Long distance swimmer Ben Lecompte has returned to the cold, difficult, and unforgiving waters of the Pacific Ocean. You may recall, that last year Lecomte was hoping to become the first person to swim across the Pacific, but faced a number of unexpected challenges while undertaking that endeavor. The French endurance athlete faced plenty of setbacks along the way, including a slower than expected pace, massive storms, and a damaged support ship, all of which conspired to keep him from completing the crossing as expected. Still, he persevered through all of those difficulties and managed to travel from Japan to Hawaii by swimming more than eight hours a day for weeks on end. Now, he’s returning to the water with a renewed mission that has an environmental message and focus. This leg of his journey won’t be any easier than the first, particularly since he’ll be passing through the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) in an effort to learn more about this mysterious part of the ocean.
The second phase of Lecompte’s swim began last week and he is now well on his way towards the GPGP. This time out his journey will take him on a 300 nautical mile (555 km/345 mile) plunge directly into the heart of the Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex as it is also known. This massive area of water covering some 1.6 million sq. kilometers (617,000 sq. miles) is estimated to contain more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic trash and is said to be larger than the country of South Africa. The collection of garbage found there is the result of ocean currents that have created a gyre that brings mounds of plastic and other waste –– mainly from Asia –– to this section of the Pacific Ocean, where it has collected for many years.
Lecompte and his team will collect samples of the water and plastic that they find in the Vortex to provide researchers with data to study. They collected similar samples while making their nearly six-month long crossing of the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii last year. On that journey they saw plenty of trash littering the ocean, but once they reach the GPGP the waste found in the water is expected to be considerably worse. So much so that at times Lecompte may even have trouble swimming through it due to the large concentration of plastics in the water.
By undertaking this expedition the hope is that Lecompte and his support team can raise awareness of the ongoing environmental impact that plastic waste is having on the ocean. They hope to discourage the rest of us from using single-use plastic in our daily lives, reducing the number of bottles and bags that we consume on a regular basis. This was a common theme at last week’s Outdoor Retailer convention as well, where more and more outdoor brands are looking to reduce waste and recycle plastics into their products. The problem is, the amount of plastics produced and consumed is still far outpacing the efforts to recycle them, which makes this race to the finish line all the harder as the endpoint continues to move further and further away. Still, any efforts to right the ship are good ones and we should all find ways to pitch in.
Lecompte and company are headed to the Trash Vortex now and you can follow their progress on his official website. So far, they’ve been posting almost-daily updates to their story. Check it out here.
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