TreeHugger Joins 5 Gyres To Sail The South Pacific In Search Of Plastic Pollution


'Today can be a great day. Cheer up!' reads a plastic snack packaging at the beach. Photo: Paula Alvarado.

Although one could argue every single thing on the planet is related, ocean plastic pollution seems to have little to do with the recent 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last week. Yet, the subject has been strangely present in the days prior to our departure with the 5 Gyres project to take part in the most extensive study of ocean plastic pollution undertaken till now.

Of Tsunamis, Earthquakes And Garbage Patches

Set to leave from the south of Chile on March 19, the trip was delayed for a number of reasons, one of them being that the Sea Dragon was sailing up from Punta Arenas when they heard of the tsunami alert for the Chilean coast and had to seek shelter inland. Fortunately, the waves that hit were not significant and the boat was not affected.

Now, the waiting for the beginning of the voyage is taking place at Valdivia: the most affected town in the largest magnitude earthquake and tsunami ever recorded. Marking 9.5 in the moment magnitude scale, the consequences of the disaster are not certain, with the death toll set everywhere from 2,300 to 6,000 and 40% of the houses in the city destroyed.


Wooden Houses Torn Down By 1960 Valdivia Earthquake. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Valdivia today. Photo: Roberto Herrera Pellizzari.

It's funny though: while everyone at home immediately connected even coming to Chile or the Pacific with the Japan earthquake, nobody I talked with here seemed scared over it.

Hopefully no further references of natural disasters will come up when, starting this Thursday, TreeHugger sets sail in the last leg of the most extensive study of ocean plastic pollution undertaken till now.

Pioneering Study In The South Pacific

The 5 Gyres project has brought to our attention the fact that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is just one part of the problem and has sailed through four ocean gyres in which plastic garbage accumulates, reaching now its last trip.


Plastic Bottle At Niebla Beach In Chile. Photo: Paula Alvarado.

Leaving from Valdivia, the expedition will travel 2,000 miles to Easter Island through the South Pacific Gyre, a little explored region that is supposed to have the same kind of pollution registered in the North Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. That is: tiny fragments of plastic resulting from degraded fishing gear or waste flowing to sea from land, ingested by all kinds of animals and even suspected to affect human health when liberating toxins inside fish destined for consumption.

So far we've been getting to know the crew and doing some observation inland, namely a walk and beach cleanup at Niebla, a coastal town 20 minutes south-east from the city which had plenty plastic trash to spare.


Part of the crew at Niebla beach. Photo: Friedemann Hottenbacher.

During the following days, we'll be talking to Anna Cummings and Marcus Eriksen, funders of the 5 Gyres project, and with the members of the crew, which includes an entrepreneur that is being bullied by the plastic industry, a scientist studying how pollution is affecting fitoplancton, and an artist turned blogger that's been collecting plastic from the beach for over 200 days, among others. Stay tuned!

Basic Readings To Understand Plastic Pollution
The Pacific Garbage Patch Explained -- New Updates
Cartoonist Explains the Pacific Garbage Patch With Talking Sealife
There's More Than One Ocean Trash Gyre! 5 Gyres Project Switches Focus from Great Pacific Garbage Patch to Other 4 Gyres (Video)
An ocean of plastic... in birds guts (Chris Jordan)

Tags: 5 gyres | Chile | Oceans | Plastic Bags | Waste