July 20, 2009

Ahoy Plastiki

Plastiki — Is a 60-foot catamaran that you’ll see in the news later this summer. It will draw attention to the growing problem of plastics in our oceans, especially the hundreds-miles-wide “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The plastic, most of it swept from coastal cities in Asia and California, is trapped indefinitely in the region by the North Pacific Gyre, a vortex of currents that circulate clockwise around the ocean. Scientists estimate that there is six times more plastic than plankton by weight in the patch. Fish and seabirds mistake this plastic for food and either choke to death or become part of our food chain.

David de Rothschild, from the famous banking family, is putting the finishing touches on his boat made of 12,500 2-liter plastic bottles and other recycled waste products (artist rendition here). His goal is to sail Plastiki 12,000 miles from San Francisco to Sydney—a three-month voyage. That should make a huge environmental statement about rethinking waste and how it can be used in constructive ways. His crew of six will include Thor Heyerdahl’s grand-daughter. It should spark as much conversation as Kon-Tiki did in 1947. I assume he’ll depart before the Pacific cyclone season begins.

The Plastiki will feature computer and communications technology from Hewlett-Packard. Stationary bicycles will be used to generate electricity, along with a small wind turbine. “Biodigestible composting” toilets will safely take care of dispoal at sea.

Did you know . . . that an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic litter float on every square mile of ocean?. We only recycle about 20 percent of plastic bottles. Instead they end up in the world's landfills, and about 10 percent in our oceans.

De Rothschild will collect water samples and post blogs, photographs and video clips of the area, in an attempt to publicise the perils posed by plastic pollution.

Last year, a raft built of waste and debris, known as the Junk Raft, was built by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which had been set up by Charles Moore who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This simply constructed craft floated on a mass of 15,000 plastic bottles and was sailed through the patch by oceanographers.