Voyaging to the plastic patch

Two ships are on their way to the Pacific gyre — also known as the Pacific Garbage Patch — to assess the vast island of floating plastic debris. Researchers on the 90-day mission want to try to figure out if it can be, in effect, harvested for recycling. Which would also accomplish the goal of cleaning it up.

One of the two principle sponsors of the mission is the Bureau of International Recycling, an the international federation of recycling industries based in Belgium.

Off to the patch

The plastic patch has been estimated to contain about 4 million tons of plastic over an area about twice the size of Texas, although another of the research goals is to measure it more precisely. It’s sometimes referred to as “the eighth continent.”

While some are simply horrified that so much plastic is adrift on what should be a pristine ocean, others are concerned about the effects on wildlife that might ingest some of the stuff. Others are concerned that as the plastic breaks down, pollutants become chemically attached and can also affect wildlife.

Landlubbers can track their progress at on the website of Project Kaisei.

The researchers on the ship have a blog. On Saturday, they reported that although they were still more than a day and a half away from the gyre — which drifts somewhat — “we could see small and large pieces of plastic floating by. In lieu of fish, one of our anglers found pieces of plastic net on his hooks.”