Dying from Seas of Debris
Climate change and ocean acidification can be polarizing topics, but here’s something we can all agree on: There’s too much toxic plastic and trash in our fragile seas.
Crowley is a pragmatist: She understands that the problem must be addressed at its source and that the flow of plastic into the ocean must be stemmed. But she’s also an activist. “Maybe it’s going to be expensive to clean up,” she says. “Maybe it means developing new technologies. But I believe our existing ocean ecosystem really needs help.”
To that end, Crowley launched Project Kaisei (www.projectkaisei.org). In both of the last two summers, the organization’s flagship, the 151-foot brigantine Kaisei, has made fact-finding research voyages to the plastic vortex. In collaboration with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, NOAA, and the University of Hawai’i, the Project Kaisei team has undertaken extensive fish and water-sampling research and assisted in “ground-proofing” the computer models that predict how ocean currents feed the gyre.
The project’s ultimate goal, however, is finding viable ways to actually collect high-seas rubbish, and next summer Crowley’s team will begin testing a series of prototype designs currently in the works. Perhaps, with assistance from government, industry, and even the private sector, fishermen could be recruited to “catch” debris in smaller vessels and deliver it directly to a plant stationed on an offshore recycling mother ship. Such a scheme could be doubly beneficial, notes Crowley, providing fishermen with meaningful jobs while allowing fishing grounds that have been overfished to be restored and replenished.
“We want to test at least three different methods of recycling, at sea and on land, so we know what works best,” says Crowley.
Does she really believe we can gain a toehold on what seems, to almost everyone who’s really considered the scope of the issue, to be an insurmountable quandary?
“Yes, I think we can,” she says. “I think we have to.”