UNEP talks live to 'Plastiki' crew on final leg of epic voyage
As the boat made from bottles edges towards its finishing post in Sydney, UN Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner joined journalists for a live video link-up with Plastiki expedition leader David de Rothschild from UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.
Catamaran made of more than 12,000 plastic bottles brings world wake-up call on marine pollution
Nairobi, 23 July 2010 - They've battled huge waves, fought off ocean storms and sailed through patches of plastic waste. This weekend, the crew of the eco-friendly Plastiki - whose hull is made from 12 500 recycled plastic bottles - will enter the final leg of an epic, four-month journey across the Pacific Ocean.
As the boat of bottles edged towards its finishing post in Sydney, UN Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner joined journalists for a live video link-up with Plastiki expedition leader David de Rothschild from UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.
Sporting a suitably bushy sailor's beard, de Rothschild spoke of the many challenges the crew had faced during their four months at sea (including giant sea swells and hurricane-like winds) but also of their determination to raise awareness of and action on plastic waste in the world's oceans and seas.
"This is truly a message on a bottle", said Mr. de Rothschild. "We have this addiction to single-use, throwaway plastic, which is choking up the ecosystem. With Plastiki, we want to enlighten, inform and inspire people and show that there are solutions here and not just problems."
Mr. de Rothschild also raised concern at the scarcity of marine life his crew had observed on their journey across the Pacific. "We've spent four months at sea but have seen very little fish stock and only a handful of marine mammals", said Mr. de Rothschild. "That is a real sign that the oceans are in desperate need of our help."
It was also revealed during the live link-up that the 12 500 bottles keeping Plastiki afloat and the ship's special plastic superstructure are held together by a revolutionary new adhesive made from cashew nuts and sugar.
The product was developed by the team as an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional, epoxy glues. The live interview was also supported by green energy - in the form of a Plastiki crew member pedaling on the bicycle that powers the boat's laptop computer.
Mr. Steiner congratulated de Rothschild and the Plastiki crew on their success and made a personal donation of EUR 10 000 (USD 12 800) towards the team's awareness-raising work on plastic waste and marine pollution.
"Public awareness of marine waste is growing and your journey has motivated us into putting ever more effort into communicating this problem and bringing forward the solutions so urgently needed. It is not every day that you learn that a UNEP report has inspired such an adventure and vitally-important voyage. We look forward to working with you David and your team on the Plastiki legacy over the months and years to come," said Mr. Steiner during the Skype link-up.
De Rothschild was inspired to start the Plastiki project after reading a UNEP study of marine ecosystems and biodiversity and by fellow adventurer Thor Heyerdahl's famous 1947 Pacific expedition on the Kon-Tiki raft. Plastiki's ten-member crew set sail from San Francisco in March and have been filling their days at sea by blogging and giving interviews on their progress so far.
In the early stages of the voyage, the Plastiki crew sailed through the North Pacific gyre - also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and estimated to be around the size of Texas. The gyre, a swirling mass of marine waste, contains some 3.5 million tons of trash and is the largest of the world's five known gyres.
Depending on weather conditions, Plastiki should arrive in Sydney by 26 July. Among those ready to greet the crew at Darling Harbour will be Ellik Adler, a specialist in marine litter from UNEP's Regional Office for Asia Pacific.
Mr Adler was part of the team that that complied UNEP's 2009 report 'Marine Litter: A Global Challenge' - the first-ever attempt to take stock of marine litter levels on a global scale, across 12 different regions. UNEP reports have found that:
Over 13 000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square kilometre of ocean
Plastic accounts for over 80% of all marine litter
Some eight million items of marine litter are thought to enter the world's oceans and seas every day
UNEP has since supported and guided the development of twelve Regional Action Plans to address the problem of marine litter worldwide.
Together with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, UNEP is also convening the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii on 20-25 March 2011. The conference will highlight the research and allow the sharing of strategies and best practices to assess, reduce, and prevent the impact of marine debris.
At the end of the live link-up with UNEP, Mr. de Rothschild said Plastiki's next challenge was to encourage others to use plastics more responsibly. Once the boat is back on dry land, Plastiki will become a travelling exhibition raising awareness on waste plastic and marine pollution.
"After this adventure, Plastiki'ssecond chapter is a chapter of change", said Mr. de Rothschild. "The message we're sending out is 'What is your Plastiki- What can you do to change the world?"
For more information on Plastiki visit www.theplastiki.com
UNEP's latest reports on marine litter can be downloaded from www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter