OVI: Over 100 tons of plastics recovered in largest-ever open ocean cleanup

Ocean Voyages Institute’s (OVI) marine plastic recovery vessel, S/V Kwai, docked at the port of Honolulu on 23 June 2020, after a 48-day expedition, successfully removing 103 tons of fishing nets and consumer plastics from the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, more commonly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or Gyre.

Courtesy of Ocean Voyages Institute

Ocean Voyages Institute has set a new record with the largest at sea cleanup in the Gyre to date, more than doubling its own results from last year.

“We exceeded our goal of capturing 100 tons of toxic consumer plastics and derelict ‘ghost’ nets, and in these challenging times, we are continuing to help restore the health of our ocean, which influences our own health and the health of the planet,” Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of Ocean Voyages Institute, commented.

“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.”

Crowley has developed effective methods to remove significant amounts of plastics out of the ocean, including 48 tons of toxic plastics during two ocean clean-ups in 2019, one from the Gyre and one from the waters surrounding the Hawaiian islands.

“There is no cure-all solution to ocean clean-up: It is the long days at sea, with dedicated crew scanning the horizon, grappling nets, and retrieving huge amounts of trash, that makes it happen,” Locky MacLean, a former director at Sea Shepherd and ocean campaigner in marine conservation for two decades, said.

As explained, the GPS satellite trackers used by Ocean Voyages Institute since 2018 are proving Crowley’s theory that one tracker can lead to many nets. 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 Pacific Gyre, located halfway between Hawaii and California, is the largest area with the most plastic, of the five major open ocean plastic accumulation regions, or Gyres, in the world’s oceans.

“We are utilizing proven nautical equipment to effectively clean-up the oceans while innovating with new technologies,” Crowley said.

OVI will be unloading the record-breaking haul of ocean plastic debris while docked alongside Pier 29 thanks to the support of Honolulu-based Matson, in preparation for upcycling and proper disposal.

“In keeping with our commitment to environmental stewardship, Matson has been searching for a way to get involved in cleaning up the Pacific Gyre,” Matt Cox, chairman and CEO, said.

“We’ve been impressed with the groundbreaking efforts of Ocean Voyages Institute and the progress they’ve made with such a small organization, and we hope our support will help them continue this important work.”

An expanded 2020 expedition

Kwai’s mission began at the Hawaiian port of Hilo on 4 May, after a three-week self-imposed quarantine period to ensure the health of crew members and safety of the mission, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the expedition, the crew collected marine plastic pollution with the help of GPS satellite trackers that Ocean Voyages Institute designed with an enginner from Pacific Gyre.

Courtesy of Ocean Voyages Institute

These beacons are placed on nets by volunteer yachts and ships. Drones, as well as lookouts up the mast, enable the ship’s crew to hone in on the debris. They then recover the litter, place it in industrial bags, and store it in the ship’s cargo hold for proper recycling and repurposing at the end of the voyage.

The marine plastic recovery vessel and OVI are planning a second voyage to the Gyre departing the end of June to continue cleanup of this area, which is so besieged by toxic debris. The length of a second summer leg will be determined by how successful Ocean Voyages Institute is in securing additional donations.

“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,” Crowley further said.

“We are aiming to expand to other parts of the world desperately needing efficient clean-up technologies.”

“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,” Crowley concluded.