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Ocean faces garbage clean up with star power

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Capt. Charles Moore a yachtsman in the 1997 Transpacific Yacht Race, which annually sails from Los Angeles to Honolulu, found an interesting site. His findings were reported to scientists and his story over 17 years is recounted in Discovery News yesterday.

The strange objects were a collage in the water of toothbrushes to bottle caps which amounted to a lot of trash. He made notes into his log every hour from his point at halfway to Hawaii. Once he reached Hawaii he spoke with scientists and made his log entries available.

Moore's discovery has reached to star power. Leonardo DiCaprio has pledged $7 million during the next two years for ocean conservation. He has seen the environmental devastation of the ocean firsthand and wants to increase public awareness and action. DiCaprio's emphasized his commitment to ocean conservation in June at a State Department dinner.

Moore did return two years later after his first encounter and began the tracking of all of this garbage which at the time was trapped in a vortex between ocean currents and he logged it as the size of Texas.

Fast forward 15 years and Moore has returned on an expedition as part of his organization, Algalita Marine Research Institute. The Institute is nonprofit which is dedicated to reducing marine plastic pollution. He and his five member expedition have released new information from their journey.

Tracking the plastic upon his return was an interesting challenge. He and his team utilized trawling to track plastic over 4.5 miles and also with a drone. The drone located 100 times more plastic according to Moore.

To add to the mathematics of the plastic amounts, a study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 found that the ocean’s plastic is far less if calculated against global rates of production and disposal. The mystery of disappearing plastic became another challenge.

Moore and his team found that 35 percent of their fish sample had swallowed plastic and that there was a plastic island, not Texas size, but 50 feet long with beaches made up of ropes and buoys and other plastic debris. He classified it a “rocky coastline,” and found “underwater mountains” of plastic debris. As any other island it provided a beach for clams, sea anemones and others.

He speculated that after the tsunami in Japan in 2011 there was a large amount of ropes, buoys and other anchor items swept out to sea along with mussels and oysters from the Asian farms.

His conclusion was, "It's showing signs of permanence. There will be a new floating world in our oceans if we don't stop polluting with plastics."

Moore is not the only person working to find an answer to how much plastic is in the ocean and which inhabitants has it affected.

Estimates are millions of tons have entered the ocean. The 2010 Malaspina Expedition found plastic over wide areas and small amounts to disappearing plastic in areas previously noted for location.

The expedition took samples in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The scientists reported, "The global load of plastic on the open ocean surface was estimated to be on the order of tens of thousands of tons, far less than expected."

Where did the massive island of plastic go? Lead author, Andrés Cózar, a researcher from the University of Cadiz, offered a theory and wrote that, "There are signs to suggest that plankton eaters are important conduits for plastic pollution and associated contaminants."

According to Andrew David Thaler, a marine science PhD and ocean-science website editor, there is a “truly feasible” contraption to reduce ocean plastic. It is already in use: a solar-powered water wheel, which was installed in May at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a seaport on the Mid-Atlantic coast.

The wheel was placed at the outlet of one of the major rivers that flows into the harbor and collects trash and debris from the river by lifting it out of the water and into a barge dumpster on a conveyor belt. So far, between May 16 and June 16, the wheel has intercepted 50 tons of trash.

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