to land, “barfs up” a load of plastic debris. The trash includes the usual suspects—cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, toys, containers of all ilks and sizes—but is mostly chips and shards the size of fingernail clippings, a sort of ersatz sand creating a plasticized beach. Before regular—laborious and expensive—cleanups were arranged, the plastic trash on Junk Beach accumulated 16 feet deep in drifts. The EPGP doesn’t confine its “accidents” to the Big Island but has made the entire Hawaiian chain, including the most remote and once-pristine islands, its vomitorium. And it has an evil twin, the Western Pacific Garbage Patch, closer to Japan. Combined, the northern Pacific marine dumps have been estimated to be twice the continental United States' size.

Something so colossal could not escape notice, and indeed NOAA and other scientific organizations have been quietly studying marine debris for decades. But the scope of the problem did escape any real publicity until a wealthy California sailor, Charles Moore, decided to take a shortcut home from Honolulu in 1997. What he saw—ghost nets, five-inch-thick towing ropes, Japanese traffic cones and quarts of American-made crankcase oil, drums of hazardous chemicals, tires, volleyballs, on and on, in chunky windrows and soupy brews—amazed and appalled him. He sailed and motored for ten days and never saw a pristine stretch of sea. Ever since, like the Ancient Mariner, he has exhausted his voice—and much of his fortune-telling the world about it.
collection many colors waste
By: Courtesy Pangaea Exploration

Six Pounds Of Plastic Particles For Every Pound Of Zooplankton.

Moore returned to the patch in 1998 with his ship the Alguita, and a crew of volunteers, hauling aboard a ton of debris and dragging a trawl to look at the smaller stuff. From his trawl results, Moore measured six pounds of plastic particles for every pound of zooplankton. In the patch, the sea was becoming plasticized. In a cosmic irony, humanity had become the medium for transforming millions of years of complex, edible life forms—the zoo- and phytoplankton that became petroleum—into their far more straightforward and indigestible, petroleum-based simulacra.

Recommended: Breaking: Did You Know, All You Read About CO2 Rise Is Half The Truth

In this shell game, the most visibly defrauded of nature’s citizens has been the albatross, the large canary in the plastic pollution coal mine. Unable to resist the floating plastic smorgasbord, adult birds sometimes choke or starve to death with a gullet full of polypropylene. The autopsy of one chick on Midway Island revealed more than 500 plastic bits, including cigarette lighters, shotgun shell casings, toy wheels, and a piece of an airplane marked “VP-101,” which was traced to a navy patrol bomber shot down in 1944.

Continue to read the follow-up on 'Clean Future? Garbage Kills So get by With Less'. Click on A Healthy World? Garbage Will Kill So Be Ethical

Before you go!

Recommended: Climate Change Stop, Store CO2, Add Phytoplankton By Whales?

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Being involved in sustainability activities has changed my view on this subject a lot. Climate change and pollution are borderless and thus solutions and information has to be shared globally. Rich, 'developed' countries have to start supporting countries that don't have the means and knowledge to improve their situation. Sustainability movement is as strong as its weakest link - whatsorb.com is a helpful platform to speed up the X-Change of Global Sustainability.

 

Frank Mancuso - 120 WEEKS AGO
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The end to life on this planet will not be global warming, but what flows into rivers and streams. The filth of humanity, toxins, and plastics enter these waterways from millions of miles of roadways and from cities. The matter gets pulverized and becomes homogeneous in the oceans can never be removed and is the reason they are suffocating and dying. Most of the CO2 on our planet is sequestered in the oceans and converted to oxygen. The ocean creatures are toxic and suffocating and the atmosphere is beginning to see the same consequences we are becoming toxic and some are suffocating already. Can we be that stupid? The two engines that sequester CO2 and convert it to oxygen are broken. Forests are half gone and phytoplankton almost half gone in my lifetime because itis absorbing PCB laced marine microplastic. We are in a garage with the car running and the door is closing. The fumes will kill us long before the heat.
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Being involved in sustainability activities has changed my view on this subject a lot. Climate change and pollution are borderless and thus solutions and information has to be shared globally. Rich, 'developed' countries have to start supporting countries that don't have the means and knowledge to improve their situation. Sustainability movement is as strong as its weakest link - whatsorb.com is a helpful platform to speed up the X-Change of Global Sustainability.

