53recyclinginternational.com | July/August | 2019
US. Our work included trawling for
microplastics, visual registration of
larger pieces of debris, surface water
samples and testing for airborne
LIFE ON MARS
We also attached a GPS tracker with
NASA technology to a system of
‘ghost nets’ (abandoned fishing nets
and ropes) to map how bigger pieces
of plastic behave in the open ocean.
As chemical pollution is also definitely
associated with marine litter, we even
tested our hair for mercury levels.
Our skipper Emily Penn found out that
29 of the 35 chemicals we tested for
were in her system, possibly because
she was eating fish.
The entire experience was surreal, like
being on Mars and seeing flipflops
and coffee cups flying around. It was
hard to grasp the disconnect between
the amazing beauty of deep blue
oceans, dolphins and albatrosses, and
knowing there are millions of pieces
of plastic out there.
TELEPORTING TO ANOTHER
Sailing into the night, we crossed the
shipping lane from California to China.
Here we met a massive tanker – the
first ship we’d seen since leaving
Hawaii. This made us stop and think
about our consumption-based life-
styles. But we also realised how abso-
lutely brilliant it had been to be com-
pletely remote, away from everything.
Being out on sea, it’s like teleportat-
ing to another world. As we passed
the tanker, we were hit by a wall of
exhaust fumes. It smelled like every-
thing we had escaped for two weeks.
One of the most powerful moments
came towards the very end of the trip,
when I was at the helm. It was around
5am in the morning, the moon was
setting behind us and I saw the sun
coming up in front of us, burning a
vibrant red. The wind was 40 knots
and waves were 4-5 metres high. We
had to keep the main sail reefed
almost all the way down.
Waves washed over us with so much
water that I once literally had to hold
my breath as I ducked. But the boat
rolled so beautifully through the
waves and I felt so comfortable with
my own ability to sail in those condi-
tions. I was smiling like a little child.
We arrived in Vancouver right on
LET’S TAKE CHARGE!
Based on what I’ve seen, I doubt that
we will ever have plastic-free oceans.
Plastic is the workhorse of our modern
economy but we forget it takes hun-
dreds of years to break down. We use
plastic for a few minutes before
throwing it away as waste. I have seen
what ‘away’ looks like. Trust me, the
plastic does not disappear as all mate-
rials have to go somewhere. Unless
we stop dumping plastic in the ocean,
we will spend the rest of our lives
cleaning up our mess.
All in all, though, I have to say I am
very hopeful. Hopeful we can do bet-
ter. This is the time to join those who
are no longer sitting idly on the side-
lines waiting for someone else to take
charge. It helps that legislation is push-
ing for change and that market forces
are really pulling for better resource
management – particularly of plastic
packaging. Ultimately, I think the big-
gest risk with ocean plastic is you and
me thinking what we do doesn’t mat-
ter and that someone else is going to
fix it for us. It’s up to us.’
52-53_oceanplasticsbestpractices.indd 53 08-08-19 11:15