For years we've been reading about a patch of garbage the size of Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, ingeniously dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Basically, any trash that gets dumped in the water rides the currents to this one spot and joins an ever-increasing flotilla of crap. For all the breathless accounts of the mess and its impact on the area's sealife, however, no one seemed to have a picture of the buildup.
In order to sate our own curiosity, VBS joined the crew of a research vessel studying the trash and sailed out into one of the most remote spots of open water in the world, the North Pacific Gyre, in search of this mythical garbage island. What we discovered once we got there was an ecological disaster beyond any of our expectations and possibly the single worst thing human beings have done to the planet and ourselves. Hope you're into cancer and sex-reversal!
VBS CORRESPONDENT THOMAS MORTON:
Before this trip, I was never all that crazy about the ocean. I’ve always appreciated the fact that it generates the majority of the world’s oxygen and keeps us nice and far from places like Britain, but in terms of any sort of awe or “respect” it just never happened. I would say I looked at it less as the primeval womb of all terrestrial life than as an excessive amount of water you sometimes have to fly over.
Part and parcel with this was my attitude toward the Pacific Garbage Patch, or as we willfully misidentified it for the duration of our journey, the elusive Garbage Island. All the journalism I’d read about the patch had carefully danced around physical descriptions of the trash, leading myself and the rest of the shooting crew to fanciful visions of a solid, Texas-size barge of discarded Coke bottles and sporting goods. The idea that people had managed to fuck up a part of the world that nobody even visits, much less inhabits, and on such a monumental scale struck me as interesting and, to be honest, slightly awesome-sounding, but at the end of the day the impact of the mess on the rest of the world failed to register. I mean, sure, sea birds choking to death on deflated balloons and sea turtles whose shells have been completely deformed by soda can rings (click here for a picture of this if you want to completely ruin your day)—all this definitely sucks, but so do a lot of things, you know?
Needless to say this whole journey ended up overturning my expectations about the Garbage Patch, as well as just about every misconception I’ve ever held about the sea, environmentalism, consumption, barfing, knots, pollution, humanity, and myself. After absorbing the myriad dangers of our plastic-heavy lifestyles for three weeks, I’m now a proud, carbon-conscious “Earth Warrior” who yells at grocery clerks for double-bagging my produce and carries around one of those 70s gunnysacks to drink out of. Just kidding, although the trip did lead me to ferret out a group of non-hippie environmentalists. I also finally got into Earth Crisis. Pretty decent.
PS: All the music in this series is by Brighton, MA’s Helios off their Eingya album on Type Records.