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Posted by on Oct 24, 2013 in Boating Lifestyle, Carousel Feature, Environment, Powerboating, Sailing, UK, US |

Broken Ocean: A Rallying Cry for Cleanup

A sad story in an Aussie newspaper goes viral in the marine community.

NOAA's simplified depiction of the North Pacific Garbage Patch.

NOAA’s simplified depiction of the North Pacific Garbage Patch.

Australian sailor Ivan Macfadyen, a seasoned ocean veteran, told a really sobering story in The Herald, of Newcastle, Australia, about his recent Pacific voyage, titled The Ocean Is Broken.

Macfadyen just sailed in the Melbourne-Osaka Race, which he had done 10 years before. This time, however, he encountered a shocking lack of life on the high seas, as well as shocking amounts of plastic and other debris, and at least one instance of active industrial pillaging of a whole ecosystem.

In just a few days, the Herald reported a massive response to the original story, with hundreds of thousands of website links, Facebook mentions, and Tweets, and almost half the readers coming from the U.S.

At we’ve seen the spread of the story, and want to help it along. Although it’s not really news to anyone who has seen the gradual degradation of offshore waters over the years (we’ve covered it before, too), or has been following the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Macfadyen’s account has hit a nerve via social media, and with any luck it will rev up efforts on every level, from personal to federal to international, to slow trash and plastic pollution, to clean it up, and to develop ways of preventing pollution in the first place.

Mylar balloons travel the world, fall in the ocean, cause lots of trouble, and don't degrade for a long time. But they're fun to catch in a net, and they pack down small in the garbage once they've been filleted.

Mylar balloons travel far, fall in the ocean, cause lots of trouble, and don’t degrade for a long time. But they’re fun to catch in a net, and they pack down small in the garbage once they’ve been filleted.

Here are some numbers about the time it takes for garbage to decompose:

  • Glass bottles ~ 1 million years
  • Monofilament fishing line ~ 600 years
  • Plastic beverage bottles ~ 450 years
  • Disposable diapers ~ 450 years
  • Aluminum can ~ 80-200 years
  • Foam plastic buoy ~ 80 years
  • Rubber boot sole ~ 50-80 years
  • Foamed plastic cup ~ 50 years
  • Tin can ~ 50 years
  • Leather ~ 50 years
  • Nylon fabric ~ 30-40 years
  • Plastic film canister ~ 20-30 years
  • Plastic bag ~ 10-20 years
  • Cigarette filter ~ 1-5 years
  • Wool sock ~ 1-3 years
  • Plywood ~ 1-3 years
  • Waxed milk carton ~ 3 months
  • Apple core ~ 2 months
  • Newspaper ~ 6 weeks
  • Orange or banana peel ~ 2-5 weeks
  • Paper towel ~ 2-4 weeks


If you want to get involved, one good way is through the International Coastal Cleanup, a 30-year effort run by the Ocean Conservancy. Trash that washes up on shore goes right back out to sea in a storm. Best to catch it when the ocean throws it back the first time.

We can help solve this enormous problem, one balloon at a time.