Garbage Island: An Ocean Full of Plastic (Part 3/3)

Uploaded by vice on 06.09.2012


THOMAS MORTON: So we're just on the outskirts of
the gyre right now.
We haven't really even gotten into the thick of things, and
already in the last hour, we've seen more fucking trash
float by than we have in the entire voyage up until now.
The past day I started getting this weird fear that, like,
what if the garbage patch isn't here?
What if we'd all been duped?
But I don't--
I don't see that as being the case anymore.
We're staring to see a lot of gnarly shit.
Are these-- are you seeing this shit?
Like, some of it-- some of it's, uh, what's it, bubbles
and what have you?
But if you look in the middle of them, there's, like,
fucking chunks of crap.
I'll get under your net, and we'll get it.
Here it comes.
MALE SPEAKER: You got it?
There we go.
Ah, yeah.
THOMAS MORTON: Look at that thing.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Where's it from?
MALE SPEAKER: Looks like Japan.
This is either the second or third buoy we've pulled with
Japanese shit on it.
We are across the Pacific from Japan.
By the time it gets here, it has to make a three- to
five-year circle around the gyre all the way over towards
Asia, up by Alaska, and then back in.
The whole thing-- the whole thing's kind of just one big
unfathomable bummer.
I came out here expecting to see, like, a trash dump,
pieces in the water that you could pull out.
But instead, what I got was an even ruder awakening.
Looking out right now, you don't see the garbage.
Sometimes you see shit float by.
Most the time you don't.
You just see water.
But what's in that water is a fucking thousand times worse
than a Coke bottle.
Because what it is, it's every part of a Coke bottle busted
down into a little digestible morsel.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: No, we don't have it over the eye
hook right.
I'm [INAUDIBLE] right now with my line.
THOMAS MORTON: This is where we're going to dump this
little winged thing out the back.
So we just sit now and let that thing, uh, fucking Hoover
up all the crap that's on the surface of the water.
And then we'll draw it in.
And I kind of don't know where we're going from there.
Look at it, be grossed out.

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Ready, you ready?
Seven, four, eight, six.

This is actually a very sad sample, because this is what
we're talking about with the 60 to 1 bit
instead of the 6 to 1.
THOMAS MORTON: A bad ratio of plastic to sea life is--
what's it, 6 to 1 in a sample?
This sample has very little life in it.
There's all the components of the plastic soup
that the ocean is.
THOMAS MORTON: This is, like, levels beyond pollution.
We've changed, like, the composition of ocean water
almost 1,000 miles from fucking shore.

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Here's one part of an organism, it
looks like.
So we have a lot of microplastics here.
And you notice there's no reds in here, no oranges.
THOMAS MORTON: Why's that?
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: That's because these fish like to eat
things that are red and orange, that look like shrimp.
And birds eat them too.
THOMAS MORTON: After an hour, the only thing we
got were two bugs.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: I don't think we would have seen any
of these floating by.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: When you describe this place as, like,
a collection of garbage the size of Texas, it's really,
really about, like, that you can trawl this entire area and
still find little bits of plastic.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Yeah, and then there's these
accumulation zones, which are poorly defined.
Like Ebbesmeyer says size of Texas or twice the size of
Texas or something like this.
Well, that state of Texas is moving.
It's all--
there's no answer book, you know?
We're writing the answer book.
So we don't-- we don't really know any answers.
OK, 10, 12--
12 more minutes.
THOMAS MORTON: God, this is awful.
This looks like you'd find this in a stagnant place at,
like, a really busy harbor, not in the
middle of the ocean.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: We have everything in here in terms of
plastic-- net, nurdles, Styrofoam, bottle caps.
THOMAS MORTON: This is our first introduction to the
garbage patch, a product of a little hour's trawling.
This is really a synthetic environment.
And where we're going, we're going to see
it get a lot worse.
It's kind of disheartening.
I mean, how do you fucking pull the plastic out of that?
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: That's why I'm so glad that you guys
came, because I think seeing this changes people's
perception of how serious the problem is.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: I mean we are so far away.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Yeah, I mean, you had to get here--
you had to spend the time getting here to realize how
far you were.

MEREDITH DANLUCK: I'm totally bummed.

I don't know if I'm just tired.
And it's also different to have seen, like, pictures--
like a picture of a jar somewhere in some magazine,
and then to, like, realize how long it's taken
for us to get here.
I mean, we are in the middle of nowhere.
Like, I think there are so few people who have
actually been here.
Maybe no one has ever been in this spot.
You know?
It's that kind of, like, real middle of nowhere.
And it's filled with our trash.
You know?
We've really screwed up.
We're all going to hell.

DR. LORENA MENDOZA: I think the plastic is everywhere, in
all the world.
THOMAS MORTON: It's just uniform?
I don't see anyplace in the world that
don't contain plastic.

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: You and I have seen shocking amounts
of plastic in these samples.
But what is there that we can't see?
Individual plastic polymer molecules.
And they're in the process of breaking from a 2,000
molecular weight chain down to 1,000 in a totally
uncontrolled experiment.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: That's fishing line?
THOMAS MORTON: Once plastic's broken down, because of their
structure, they can act as sponges for chemical compounds
called Persistent Organic Pollutants, which is an eerily
cute term for horrible chemicals, like DDT and
pesticides, that are actually pretty common in ocean water.
But once plastic's introduced into the mix, the plastic
just, like, sops them up.
It's, like, basted in poisonous chemicals.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: The worst ever [INAUDIBLE] trawl.
It's my worst ever.
And the number of nurdles is outstanding.
THOMAS MORTON: That doesn't even have the big
piece in it, does it?
This isn't even the full sample.
This is probably 1,000 to 1, plastic to plankton.
Probably our first ever breaking the 1,000 to 1 mark.
Previous studies had only just counted the plastic.
But our breakthrough study became a new kind of way to
assess the problem as compared to the available food.
Ebbesmeyer says a one-liter bottle will break into enough
pieces to put one particle on every mile of
beach in the world.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: You stil that up, and it's virtually
invisible, you know, this confetti that's all in the
ocean right now.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: I think that's your challenge, is to
create that immediacy for the people that would only think
of an object.
How do you talk about that?
Everybody said, why don't you just go out and clean it up?
You know, they think it's like a parking lot.
There's no way.
There's no way you can clean it up.
No chance.
I did a calculation that we'd require every man, woman, and
child on earth--
6.6 billion--
during their lifetime to clean up the ocean, they would have
to be in charge of 100,000 pick-up truckloads of ocean.

THOMAS MORTON: This is beyond bad news.
What do you fucking do against this, Have countries sign
There's no-- there's no policing the waters out here.
That only accounts for a fifth of everything that's-- of all
the trash that's here.
Most of it's coming from land.
And you can tidy things up in places like the United States
or Japan, but how do you keep the third-world countries from
doing this?
Especially when we're shipping out all our fucking
manufacturing there.

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: If we solve the plastic problem, we
would, at the same time, solve a lot of our social problems,
which is keeping us tied down to, basically, a rat race.
I mean, I'm not the first one to describe our
system as a rat race.
The plastic plays a big part of it.
It just fits the mold of this repressive totality, which
doesn't allow people to think outside the box.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Well, that's the thing.
It's like, does this need to be, like, the money, glamor
shot that we had all thought it was going be of, like, a
ton of garbage?
This is actually worse.
THOMAS MORTON: It's way worse.
It's not as glamorous, but--
MEREDITH DANLUCK: It's totally not, like, the money shot, but
it's totally worse.
There is a shift of understanding happening for
all of us, I think, in terms of, you know,
what this area is.
It's not--
it's not a big garbage dump the size of Texas floating in
the middle of the Pacific.
It's almost like tobacco, tobacco in the '50s.
Everyone was like, there's no problem with tobacco.
Well, it's because tobacco--
it's like plastics telling us there's no
problem with plastics.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Yeah, it's like a huge industry that's so
systemic that nobody's really taken the time to understand.
THOMAS MORTON: It's entered the food chain.
It's in--
it's in all the water we've been around.
And we haven't even started to try to combat this.
I mean, Charlie is out here, uh, like,
studying the effects.
Greenpeace sends, like, a trawler every so often to try
to pull pieces out.
But it's the composition of the ocean now.
It's not just a matter of pulling shit out.
It's a matter of, like, preparing our systems for the
change that's on its way.
Basically, we've--
without realizing it-- consigned ourselves to eating
our own shit.
We've been tossing out plastic for years, and it has come
back and bit us really fucking hard in the ass already.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: There's a net.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: There's a net off the starboard--
THOMAS MORTON: Net off the starboard.

MEREDITH DANLUCK: Keep your eyes on it, Jake.
THOMAS MORTON: We sort of hit one of the worst little
payloads of, uh, of garbage that we've
had this whole voyage.
It was a fucking enormous ghost net, just floating out
in the middle of nowhere.

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Critical thinking, it's a
faculty that's in danger in our present-day society.
Critical thinking.
We live in the happy consciousness era where it's
like, we're the strongest nation on Earth, globalization
is inevitable, we've got more stuff, he who dies with the
most toys wins.

I think that's why I'm so gung-ho on this plastic thing
is because it's a symbol of the wrong direction that we're
taking as a society as a whole.
What is the promise of civilization?
You know, Descartes said there was such a thing as a social
contract, that we give up our individual liberties to the
society as a whole because it can liberate us greater than
we can do by ourselves.
Is that still the case?
Is it really--
are we getting the bang for the buck out of our society
and our social institutions that we give up our
anarchistic tendencies for?
We're caught in the trade winds of our time.
We can't secede from society.
But we have to plant the seed of the future in the present.

FEMALE SPEAKER: Pull it in with the winch.

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Pretty impressive, isn't it?
What a joke.
THOMAS MORTON: Isn't too clear when you see it underwater,
but it's a lot more obvious when you get all
the colors out here.
This is made of so many fucking pieces of net.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Well that's what happens.
THOMAS MORTON: Different ones.
It just collects--
like, one net just starts collecting others.
Just like a tumbleweed.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Yeah, look how many-- there's countless
different kinds of rope in there.
toothbrush hiding in here.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Yeah, we saw that
toothbrush out in the water.
And so right now, if we stopped using plastics, or if
we controlled the runoff of plastics into the ocean, the
amount of plastic that's in the ocean now--
there's no way we can clean it up?
MEREDITH DANLUCK: But is there a way that the ocean can--
can process it?
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: You saw it in the ghost net.
You saw the toothbrush, plastic tarp, strapping, all
these things woven together.
She pulls those over to these centers.
And then when storms hit, our islands and beaches are like
sieves in a comb, combing it out of the ocean.
So she'll eventually spit it out.
But like I say, she can't spit it all out if we don't stop
putting it in.
The ocean cannot handle all this stuff.
What can she do?

I just want everybody to know this isn't
just a pleasure cruise.
We get out feet wet.
We have to find ghost nets sometimes.
Sometimes it's rocky out here.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Get ready to work.
We got to take down the sails.
You want neutral--
MALE SPEAKER: I got it, relax.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Neutral, a little bit forward.
Come on.

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Meredith, pull in on your
That's the other one.
But you just said [INAUDIBLE].

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: We're pulling, we're pulling.
Keep pulling.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Keep pulling, keep pulling.
Release the [INAUDIBLE].
Release the [INAUDIBLE].
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Oh, shut up, you motherfucker.
I'll blast your motherfucking mouth.
I told you this was an emotional sail, I don't want
you guys fucking [INAUDIBLE].

THOMAS MORTON: We'd seen him yell at us and stuff when we'd
fuck up the sails and things like that.
But he's typically really, really mellow.
That whole problem would have been avoided if he had just
stored his samples in plastic beakers.
It was really fucking heartbreaking, because that
was, like, a good sample, and he's never going to get that
again on this trip, not for another bunch of trips.
And it invalidates, you know, all that we did that
afternoon, which is part of what he was screaming.

MEREDITH DANLUCK: You know, what can you do?

Today was a spiral into a totally different place.

What are our comments tonight?
MEREDITH DANLUCK: What are our comments?
JAKE BURGHART: Need more soy milk.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Where is the soy milk?

JAKE BURGHART: What should we do now?
Should we check the engine rooms?
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Yeah, check the engine room.
I have to go to the bathroom.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: I feel like I'm destroying this map.
Does he get a new one for every trip?

MEREDITH DANLUCK: Your nose is running.
Did I get some snot on you?

CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Right beneath the large-- you see
that dark cloud above the white clouds?
Yeah, that's the volcano.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Look at that, huh?

MALE SPEAKER: 50 miles away.
We just dropped the main sail for the last time.
And now we're going to pull in to the harbor.
It's over.

MEREDITH DANLUCK: Oh my god, it feels really fucked up.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Thomas, how's your stomach?
THOMAS MORTON: So far so good.
This wharf's kind of pretty wobbly, though.
Whoa, this feels amazing.
This feels like I'm on fucking shrooms.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Oh my god, I feel totally high.

I really feel like I'm on acid.
THOMAS MORTON: Running makes no sense when
you try to do it.
MALE SPEAKER 1: Salud, Meredith.
MEREDITH DANLUCK: Welcome back to civilization.
Isn't it so comfortable and convenient?
THOMAS MORTON: This is going to be weird.
We made it.
We're in Hawaii.
We got off the boat, finally.
We kissed our sea legs goodbye.
And now we can just relax down here on the world-famous green
sands beaches.
Look at this.
It's everything we've been seeing the whole time.
Why don't we walk down a little?
Like, how far can you go from people and not have to be
wading through their shit?
I guess the moon?
I'm really about to have like a whole crying
Indian moment here.
Can you even imagine cleaning this up?
Every little piece that you see here is fucking plastic.
What we're looking at right now may look worse than what
we've seen in the gyre.
But really, right now, this is--
this is good as it gets.
This is the best point.
Right now, we could grab this shit and take it, while it's
still in one piece, and haul it fucking somewhere.
Who knows?
But uh, in about another hour or so--
water's coming in right now-- this is all going back out.
I mean, if we've basically ruined the ocean, what chance
do we have with fucking land, or with
ourselves, for that matter?