BC Pacific Tales | Cleaning up the Pacific | Points of view

WHEN I was young, my brothers and I argued over who made a big mess in the kitchen. Sticky spills covered the counters, dirty dishes littered the sink, and there was some kind of dust all over the floor. Incriminations flew, followed by cries of “I didn’t do it, so I’m not cleaning it up!” After settling in, we walked into the kitchen and found it remarkably clean. As we argued about who made the mess, our mother quietly cleaned it up. We feel quite small.

While we’ve been arguing over who’s generating the most trash and what steps we should take to reduce our plastic pollution, someone has been quietly cleaning up the mess. Ocean Voyages Institute, a nonprofit organization worthy of your attention, has returned from its latest cleanup effort with another 96 tons of plastic debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the swirling hurricane of dirt near Hawaii.

Company founder and leader Mary Crowley says, “Keeping our ocean healthy is vital to ocean life and our own health. Our cleanup missions give me great hope for the future of our ocean because change is possible.” That’s what I call putting your money where your mouth is.

Since they modestly grabbed a broom and dustpan and began cleaning up in 2009, the Institute has recovered nearly 700,000 pounds of plastics from the ocean, with nearly half of the total in one year, a whopping 340,000 pounds in 2020.

The Institute uses a 130-foot sailing freighter, the Kwai, to move through the congested Garbage Patch, transporting discarded fishing nets, buoys, floats, and other industrial-scale fishing debris, as well as some land-based plastics. everything from soda bottles to diapers. The operation is on a small scale, but don’t make fun of them. They’ve taken 350 tons of garbage out of the ocean that none of us have, including the United Nations or China, the world’s biggest polluter. We have yet to see a Chinese cleaning vessel out there.

Who are the good shepherds involved in this cleanup work? Captain Locky MacLean says: “Many of my crew are from the Pacific Islands and we all do this good work for our children so they can benefit from healthy oceans.” The Institute is a neighborhood effort. The Kwai is owned by the government of the Marshall Islands and its current crew hails from the Marshalls, Kiribati, Fiji, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Germany, and coordinates its missions with the University of Hawaii.

Captain MacLean adds that “marine areas cover more than two-thirds of our planet and are the main component of our life support system here on Earth, absorbing carbon and generating the very air we breathe. They cannot continue to take each other for granted.”

There is a great lesson here. What if cleaning up the oceans became cool? As cool as, say, launching a privately funded, celebrity-studded rocket into space? What if the world just skipped a generation of cell phones and put that money into a fleet of cleaning ships like the Kwai? Super-rich people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates could compete to see who could clean up the Garbage Patch the fastest. Imagine going down in history as the person who saved the Pacific. Now that’s a legacy.

BC Cook, PhD taught history for more than 20 years. He lived on Saipan and travels the Pacific, but currently lives in the continental US.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.