After a journey that was punctuated by storms and unfavorable wind directions, the 5 Gyres crew arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. 31 days, 4100 nautical miles and plastic all the way.
But I am proud. No one has ever explored the South Atlantic Gyre for plastic pollution before. We never batted an eye at the cost incurred when sailing 13 people across an ocean. We believed, we found the resources, we executed. We made it. 67 samples taken every 60 nautical miles all positive for what has become the vomit of land upon our blue planet: plastic. It is of course a bittersweet accomplishment. Acrid because we found what we anticipated what would be there, sweet because we have the data to prove it. We have the assets now to show the world that this human born problem is global. It is an issue that not only affects the environment, but also the quality and standard of living for all beings on earth.
Driving north of Cape Town, we see the residue of apartheid, the slums of Langa and Gugulethu. There it is again, strewn on razor wire, crammed between the corrugated tin shanties, piled and discarded, the ubiquitous calling card of convenience: plastic. It is the alpha land of the sea’s omega. Full circle.
Land ho. Security is ever present in Cape Town, especially in places like ritzy harbors. The approach was hairy: fog, darkness and 50 ships all converging for safe haven on the Cape Of Good Hope. My first walk on land in 31 days was difficult. After so much time at sea the leg muscles tend to atrophy a bit. I couldn’t walk straight. We arrived late – just after 2 a.m. local time trumpeted only by the bark of resident fur seals. But attempting to stroll, wanting for the smell of green flora, I was approached by security. From all appearances, my gait was that of a drunk. Attempting to explain my extreme sobriety of a month without alcohol was fruitless. I was raw, dirty with an unkempt beard – hell I hadn’t worn shoes in twenty days! I was asked to return to my ship. Politics, civil code – land life all set in. I had arrived.
We are docked in front if the Two Oceans Aquarium where we’ve held press events and public education forums. Here we have a bit of celebrity. It’s exciting. I like that the 5 gyres directors are the front (wo)men. I do not like the camera from the other side, but I do like documenting worthy people. My role is perfect here – all I want in my heart is for everyone to see and feel what I saw. Understand the complexity and scale of the issue. The speed by which it worsens. The horror that it wreaks. But also the hope I carry that the problem can and will be solved. It may not be solved by us, but we are laying a foundation that will empower this and the next generation. Life feels good when you think these kinds of things.
And life feels better when you remember why you fight. About a week before we landed, we cruised with a Minke Whale. She found our ship and swam along side, not more than 200 feet from us, breaching and sailing along with us at the same speed. She must have been with us for a half hour at least. Dolphins encounters bring glee to the crew, whales bring ecstasy. Joy.
A Minke is a Baleen whale which means it filters water for food constantly with its mouth. The device by which we scour the ocean for plastic is 25 by 60 centimeters wide, deployed for an hour over about one nautical mile. And every time we have a handful of plastic. Now take a 35 foot whale’s mouth sifting like we are but always, always, always. There is evil math in that. Ugly math.
But though the equation gives us pause, the Minke’s inspire us to keep sailing and attempt to help give the earth back what she deserves: dignity.
Editor’s Note: This is part 7 in a special series. Voyage with Stiv and catch the exclusive each week here at EcoSalon during his month-long journey into the heart of the South Atlantic Gyre.
Images: Stiv Wilson