Published August 8th, 2012 By Kate Webb in the metronews Vancouver
The crew of a ship running expeditions to catalogue and clean up a
massive patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean was sailing off the
Oregon coast last month when it found a huge piece of a dock believed to
be wreckage from the Japanese tsunami.
They are hoping public interest in the tsunami debris that has been
washing up all along the West Coast of North America will spark a
movement to fund a large-scale cleanup of the world’s oceans.
Mary Crowley, founder of The Ocean Voyages Institute,
said no one really knows how much plastic is in the “Great Pacific
Garbage Patch,” despite reports that it is fast approaching an area
twice the size of Texas.
“They’re doing that to try to give people a sense of it, but the fact
is, the gyre [vortex] covers a huge area,” she said. “The gyre starts
500, 600 miles off our West Coast and goes 500, 600 miles off the coast
of Asia. It’s about the size of the continental U.S. So when they talk
about the size of Texas, they’re talking about if it were all together.”
No one knows the full extent of its impact on wildlife, but it is
estimated hundreds of thousands of birds and marine mammals die each
year from ingesting pieces of plastic and getting tangled in
free-floating fishing nets.
Speaking at the Britannia Heritage Shipyard in Richmond Wednesday,
Crowley called on the U.N. to create an emergency task force of ships
ready to respond in natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis, to
stem the growth of the already vast chemical soup.
“It would have been much easier to clean it up when it was all sitting together off of Japan,” she explained.
See what they found inside jellyfish in 2009:
She said much of the garbage is carried out to sea from coastal
cities around the world when it rains. Other expeditions have turned up
jagged pieces of plastic that have been through a crusher, she added,
suggesting some places are simply using rivers and oceans as their
The results, in hard-hit places such as Hawaii, she said, are beaches
strewn with litter, and toxins making their way up the foodchain and
onto dinner plates everywhere.
The Institute’s 46-metre tall ship, the Kaisei, which means Ocean Planet in Japanese, will be on display this weekend as part of the Richmond Maritime Festival, before it departs early next week on another tsunami debris cleanup expedition.