Tracking and Catching Plastic Waste

Author:
Publish date:
The crew of the Kwai hard at work this past summer 

The crew of the Kwai hard at work this past summer 

Plastic waste—in the form of everything from plastic soda bottles to abandoned fishing nets—constitutes a major threat to the health of the world’s oceans. Giving the immense size of an ocean, though, actually finding all the plastic floating around out there in a time-efficient manner has been a major challenge—until now.

Using GPS trackers and enlisting the aid of a wide range of mariners, professional and recreational alike, the Sausalito, California, based Ocean Voyages Institute has hit on a way of “tagging” big clumps of garbage and then using that same garbage to lead it to other garbage. The thinking behind this approach is that the ocean frequently “sorts debris,” so that a tagged fishing net can lead to other nets and a density of debris within a 15-mile radius.

The result? This past summer the institute’s converted sail-powered cargo vessel Kwai removed an incredible 170 tons worth of abandoned “ghost” nets and other plastic debris from the North Pacific Gyre, quadrupling the group’s previous year’s record haul.

Ocean Voyages Institute regularly gathers tons of plastic waste 

Ocean Voyages Institute regularly gathers tons of plastic waste 

“I am so proud of our hardworking crew. We are utilizing proven nautical equipment to effectively clean up the oceans while innovating with new technologies,” says veteran sailor and Ocean Voyages Institute founder, Mary Crowley. “The oceans can’t wait for these nets and debris to break down into microplastics, which impair the ocean’s ability to store carbon and toxify the fragile ocean food web.”

The Hawaii-based Kwai completed two voyages of 48 and 35 days each in 2020, employing the GPS satellite trackers Ocean Voyages Institute designed in conjunction with engineer Andy Sybrandy of Pacific Gyre Inc. throughout. Drones, as well as lookouts on watch up in the rigging, enabled the ship’s crew to further home in on the debris, which is then placed in industrial bags and stored in the ship’s cargo hold for proper recycling and repurposing back on shore. All pretty impressive stuff by any measure.

Better still, Crowley, the crew of the Kwai and the rest of Ocean Voyages Institute are just getting started.

“Our solutions are scalable, and next year, we could have three vessels operating in the North Pacific Gyre for three months, all bringing in large cargos of debris. We are aiming to expand to other parts of the world desperately needing efficient clean-up technologies,” Crowley says of her plans moving forward. “There is no doubt in my mind that our work is making the oceans healthier for the planet and safer for marine wildlife, as these nets will never again entangle or harm a whale, dolphin, turtle or reefs.” 

Ed note: For more on Ocean Voyages Institute (oceanvoyagesinstitute.org) and its cleanup efforts, be sure to check out Principal Editor, Adam Cort’s, conversation with Mary Crowley as part of the SAIL magazine Point of SAIL podcast at sailmagazine.com/web-exclusives/podcasts

200610_NPG_JM_Trip-Best-JPEG_304_200610_NPG_JM_Trip-Best-JPEG_1012_P1144509

Photos courtesy of Ocean Voyages Institute

Related

2.4mR's racing at the 2018 Clagett Regatta-US Para Sailing Championships credit Clagett Regatta-Andes Visual

Host for 2021 U.S. Para Sailing Championships Announced

The 2021 U.S. Para Sailing Championships will be hosted by The Clagett Regatta at Sail Newport, in Newport, R.I. on August, 24-29, 2021, according to a joint announcement from the host and US Sailing. "We have had a very long working relationship with US Sailing and look forward ...read more

Reflections-photo-CMerwarth

Cruising: Reflections of an Old Salt

I am 90 years old, dwindling in mind and body and fear living too long. Twenty years have passed since I last weighed anchor. Still, when a Carolina blue sky is polka-dotted with billowing cumulus clouds and the wind blows fair, I sorely miss raising sail and setting forth. I ...read more

DSC_0145

Waterlines: Solo Sailing

In spite of the fact I came to the sport of sailing alone and untutored, in a boat I acquired on my own, I never really aspired to become a solo sailor. It just sort of happened. All these years later, I still never explicitly plan to sail anywhere alone. I’m always happy to ...read more

01a-DJI_0398

Racing The M32 Class

This year the M32 celebrates its 10th birthday. Swedish Olympic bronze medalist Göran Marström and Kåre Ljung designed the M32 in 2011 as the latest addition to an already impressive portfolio that includes the Tornado, M5 A-Class, M20 catamaran and the Extreme 40. Two years ...read more

01-LEAD-23274-Coastal-Oilskins-GSP

Know how: Cleats, Clutches and Jammers

Since the invention of rope, there has also been a need to belay or secure it. Every sailboat has rope on board so, unless you own a superyacht with captive reels or winches, you’re going to have to find a way to make it fast. (As a side note—and before you reach for your ...read more

9e4d8714-2a8e-4e79-b8f6-c9786aaec4d0

Antigua Sailing Week Announces Women’s Mentorship Program

In partnership with the Antigua and Barbuda Marine Association, Antigua Sailing Week is launching a mentorship program to encourage women and girls to join the sport of sailing. President of Antigua Sailing Week, Alison Sly-Adams says, “When we devised the program, we looked at ...read more

01-LEAD-Carmody-Distant-Drummer

Experience: A Badly Snagged Prop in Haiti

When a winter norther blows through the Bahamas, the northeast trades can reach gale force as they funnel through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti. After waiting for a lull, though, we had a fabulous beam reach aboard our Liberty 458, Distant Drummer, from Santiago de ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_9186

Charter Cruise to La Paz Mexico

Just 24 hours before our scheduled charter in the Bahamas, the government clamped down again on visitors from the United States. Having endured two Covid-19 brain swabs in preparation, I looked at my packed bag on the floor and reached for the rum. I could, at least, pretend I ...read more