 

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Clean Future? Garbage Kills So get by With Less

The terrifying true story of the garbage that could kill the whole human race. The ship plows on with groaning sails, with a heave and a shove, like a fat man shouldering through a crowd.  Garbage That Kills: Graveyard Watch The motion is surprisingly stop-and-go, without ever really stopping or quite going. In the open cockpit, we’ve just been holding on and talking about flotsam: things that find their way into the vastness of the seas, and float and float, and finally, maybe wash ashore. Grimmest to be mentioned so far by my knowledgeable companion—trumping the foot in the boot—is the survival suit's skeleton. Those are pearls that were his eyes! When we pause the conversation to climb up onto the pitching deck to launch the trawl, I’m keeping Mr. Bones in mind. The Sea Dragon, a 72-foot round-the-world racing sloop, is all taut lines and cleats to trip on, and a fall overboard after dark would be a possible death sentence. You’d be a mote, a speck in the black night, and wild seas. It’s the start of the graveyard watch—2 a.m. to 6—and most everyone’s asleep in their bunks, except the captain, who’s below in the green glow of the nav station plotting our course: a knight’s move, 1,200 miles east to the middle of the South Atlantic, then 800 miles north to Ascension Island. Above, out in the weather, it’s Watch Team A: myself, young Emily from France, and the star of our show, Marcus Eriksen Ph.D.—“scientist, mariner, explorer,” as his Weather Channel gig, “Commando Weather,” introduces him (“Hi! Dr. Marcus here!”). In those TV bits, part Survivorman, part Jackass, Eriksen performs stunts, like covering himself with prognosticating crickets or being buried by an avalanche. This job is only slightly more ludicrous: cleaning up the sea. Eco Stuntman For the past decade, 47-year-old Eriksen has been an eco-stuntman, drifting on rafts across seas and down rivers, as well as a serious scientist, commissioning vessels and plying his plankton trawls, collecting data, and speaking to groups—including thousands of school kids—about the threat of plastic pollution in the sea. Thanks to environmental gadflies like Eriksen and emotionally affecting documentaries about wildlife deaths resulting from plastic ingestion and entanglement, this is a well-known phenomenon—if still under-studied and vastly underestimated. Eriksen’s job is to keep poking a sharp elbow and saying, No, listen! This shit could kill us all! For the quantities in play now beggar the human imagination. Dumped or accidentally spilled from ships, blown from landfills, washed down every river in the world, plastic trash has been amassing since World War II in floating dumps, some of which exceed millions of square miles. Round and round the all-too-durable plastic goes, imponderable quantities caught up in the great oceanic gyres. These “garbage patches,” as they are called, are out of sight and out of mind but not entirely inactive. Like all things, the sea claims, plastic suffers a sea change. And the ultimate harm our throw-away effluvia might yet do to the health of the sea and the human future, nobody knows for sure. Recommended:  Bubble Barrier Stops Plastic Soup Entering Oceans That’s why we’re out here getting thrashed by a squall, like the rest of the crew of 11 sleep fitfully in their hammocks. The South Atlantic, in particular, is aqua incognita for marine pollution researchers. Though Marcus has voyaged to four of the world’s five major gyres (the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean), studying their respective garbage patches, this is his first trip to the South Atlantic. No one has ever sailed here specifically to explore this antipodal gyre’s burden of plastic trash. We don’t know if we’ll find a Poe-story horror-whirlpool of algae-slickened detritus or just bits and jots. Now, mindful of the mainsail boom and hanging on to lines and cables where we can, Emily and I untie and untangle. Marcus hefts the primary research device, the high-speed plankton trawl, a contraption that resembles the starship Enterprise with a tail, and wrestles it to the back of the boat. We’re like a cartoon about the evolution of sea legs, sure-footed and athletic Eriksen leading the way along the slick deck in flip-flops, while Emily and I follow practically on all fours. “This is a prototype based on a prototype,” Marcus says, regarding the apparatus with equal parts pride and skepticism as he hefts it out over the water. “It might sink. It might flip over.” It’s