Ivan Macfayden is a British seaman. Citizen of Newcastle, England, ten years ago he sailed over the Pacific Ocean from Melbourn to Osaka. He repeated the journey in 2013, from March to April, but what he saw left him aghast and mortified: the ocean is dying and it is becoming a garbage dump for the planet’s industrial waste.
In his report to the media the Englishman recalled how during his first travel ‘there was not one day of the trip when we didn’t catch a good-sized fish to cook up and eat with some rice’, while the birds’ call was a constant one just had to get used to. ‘They’d be following the boat, sometimes resting on the mast before taking off again. You’d see flocks of them wheeling over the surface of the sea in the distance, feeding on pilchards.’
This year, instead, the only permanent features were silence and bleakness.
Just beyond the equator, offing New Guinea, Ivan and his companion spotted a big fishing boat on duty. The fishing would go on night and day, without any breaks. Next morning a lifeboat approached his yacht. Ivan feared a pirate aggression, but the Malaysian sailors just offered fruit and jams, and five large bags full of fish.
‘They told us that his was just a small fraction of one day’s by-catch. That they were only interested in tuna and to them, everything else was rubbish. It was all killed, all dumped. They just trawled that reef day and night and stripped it of every living thing.’
After passing Japan, the Pacific Ocean took the shape of a huge garbage dump: thousands of plastic buoys, huge tangles of synthetic rope, fishing lines and nets, pieces of polystyrene, foam and slicks of oil and petrol. Much of this material had been dragged by 2011 tsunami. Ivan’s yacht moved with great effort and sailing by night was unthinkable. The hull’s bright yellow, which endured for years weathered under the sun, was showing its sheen for the first time.
Back in Newcastle, Ivan Macfayden turned in vain to government and institutions. He is now trying to get the organisers of Australia’s major ocean races involved into an international scheme that uses volunteer yachtsmen to monitor debris and marine life.
While in the US, he was also approached by academics: ‘I asked them why don’t we push for a fleet to go and clean up the mess, but they said they’d calculated that the environmental damage from burning the fuel to do that job would be worse than just leaving the debris there.’
The seas surrounding us aren’t just a holiday spot to get fresh during summer time. They are the very engine of global life, our life as well. That is true for the Pacific Ocean as for the Mediterranean Sea. In 2009, a research by Greenpeace and Spanish environmental organisation Oceana concluded that the Mediterranean is the most polluted sea in the world. Among the reason for such disaster are industrial dumping, shipping routes and mass tourism. Oceana calculated about 400.000 tons of hydrocarbons are illegally dumped in the Mediterranean’s waters every year, while about 1935 garbage items per square kilometre lie on the bottom.
Taking stands against pollution and learning how to protect the marine environment is everyone’s duty. That’s the only way if we want to keep using geography books instead of history books to study the rich variety of marine lifeforms…