North Atlantic Plastic Patch



Those of you who sail and cruise in the Atlantic Ocean will probably not be pleased to learn that scientists have confirmed there is a vast patch of floating plastic debris in a band between 22 and 38 degrees north that rivals the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in size and density. Kara Lavender Law, a researcher with the Sea Education Association (SEA), shared this depressing revelation with scientists gathered at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon, earlier this week. According to Law, most of the debris picked up in surface trawl nets over the course of a 20-year SEA study consisted of fine bits of plastic up to one centimeter in size. The maximum density observed was 200,000 bits of plastic per one square kilometer.

I, for one, am not very surprised. While sailing through the area in question just last spring aboard Lunacy I found myself wrestling with a very large piece of plastic debris, a 10-foot tube about 8 inches in diameter, that somehow draped itself around my rudder skeg. I did not succeed in getting it aboard, but I did finally shake it loose from my rudder after dropping sail and stopping the boat.

This summer SEA plans to continue its research and will sample a vast area southeast of Bermuda aboard the Corwith Cramer, its 134-foot square-rigged research vessel.

(Proposed route of S/V Corwith Cramer)

The timing of this announcement is somewhat propitious, as the media has recently devoted some attention to the upcoming voyage of Plastiki, due to start next month out of San Francisco. This unique sailing vessel, constructed entirely out of recycled plastic (including 12,500 intact plastic bottles), will sail across the Pacific to Australia with the avowed purpose of promoting recycling and further publicizing the existence of the Pacific’s own plastic patch. My fellow BoaterMouth blogger (and SAIL editor-at-large) Kimball Livingston recently visited the craft and its creator, eco-adventurer David de Rothschild, and I urge you to check out his blog to find out more about the project.

Personally, I love the look of this thing, but evidently as a sailboat it is not very impressive. According to Kimball, Plastiki‘s skipper, Jo Royle, expects to make good only about 100 miles a day and claims the craft cannot sail to windward.

On mulling all this over, I find my mind inevitably wanders to that scene in The Graduate (1967) where Ben Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, is adrift in his parent’s swimming pool, wondering what to do with his life, when he is accosted by a helpful family friend…

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you… just one word.

Ben: Yes sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Ben: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Ben: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ben: Yes, I will.

And so have I, and in striving (unsuccessfully) to come up with a clever bon mot or two to highlight the irony of this metaphor–you know: floating, plastic, and its economic ubiquity–all I can say is this is very sad and we need to find a way to stop it.


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