Record-Breaking Clean-up Removes 103 Tonnes of Plastic from Pacific Ocean
Published: Monday, 13 July 2020
All images: Ocean Voyages Institute
Sailing cargo ship SV Kwai has completed a record-breaking clean-up expedition in the Pacific Ocean. The 48-day Ocean Voyages Institute (OVI) mission, which started and ended in Hawaii, removed 103 tonnes of ghost fishing nets, derelict fishing gear and consumer plastics from the Pacific Gyre; an area of detritus accumulation also known as the Pacific Garbage Patch. The expedition is the largest open ocean clean-up ever conducted.
SV Kwai is a 43-metre steel-hulled packet ship, which has been reverse-adapted into a ketch-rigged sailing vessel. She has been carrying cargo and passengers between Hawaii and the Line and Cook Islands since 2006, and is used by OVI on its clean-up mission in the Pacific. While equipped with a motor, the ship aims to operate under sail 90 percent of the time.
“I am so proud of our hard-working crew,” says Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of OVI. “We exceeded our goal of capturing 100 tonness 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.”
There is currently an estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, and this number is increasing by around 12 million tonnes per year. Known as the “Ghost Net Buster,” Crowley is renowned for developing effective methods to remove significant amounts of plastics out of the ocean. “The oceans can’t wait for these nets and debris to break down into microplastics, which impairs the ocean’s ability to store carbon and toxify the fragile ocean food web,” she adds.
Locky MacLean is a former director at Sea Shepherd and has been a campaigner in marine conservation for two decades. “There is no cure-all solution to ocean clean-up: It is the long days at sea, with dedicated crew scanning the horizon, grappling nets, and retrieving huge amounts of trash, that makes it happen,” he says.
During the expedition, Kwai’s multinational crew collected marine plastic pollution with the help of GPS satellite trackers, which OVI designed with engineer Andy Sybrandy of Pacific Gyre, Inc.
These beacons are placed on nets by volunteer yachts and ships. Drones, as well as lookouts up the mast, enable the ship’s crew to hone in on the debris. They then recover the litter, place it in industrial bags, and store it in the ship’s cargo hold for proper recycling and repurposing at the end of the voyage.
The SV Kwai, led by Captain Brad Ives, and OVI are currently at sea, three weeks into a second voyage to the Gyre to continue clean-up of this area. The length of this second leg will be determined by how successful OVI is in securing additional donations.
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