Picture yourself on your dream cruise across the pacific. When I first dreamt of exploring the islands I thought of tropical beaches, white sand, and blue oceans as far as the eye could see. I still dream about getting to explore all of it one day, but for very different reasons.
Hi, my name is Sebastião Appleton Figueira, but feel free to call me Seabass. I am an (enthusiastic) amateur climber, and international Ocean Engineering student at Texas A&M from Lisbon, Portugal.
I first decided to get involved with Ocean Engineering while I was living in Houston, TX. In 2017, the city was rocked by Hurricane Harvey and my friends and family suffered the consequences. I spent the majority of that year clearing out people’s houses and garages, getting rid of mold, and watching the city slowly rebuild. It was impressive to see a community and a country come together to solve a problem, but I knew that elsewhere in the world the same would not always happen. My attention turned to the impoverished coastal communities of the world that are already feeling the effects of climate change, and I knew there and then that I wanted to get to work. I still want to visit the Pacific Ocean, but my plans have shifted from a nice relaxing beach vacation to a few years of intense work to fix issues that are drastically affecting the smaller islands and their ecosystems, though they had little to no part in creating them.
Let’s bring our attention back to the cruise ship as we leave the port of L.A. and set sail deep into the pacific. If we were to take a shortcut through the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre on our way to Hawaii, here is what we would find from the perspective of the Captain who first came across it.
“… As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.
It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.”
Capt. Charles Moore
Today I want to talk about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Patch is an accumulation of plastic waste comprising the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California. Combined, the plastic debris is at least twice the size of Texas and can be seen from space, although denser debris can sink centimeters or even several meters beneath the surface, making the vortex’s area nearly impossible to measure.
One of the things that we should focus on is that most of the plastic on the Patch comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and Styrofoam cups. All typical household items in the U.S. and each and everyone taxable under the Plastic Cap Challenge rules. This debris is very harmful to the gyre’s ecosystem. Loggerhead sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellies, albatrosses and other seabirds mistake smaller particles for fish eggs and feed them to their chicks, and seals and other marine mammals often drown entangled in abandoned fishing nets.
I know it may seem like a long shot to think something as small as a Plastic Cap can tackle a problem of this magnitude, but the pollution in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is too large and complex to be picked up by nets. Because of this, scientists and explorers agree that limiting or eliminating our use of disposable plastics and replacing them with biodegradable sources is the best way to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
My roommates and I have started working on it, a little bit at a time. We compost, recycle, and try to be as ecologically friendly as a group of guys in college can be. As someone who wants to spend their life fixing the problems that cause and are caused by climate change, I know that a lot of these issues can seem daunting, but, at the end of the day, any little thing you do now may make my job easier in the future. That, I believe, is a challenge worth taking on.
Good luck sticking to a greener lifestyle this month, and climb on.
Seabass’ special documentary suggestion: A Life on Our Planet – David Attenborough