A group of scientists will set sail from San Francisco on Tuesday to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gigantic mass of floating plastic trash, estimated by some to be double the size of the state of Texas. The team hopes to do more research on one of the most polluted locations on earth.
The giant black hole of garbage can be found about 1,000 miles west of California.
“This is a problem that is kind of out of sight, out of mind, but it is having devastating impacts on the ocean. I felt we needed to do something about it,” said Mary Crowley, co-founder of Project Kaisei, a nonprofit group partnering on the voyage with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.
Crowley has been sailing the Pacific for almost 40 years.
“More and more now, you see signs of marine debris and plastic everyplace. You can be at very remote beaches, and you’ll see plastic bottles, barrels, toys and a lot of plastic fishing nets,” she said.
Scientists currently do not know very much about the garbage patch. They are at a loss to explain when it began forming or even what its exact boundaries are. Researchers postulate that plastic trash gets swept down storm drains from the Bay Area or Japan, then it gradually migrates into various ocean vortices, where currents trap the debris in a whirlpool-like fashion.
Crowley began Ocean Voyages Institute, a nonprofit organization that has helped come up with the $500,000 necessary to send two ships to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. On Tuesday, the 151-foot Kaisei (Japanese for “ocean planet”) begins its 30-day journey from San Francisco.
The other ship, the New Horizon, which is owned by the University of California-San Diego, departed from Southern California on Sunday. It has a crew of about 20 people, including several graduate students in marine biology. That voyage was funded by a $600,000 grant from the University of California.
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