a sleek steel box with a keel and wings, trailing a long, 333-micron-mesh plankton net. It is heavy-duty and hydrodynamic enough to handle the Sea Dragon’s current cruising speed of 8 to 10 knots with any luck. It’s the 20th trawl he’s constructed, welding them in his garage workshop. “I used to own a 1950, El Dorado,” he explained earlier, with humble good humor. “It was learning to weld or walk.” He chucks the trawl into the foam-flecked water. The lines snap taut, the trawl, henceforth to be known as the Silver Surfer, gulps a mouthful of Atlantic, raises a beckoning wing, and flips. No matter. Upside down, it rises to the peak of a tall steep sea, nearly catching air; then down, it swoops into the trough, shifting from wing to wing, carving endless S-turns as it commences its search for signs that we’ve entered the South Atlantic gyre. “That’s awesome!” Marcus says, laughing to see that it functions perfectly well wrong side up. Buoyed by this success, we return to the cockpit's safety and relative comfort to watch and wait and talk some more about the things that float in the sea. The hunt is on for the Great South Atlantic Garbage Patch. Nine New Toxic Chemicals Three days ago, the crew had a proper schmooze and send-off in Rio de Janeiro—beautiful Rio, alas dangerous and stinking of sewage. Bound to the dock like Gulliver with power cords and computer cables, the Sea Dragon hosted local press and enviros for a live-feed video conference with the United Nations office in Geneva. Down in the stifling Sea Dragon salon, an overdressed crowd watched a computer screen as the secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants announced the historic addition of nine new toxic chemicals—tongue-twisting giant molecules like alpha hexachlorocyclohexane—to the global shit list and then personally wished Marcus and crew Godspeed to the garbage patch, where POPs are feared to be accumulating in a carcinogenic brew. The déjà vu I felt arose from dozens of sci-fi movies. We were a cliché: the small intrepid crew, the jolly send-off into the unknown. “Bon voyage! Watch out for the giant crabs!” For really, the middle of the ocean, outside shipping lanes, could just as well be Mars in terms of how little we know about what goes on out there. One study from Western Australia University had trawled the great gyres and — missed 99 percent of the plastic rubbish expected to be afloat in the oceans. Had they been in the wrong places at the wrong time? Was the plastic sinking? “Indisputably,” one scientist concluded, marine animals are eating some if not most of it. What will happen to us when we eat them? That’s Sea Dragon’s mission: Find that lurking garbage patch beast, if it’s out there, and determine how poisonous it is. So, after punch and petits fours to celebrate the nod from Geneva, we rolled up the electrical cords, hosed down the ship, and set sail that night under a spotlight full moon, bound for the South Atlantic Gyre. Five Major Oceanic Gyres The five major oceanic gyres make up about a quarter of the Earth’s surface. Underneath the world’s weather's apparent chaos, the gyres turn like clockworks, driven by the sun and the Earth’s rotation. A bit of debris entering the current off the coast of Brazil might make it to West Africa and then bob on back to where it started in about three years. Or it might catch an eddy and maroon in mid-ocean. At the center of every subtropical gyre is a giant high-pressure zone of fair weather and little or no wind, the dreaded “doldrums” of the age of sail. Things get trapped amid these still waters, most famously, in the history books, the Conquistadors, becalmed in the dead center of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, the notorious horse latitudes, where they sacrificed their ponies to the sharks. {youtube}                               Here's How Much Plastic Trash Is Littering the Earth | National Geographic We haven’t seen any of that calm weather yet, nor any ships or sharks—or much garbage, for that matter. But we’ve been watching for it. The Sea Dragon’s English skipper, Clive Cosby, at 35 already a veteran round the world racer, and 45-year-old first mate Dale Selvam, a classic Kiwi raconteur and renowned big-wave surfer, swap 12-hour shifts so that one or the other is always awake for an emergency; the rest of us, in three teams of three, follow a lopsided cycle of four- and six-hour watches, which somehow manages to seem both leisurely and grinding. We’re all together for the midday and evening meal, and yesterday, a couple of hours after lunch, all hands scrambled