Questions & Answers

I have been asked quite a few questions about the voyage in the last couple of months so I thought I would add them here in case other people wanted to know the same thing.

What is the plastic vortex?

Over to you wiki …  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean.  The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.

The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics (that is, near the surface of the ocean), chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.   Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography, since it consists primarily of suspended particulates in the upper water column. Since plastics break down to ever smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average (although what is average??).

If you jump or fall in the water in the plastic vortex will you be able to get out or will you be sucked under?

The plastic vortex isn’t like a plughole in the middle of the ocean with fast moving swirling currents.  The nature of the gyre is that the water is very slow moving and this is what causes the plastic and debris to become trapped in these areas.  Therefore I won’t be sucked under and I will be able to get back onto the boat fairly easily.

I heard the garbage patch is twice the size of Texas or Continental US?

There are 2 gyres in the Pacific ocean (Eastern & Western) that are in constant movement.  The size of the plastic patches is unknown, as large items readily visible from a boat deck are uncommon. Most debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface. Instead, the size of the patch is determined by sampling. Estimates of size range from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,800,000 sq mi) (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean).  But we shouldn’t get too hung up on size – does it matter? The fact that there is such a huge amount of plastic (estimates of 100 million tonnes!) is what really counts.

Can you walk on it?

No. Unless you can walk on water or soup as the case may be.  The patch is mostly made up of confetti like pieces of plastic.

Are you going to clean up the great Pacific garbage patch?

We will be removing plastic from trawl samples and retrieving some surface debris but the goal of the expedition is not to do a cleanup operation.  There are people researching ways in which it may be possible to in the future but with the size of the area and the nature of the small pieces it is an almost impossible task.

Where does all the plastic come from?

Most of the plastic comes from land based activities.  In the past it was accepted that Marine vessels would dump all their waste at sea but there are stricter guidelines and laws now.  What we do on land has the biggest impact on the rubbish that enters our oceans.

Will the tsunami debris be radioactive?

No it won’t be radioactive as the Fukushima meltdown happened after the tsunami washed the debris out to sea.  There are concerns though that other hazardous waste will be found from laboratories, factories and the like that were completely washed out to sea.

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