Bay Area ship voyage recovers 96 tons of plastic from Pacific ocean

BySpencer Christian and Tim Didion via KGO logo
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
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Sausalito-based recovery ship KWAI collected over 96 tons of plastic materials from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch after a month-long voyage.

SAUSALITO, Calif. (KGO) -- Nearly every day cargo ships arrive here in the Bay Area, carrying everything from cars to consumer goods. But one ship that just docked in Sausalito is delivering cargo that's probably more valuable, at least for the environment.

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Striding across the deck of the recovery ship KWAI, is like taking a voyage straight into a global crisis. And captain Locky MacLean showed us the evidence.

"It's so sticky it picks up toothbrushes, you name it's in there," says MacLean pointing to mounds of ocean debris.

A huge hall of plastics, netting and other destructive trash was plucked from a section of the Pacific known as the North Pacific Gyre, or Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The crew arrived back in Sausalito after more than a month of scouring the area. They say the materials they recovered pose a specific threat.

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"It breaks down into microplastics. And the reason we should all care about microplastics in the ocean and removing it is because the microplastics hamper the ocean's ability and the ocean's cycle to sequester carbon," MacLean said.

The ship's hold was stuffed with some 96 tons. Now, it's being offloaded with a specific goal: to make sure the plastic components are upcycled into materials that will never find their way back into the ocean.

"It can be converted into aggregate for road construction, building blocks for retaining walls, highways, that sort of stuff," MacLean said.

The mission is the latest launched by the Sausalito-based Ocean Voyages Institute, which is leading research into cutting-edge methods of collecting and disposing of ocean waste.

They say the debris patch now covers an area roughly the distance from California to Texas. While the effects are floating half a world away, founder Mary Crowley believes concern is growing here in the Bay Area, both over our own contribution to the problem and the effects here at home.

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"There's more and more awareness about the kind of evil of throw-away plastics. Besides what they do with the ocean, they kill birds and all sorts of things," Crowley said.

And so, for most of the morning, crews hoisted bags and bags of ocean trash. Clearing room for future voyages, and a cleanup mission that's truly on a global scale.

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