on deck when something big and white appeared on the waves. It turned out to be just a battered Styrofoam cooler, but we changed course to scoop it up with a pole net. Everybody cheered. It was absurd how much we enjoyed the capture. A Sound Like Applause Tonight, as the Sea Dragon crosses the western edge of the gyre—about 300 miles due east of Rio—Watch Team A can’t see squat beyond the little illumined stage created by the ship’s running lights. The seas arrive out of the darkness, implode into fractals of foam and force, then shove off aft into oblivion. They make a sound like applause. Or hissing disapproval. A fuse? A tremendous snake? It’s beautiful and eerie out here, hundreds of miles offshore, both unreal and hyper-real, and ultimately hypnotic. Why not—I woolgather, shivering in the spray—just beyond our circle of light, a bizarro Atlantis of plastic crap populated by bobbing Barbies and molded plastic action heroes? And hovering above Crapopolis, perhaps, a ring of judicious aliens holding clipboards like doctors in a surgical theater? And how surprised would I be if, with the next big wave, we crashed through construction-paper scenery, and the lights came on, revealing us to be actors in lousy community theater? Pretty fucking surprised, I suppose. And relieved. “The degree of surrender,” Marcus says now, bringing me back to our shared illusion, this boat, the sea, “that’s the main difference between rafting and sailing, I think. Sailing, you conquer nature. With a raft, you submit to nature and go where it wants to take you.” Photo by Sergio Izquierdo Rafts, Built From Garbage And Recyclables This isn’t a non-sequitur so much as the resumption of our long, desultory conversation as watch-mates. Emily, who speaks only 'un petit peu' of English, and is still recovering from seasickness, lies curled up like a cat against the hatchway. At the same time, Marcus and I sit in identical rough-weather posture, backs against the high side bulkhead, feet braced against the low side bench. We’ve talked a lot about the First Gulf War, where then-Sgt. Eriksen led a recon squad, and where, splattered with oil droplets and breathing the fumes of the Kuwaiti oil field fires, he saw the savagery of resource war and began groping toward the environmental activism that would become his career. We’ve been talking a lot about rafts. He’s built at least seven, from scrap and recyclables, most notably Junk, 18,000 plastic bottles bundled into two pontoons, with a derelict Cessna fuselage as a cabin. In the summer of 2008, he and a fellow activist, Joel Paschal, drifted from Los Angeles to Honolulu in 88 days—“pretty much a walking pace”—to publicize the plastic trash issue. A thousand waves try to topple the Sea Dragon and are crushed—it’s a formidable rough-weather ship, a sea-going 4x4—and the moon drifts toward the horizon until it’s time to check the trawl, looking for the spoor of the garbage patch beast. Marcus springs up onto the deck to detach its safety line and haul in the Silver Surfer. Its 40-pound bulk comes out streaming seawater, rattling against the hull. Marcus muscles it over the rail and lays it carefully on the deck. At the end of the net is a PVC collection tube that has to be unclamped—my bit of labor—and by the time I’m done, Emily has returned. We gather in the cockpit and train our headlamps on a shallow cake pan, eager to see what shakes out. Lots of little fish battered to a pulp like anchovies from a pizza. “Myctophids,” Eriksen says. “Lantern fish.” The better-preserved resemble miniature gargoyles, an inch or two long, with underslung bulldog jaws. “It’s the greatest migration in the world, the vertical migration. These little guys are coming up out of the darkness of the deep by the billions to feed on the surface every night.” Many little black flies, Halobates, tiny marine insects stride upon the surface of the sea, feeding on fish eggs. (What a planet, eh? Where you think there’s nothing; there’s always teeming strangeness!) And finally, among unidentifiable hunks of mucous-like stuff, little bright bits of colorful confetti. Photo by Algalita Marine Research Marcus is speaking into a microphone, recording for the BBC, as he pokes around in the pan with surgical tweezers. “We have crossed the western edge of the South Atlantic Subtropical Gyre and have entered the accumulation zone predicted by drift buoy data,” he says. “And as predicted, we are finding plastic.” That confetti is indeed garbage patch scat. Particulate plastic pollution. Fear in a handful of dust? Watching What ‘The Great Current’ Would