The ocean is broken  

Posted by Big Gav

The SMH has an article about a voyage through the Pacific - The ocean is broken.

It was the silence that made this voyage different from all of those before it.

Not the absence of sound, exactly. The wind still whipped the sails and whistled in the rigging. The waves sloshed against the fibreglass hull. And there were plenty of other noises: muffled thuds and bumps and scrapes as the boat knocked against pieces of debris.

What was missing were the cries of seabirds that surrounded the boat on previous voyages across the same seas. The birds were missing because the fish were missing. ...

''After we left Japan it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,'' Macfadyen says. ''We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. I've done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I'm used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles, there was nothing alive to be seen.''

But garbage was everywhere. ''Part of it was the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan a couple of years ago. The wave came in over the land, picked up an unbelievable load of stuff and carried it out to sea. And it's still out there, everywhere you look,'' Macfadyen says.

His brother Glenn, who boarded at Hawaii for the run into the US, marvelled at the ''thousands on thousands'' of yellow plastic buoys. The huge tangles of synthetic rope, fishing lines and nets. Pieces of polystyrene foam by the million. And slicks of oil and petrol, everywhere. Countless hundreds of wooden power poles are out there, snapped off by the killer wave and still trailing wires in the middle of the sea.

On other voyages, when their boat was becalmed, the Macfadyens would just crank the motor and chug off. Not this time. ''In a lot of places we couldn't start our motor for fear of entangling the propeller in the mass of pieces of rope and cable. That's an unheard of situation out in the ocean,'' Ivan Macfadyen recalls. ''If we did motor we couldn't do it at night, only in the daytime with a lookout on the bow, watching for rubbish. In the waters above Hawaii, you could see right down into the depths. I could see that the debris isn't just on the surface, it's all the way down. And it's all sizes, from a soft-drink bottle to pieces the size of a big car or truck. We saw a factory chimney sticking out of the water. ''We were weaving around these pieces of debris. It was like sailing through a garbage tip.''

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