1958 a wooden boat lots of fish – 2008 plastic bottle boat, few fish


A Tribute to Don McFarland by Planet Experts

In 1958, Don McFarland was one of four men who built a 9 ton wooden box and drifted to Hawaii in 69 days. Exactly 50 years later in 2008 I did the same, but used 15,000 plastic bottles with a Cessna 310 aircraft tied on top of it. This trash raft, called Junk, was intended to show the world how trash adrift in the ocean can travel thousands of miles. We rafted more than 2600 miles in 88 long days from Los Angeles to Hawaii.  But in this 50 years the ocean had changed.

Don talked about seeing sharks every day, catching tuna and mahi-mahi whenever he wanted. On our journey, we saw almost no fish, but we did see and ocean polluted with microplastics. I can confidently say that if you are adrift in the ocean today you cannot rely on…

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If oceans were a country…

I recently went diving among some of the amazing coral reefs of Indonesia. Their sheer beauty is beyond description, and their value is beyond calculation. But let’s try to put it in perspective. The World Wildlife Fund recently estimated that the total asset base of the ocean is valued at US$24 trillion, and the annual “gross marine product” is at least US$2.5 trillion. If the ocean were a country it would have the seventh largest economy in the world – larger than Brazil’s or Russia’s.

Source: If oceans were a country…

Up Close and personal in Gyre


A few years after our trip (sailing from Sydney to Fiji), a yacht sailed through the epicentre of the gyre north of the equator and discovered a giant raft of floating plastic. This infamous area of debris has since become known as the Pacific Plastic Soup and stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the coast of California right across the north Pacific to near the coast of Japan. The plastic, originating from countries around the Pacific Rim, including Australia, the US, China and Mexico, has been concentrated in the central area of still water around which the currents circulate. Such vast central areas of gyres are rarely crossed by boats and it’s quite likely that there are more of these shameful plastic soups in similar areas around the world. And, as the degradation rates of plastic are very slow, the areas will be around for a long time.

Some of the debris I have found on sandy islets, many miles from land, includes cigarette butts, lighters, cans, plastic bags and bottles, foam food containers and toothbrushes. Netting and drink packs choke several marine species, plastic bags are mistaken for edible jellyfish by turtles and plastic crates break corals as they tumble over reefs.

And if the presence of large items of plastic refuse wasn’t enough, a recent Australian survey found that sand on beaches around the world is contaminated with microplastics – bits of polyester, acrylic and nylon less than one millimetre in size – that have entered the sea from laundry waste water through sewerage systems. At this stage the effect on marine food webs and sea life is not known, but it’s unlikely to be benign.

 By Dr Mike King:  Beneath the Surface

beneath the surface