Bring The old Hawaiians — beachcombers par excellence— knew something of gyres and their power to catch and hold. As the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer writes in his book, Flotsametrics and the Floating World, Hawaiian kings would post sentinels on coastal lookout spots, watching to see what the significant current would bring. Based on the Big Island, King Kamehameha was finally able to conquer Oahu and Maui only after a tremendous storm ravaged the American Northwest's coastal forests. Some 3,000 miles away from Hawaii, floods uprooted massive spruce and redwoods and swept them out to sea. When these gyre gifts eventually arrived, they made excellent war canoes, far superior to anything that could be fashioned from endemic trees after a journey of some months or years. The same Hawaiian beaches still receive the gyre's dubious bounty these days by the dump truck-full. Unfortunately positioned spot on the Big Island, known now as Junk Beach, is periodically inundated with plastic trash from the notorious Great Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch. Ebbesmeyer, who coined the phrase “garbage patch” in the 1990s, compares it to “a big animal without a leash.” It sloshes around at the whim of the weather, and when it strays close to land, “barfs up” a load of plastic debris. The trash includes the usual suspects—cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, toys, containers of all ilks and sizes—but is mostly chips and shards the size of fingernail clippings, a sort of ersatz sand creating a plasticized beach. Before regular—laborious and expensive—cleanups were arranged, the plastic trash on Junk Beach accumulated 16 feet deep in drifts. The EPGP doesn’t confine its “accidents” to the Big Island but has made the entire Hawaiian chain, including the most remote and once-pristine islands, its vomitorium. And it has an evil twin, the Western Pacific Garbage Patch, closer to Japan. Combined, the northern Pacific marine dumps have been estimated to be twice the continental United States' size. Something so colossal could not escape notice, and indeed NOAA and other scientific organizations have been quietly studying marine debris for decades. But the scope of the problem did escape any real publicity until a wealthy California sailor, Charles Moore, decided to take a shortcut home from Honolulu in 1997. What he saw—ghost nets, five-inch-thick towing ropes, Japanese traffic cones and quarts of American-made crankcase oil, drums of hazardous chemicals, tires, volleyballs, on and on, in chunky windrows and soupy brews—amazed and appalled him. He sailed and motored for ten days and never saw a pristine stretch of sea. Ever since, like the Ancient Mariner, he has exhausted his voice—and much of his fortune-telling the world about it. By: Courtesy Pangaea Exploration Six Pounds Of Plastic Particles For Every Pound Of Zooplankton. Moore returned to the patch in 1998 with his ship the Alguita, and a crew of volunteers, hauling aboard a ton of debris and dragging a trawl to look at the smaller stuff. From his trawl results, Moore measured six pounds of plastic particles for every pound of zooplankton. In the patch, the sea was becoming plasticized. In a cosmic irony, humanity had become the medium for transforming millions of years of complex, edible life forms—the zoo- and phytoplankton that became petroleum—into their far more straightforward and indigestible, petroleum-based simulacra. Recommended:  Breaking: Did You Know, All You Read About CO2 Rise Is Half The Truth In this shell game, the most visibly defrauded of nature’s citizens has been the albatross, the large canary in the plastic pollution coal mine. Unable to resist the floating plastic smorgasbord, adult birds sometimes choke or starve to death with a gullet full of polypropylene. The autopsy of one chick on Midway Island revealed more than 500 plastic bits, including cigarette lighters, shotgun shell casings, toy wheels, and a piece of an airplane marked “VP-101,” which was traced to a navy patrol bomber shot down in 1944. Continue to read the follow-up on 'Clean Future? Garbage Kills So get by With Less'. Click on  A Healthy World? Garbage Will Kill So Be Ethical Before you go! Recommended:  Climate Change Stop, Store CO2, Add Phyto plankton  By Whales? Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your article about the plastic garbage problem? Send your writing & scribble with a photo to  [email protected] , and we will write an interesting article based on your input.
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