Somewhere off the coast of Hawaii, floating between there and the California coastline, is the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, one of two vortexes in what's commonly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). It's now twice the size of Texas and containing an estimated 79,000-plus tons of plastic waste. And, currently, there’s a Frenchman swimming straight through it.
Ben Lecomte, the 52-year-old swimmer extraordinaire, is pushing and kicking his way through abandoned fishnets, water bottles, and tons of human detritus en route to San Francisco. His reasoning behind this mammoth swim? Lecomte wants to bring a tangible, very much in-your-face level of knowledge to this environmental disaster.
"I want to share what it is through swimming and bring people with me," he said to Business Insider earlier this month.
Aptly called the Vortex Swim, Lecomte’s odyssey through the GPGP is both an exercise in environmental awareness and field research. The seasoned swimmer's team — consisting of scientists, lauded sailors, and award-winning photographers — are helping him steer a steady course to the San Francisco Bay, cataloging his ordeal and gathering data, all the while.
And while microplastics — with samples he's logged that show 1,000 percent increases in ocean-level concentrations to prior ones collected — are the main scientific focus, eleven other studies are being conducted in tandem, including fish reproduction surveys and ocean temperature graphings.
Earlier in July, Lecomte reached the center of the vortex, also known as the North Pacific Gyre, and the sheer amount of plastic actually surprised him. But previously he had noticed the beaches of his home country becoming littered with plastic waste in recent years.
“You'd look at the sand and you'd look at where you are and you'd always see plastic there, which is something I never saw when I was growing up in France," he told SFGate, some 900 miles due west of San Francisco.
"Now, whenever I go with my kids, I always find plastic on the beach,” he adds.
Lecomte made the conscious decision to swim at least 300 nautical miles through garbage, because it's believed that human beings produce roughly the same numerical figure in millions of tons of plastic every year — a bit of metaphoric mathematics, if you will.
The environmental advocate and trans-Atlantic-crossing athlete is scheduled to make landfall on Crissy Field on August 31, where he and his motley crew will then give a live-streamed recap of his expedition and host a panel, as well. The insights gained from the ground-breaking swim will be used by scientists and academics from coast to coast, including those at the University of Hawaii, NASA, and research institutes in both France and the Netherlands, each connected by a common purpose: to turn the tide around, for the better, on plastic waste.
For more information on the GPGP — which as National Geographic explains is now two distinct patches — view the below video, and see what you can do, as a citizen of this planet, to stop adding to it.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons