The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the most grueling sporting contests in the world. The teams race a total of 46,000 miles over a period of 9 months. Each leg is roughly 6,000 miles long and takes up to 3 weeks to complete — three weeks in which the sailors often get by on a few hours of sleep a day and eat reconstituted freeze dried food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For a brief introduction to what they experience out on the water, where wind speeds can exceed 50 miles per hour, check out the video below.
The theme of this year’s race is raising awareness of about the massive amounts of plastic debris that is floating in the ocean’s of the world. Leaving Hong Kong last week, one team got its keel tangled up with some plastic sheeting and had to sail backward briefly to get rid of it. One of the seven teams in the competition is called Turn The Tide On Plastic and is sponsored by the Mirpuri Foundation, a nonprofit foundation based in Portugal that is deeply involved in ocean plastic research.
Microplastics Found In Remote Areas
The course this year included a stopover in Cape Town, South Africa before heading across the South Indian Ocean to Melbourne, Australia. Turn The Tide On Plastic used special equipment along the way to take samples of the ocean water it was travelling through. When it reached Melbourne, those samples were flown to the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research located in Kiel, Germany. There they were analyzed.
Researcher Sören Gutekunst reports the samples taken from the South Indian Ocean — an area of the world that is devoid of most human activity, showed 42 particles of plastic per cubic meter — an unexpectedly high number given the remoteness of the area.
“Data on microplastics has not been taken from this extremely remote area before and what we found was relatively high levels,” Gutekunst tells The Guardian. “There are places in the ocean which are not being observed and that is why it is so special for us to be doing this. It is amazing that we have the opportunity and this could lead to much further knowledge about what is happening with microplastics in the ocean.”
Other samples collected during the race showed the highest microplastic levels around Europe’s north Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, ranging from 180 to 307 particles per cubic meter. High levels were also recorded off the coast of Cape Town — 152 per cubic meter — and the Australian coast — 115 particles per cubic meter.
Plastics Found 6 Miles Down In The Marianas Trench
Perhaps the most startling news about contamination in the ocean was reported a year ago by researchers at the University of Newcastle in the UK. Small crustaceans that live at the bottom of the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean — the deepest part of the ocean known — were harvested by a robotic underwater research vessel. They were found to have 50 times more toxic chemicals in their bodies than crabs that live in polluted waterways in China..
“We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth,” said Alan Jamieson, who led the research. “The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet.”
Some people, many of whom are now employed in the Trump administration, pooh pooh such concerns. They believe the earth, the atmosphere, and the oceans are so enormous that no amount of human activity could possible have an effect on them. They are wrong. Using the planet we live on as a communal cesspool is simply arrogant and unbelievably stupid. The fact that corporations have been doing so for so long in the pursuit of profits is criminally negligent. Cleaning up the mess humanity has made will take centuries and hundreds of trillions of dollars. But the implications of not doing so are simply unthinkable.