POLLUTED VACATION

Three scientific organizations are offering a holiday with a difference… a cruise of the California-sized Western Garbage patch.

Scientists, educators and eco-adventurers are being offered the unprecedented opportunity to join a research expedition through the North Pacific Ocean littered with debris generated by the Japan tsunami of 11 March 2011. Rarely is such a monumental amount of material – tens of thousands of tons including cars, entire homes and boats – simultaneously thrust into the sea from a single location.

The 5 Gyres Institute and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (Algalita) have organized this expedition in collaboration with Pangaea Explorations to offer a 7,000-mile, high-seas voyage aboard the Sea Dragon sailing vessel from 1 May through 1 July 2012.

The expedition’s first leg will sail from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands through the area of the North Pacific Gyre commonly referred to as the “Western Garbage Patch” where little research has been conducted on plastic pollution. The trip’s second leg will travel due east from Japan to Hawaii through the gyre, a vast vortex of ocean currents where plastic debris accumulates, to cross the “Japan Tsunami Debris Field.” Of great interest to the researchers is how fast the plastic trash is traveling across the gyre, how quickly or slowly it is decomposing, how rapidly marine life is colonizing on it, and whether it is transporting invasive species.

“We’ll be riding the same currents that are transporting cigarette lighters, bottle caps, children’s toys and all manner of other plastic pollution generated by the tsunami,” said expedition leader Marcus Eriksen, Executive Director and co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute.

The 2012 voyage is open to anyone 18-years and older, regardless of sailing experience. Participants will travel with four professional crewmembers and will be expected to earn their sea legs and rough hands by hauling in lines and hoisting sails. They also will conduct research side-by-side with scientists, whether operating a trawl or collecting and cataloging plastic marine pollution and sea life.

Nine crew seats are available at a cost of USD 13,500 each for Leg 1 and USD 15,500 each for Leg 2. A portion of the fare is tax deductible and net proceeds will support Algalita and 5 Gyres’ cooperative research and educational outreach.

This is the second eco-adventure conducted by Algalita. Its July 2011 voyage across the eastern North Pacific Gyre sold out.

“Our vision is a global environment that is healthy, sustainable, and productive for all living creatures, free from plastic pollution,” says Algalita Executive Director, Marieta Francis. “Understanding the impact of the Japan tsunami resultant debris will provide once-in-a-lifetime information to help us move closer to that vision.”

Algalita and 5 Gyres, both nonprofit organizations, have been leaders in pioneering research and increasing global awareness of plastic marine pollution.

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