On The Way To The (Possibly) Great South Pacific Garbage Patch


The boat skipper, Clive, showing us the route the boat is making. All photos: Paula Alvarado
After a pause to get used to life on board a boat, TreeHugger Paula is back with details of the departure of the latest 5 Gyres trip.

With the Valdivia forest surrounding us and a bright sky above us, we finally set sail joining the 5 Gyres project in the last of a series of expeditions to explore plastic pollution in the ocean.We got to the boat on Wednesday and had the proper introduction to all things related to life on the sea, including a tour of the Sea Dragon -the sailing boat that is taking us-, our duties on board, crew etiquette and alike.

The crew is organized in three groups that take turns to be 'on watch': that means being responsible to drive the boat, take care of the food and cleaning, and generally being aware and working. While not on watch we're able to talk to other members, read, write or do whatever we want.


Setting sail surrounded by the Valdivia forest.

After the proper explanations and a final tour to town for the last errands, we had a nice last meal inland and prepared for departure.

Thursday afternoon found us at sea, and what began as a sunny happy team began to lose some of its members to seasickness (this writer included, hence the lack of writing). Undoubtedly a hard battle to fight, but one we seem to be winning two days into the ocean.


The route we're making on the boat's map.

In this trip we're heading to the South Pacific gyre, the least explored of the five subtropical gyres (which are rotating oceanic currents that accumulate garbage). In order to cover the most ground possible, we'll be getting there in a sort of zig zag, with a first stop at Robinson Crusoe island, then going up north east, then south, and then up again to Easter Island.

Although there's no information on what we're going to find in this gyre, there are some variables that make this one different from the previous ones 5 Gyres did through the North Pacific, North Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and South Atlantic.


TreeHugger's Paula Alvarado on the Sea Dragon.

"If you look at ocean dynamics alone, this gyre has the tightest accumulation zone, even more than the North Pacific gyre. Hence, we expect a higher concentration of debris. But that doesn't mean that the output of trash is the same," says Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute. That's because while the North Pacific gyre has trash coming from North America, China, Japan and Asia coming to one gyre, the South Pacific has the coast of South America, Polynesia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Australia, which might not be contributing garbage in the same amounts.

So far it's all been blue waters, but after we reach a distance of 200 miles from the coast of Chile, we'll start trawling and that's where we'll begin to have some answers on how we're doing with ocean pollution in the South Pacific. We'll keep you updated as the travel continues.

More on 5 Gyres
And We're Off! Charging Into the South Pacific Gyre for Plastic
5 Gyres Founders Explain How Plastic Pollution in Oceans Really Works (Video)
TreeHugger Joins 5 Gyres To Sail The South Pacific In Search Of Plastic Pollution

On The Way To The (Possibly) Great South Pacific Garbage Patch
With the Valdivia forest