Monthly Archives: January 2014

Captain Charles Moore and Algalita Marine Research Institute to return to ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’

Captain Charles Moore, the man who discovered the swirling vortex of plastic trash widely known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, will once again sail to one of the most polluted areas of the world – the North Pacific Central Gyre.

Moore and the Algalita Marine Research Institute have assembled a highly qualified team of scientists who will live amid the debris for 30 days and study the region, beginning in July.

The ultimate goal is to evaluate long-term trends and changes in the Gyre by merging data collected over the past 15 years with new 2014 data.

The persistence and increasing quantity of plastic debris, including new arrivals from the Japanese tsunami, have created artificial habitats in the North Pacific Gyre – essentially building “plastic reefs” where sea creatures have made their homes.

How have the marine ecosystems impacted the area since Algalita’s first expedition 15 years ago? What have they done to the various species that live there? How are toxic contaminants from plastic transferred to marine life, and what are the consequences for human health?

Algalita’s researchers will investigate the area to find answers. This voyage will result in new and repeat monitoring data needed to make scientific conclusions about the scope and effects of plastic marine pollution.

Since 1999, Algalita has conducted eight research expeditions and produced the longest-running data set for the region.

The organisation, which has participated in similar expeditions in the North and South Atlantic Gyres,
South Pacific Gyre, Indian Ocean Gyre and in Antarctic waters, was the first to develop a standard methodology for sampling and analysing micro-plastic debris from the ocean.

The expedition will also launch the latest live Ship-2-Shore educational program, which uses satellite communications systems to connect students with researchers at sea.

The Algalita Marine Research Institute is a nonprofit organisation committed to solving the plastic pollution crisis in our oceans. In 1997, our founder, Captain Charles Moore, discovered an area of plastic debris in the North Pacific Ocean known by many as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Since then, the Long Beach, CA-based organisation has been studying the devastating impact of plastic on our oceans and educating the public.

To date, Algalita has collected and analysed more than 1114 plastic debris samples from five oceans. The organisation reaches thousands of students worldwide every year.

For more information visit:

The trashy treasures of Auckland’s Henderson Creek

henderson creekss

The haul from Henderson Creek, pictured just before we picked up the couch.

The fellas at Sea Cleaners, the crew contracted by Watercare Harbour Clean-Up Trust to tidy the city’s waterways and seas, know I am a soft touch, so when they plan a jaunt up one of Auckland’s muckier rivers, rather than one of its gorgeous islands, I get drafted to come along. Or maybe that’s just BPA-induced paranoia.

But it’s all good. The waterways that empty into Waitemata Harbour are where you’ll find the greatest concentration of trash. They’re where we fill the most bags; where we are of most benefit. And to be fair, it was a damp, dreary day. A trip to Tiri Tiri Matangi would be wasted on a day like this – is what I keep telling myself each time nose-melting whiff floats close.

Today’s voyage on the Phil Warren II (named after a former Auckland councillor, who the guys at Sea Cleaners hold in high regard) is up Henderson Creek, a tributary that runs next to the Te Atatu peninsula and from, well, Henderson. It’s the next left after the Whau River and is pretty, flanked by mangroves for much of its length. Mangroves are excellent at holding onto rubbish and passing it to us, but they are also good and cutting up the shins when the tide is in.

It’s my second time up the creek, and on the boat today, along with Sea Cleaners Ben and Hayden, are two extra vollies: Paul, who lives near Henderson, and Katrina, a surf rower at Red Beach. 

We start with a quick jaunt to the city to clear up and litter around the ferry terminal and park up to get a quick coffee. At this point high tide is about two hours away, which means the creek would have swollen with enough water to get the boat up there, but not high enough to flood the banks too much.

The wind is likely to pick up to around 30 knots later in the day, notes Ben, so we make our way quickly to Henderson Creek.

Ben guides the PWII for about 20 minutes up the creek, mindful of the no-wake zones and the passing rowers. Today was to be a multi-stop clean up; Hayden and Ben know plenty of trash collection spots up the creek, into which currents feed the rubbish from the residential areas and industrial parks. 

The first point is a public jetty near a couple of boat yards. The amount of rubbish dumped here is pretty obscene, including an entire black sack of crap. There is plenty of evidence of good times: beer bottles, cigarettes and even a condom, leading Katrina to joke about romance being alive and well. The haul from here is good, and we leave it close to spotless.

On the way to the next spot an entire couch, tagged most probably by the people who dumped it, bobs up and down on the incoming tide. The mangroves appear to be holding onto it pretty tight, so we decide to collect it on the way back.

For the next couple of hours we make three or four stops where rubbish has accumulated, picking up the usual suspects of plastic bottles, polystyrene blocks, plastic bags, balls, and small pieces of layered foam that Hayden says is uses by glaziers to separate window panes. It’s remarkable that about 10 per cent of the plastic I pick up I have no idea what it is used for. 

All told we get about 20 bags of rubbish, which at 50 litres a bag, is a pretty good haul. We head back, picking up the couch on the return to Westhaven before I head out to my day job.

Belgian beach clean-ups in three languages

Belgium. Brussels, beers and, er, beaches? Indeed. And the North Sea coastline of this beautiful country faces the same trash problems of those the world over. The man behind speaks to Team Pacific Rowers about his clean ups and education campaigns – all done in three languages.


Gregory feeds seals – just before they were released back into the wild – that he and his group saved.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Gregory Landuyt. I am 22 years old and from Belgium.

Describe what it is you do

With my website I try to reach the children. I’m also working on an educational program with interactive pages on my website.

The second part of my work is organising a beach trash kids festival where you can learn about and play with trash 

Before that I’ve organised beach clean-ups in Blankenberge and Zeebrugge (Bruges) in the name of Sea First vzw and with the cooperation of my colleagues in SEA LIFE.

Where do you organise beach clean-ups

I organize my actions on the Belgian coasts.

Why do you organise beach clean ups?

Ever since I was born I love the seas and anything around them so when I finished school I applied for a job at the National SEA LIFE Marine Park in Blankenberge. SEA LIFE is a brand of the Merlin Entertainments group and it’s the biggest group of aquariums in the whole world.

Gregory's beach clean ups attract dozens of conscientious Belgians.

Gregory’s beach clean ups attract dozens of conscientious Belgians.

I worked there as a general assistant and an educational entertainer. I learnt a lot about caring for oceans and I worked at the rescue center for sick or wounded seals. I’ve learnt a lot there and I’m happy I had that experience. I did this job for more than three years. Right now I’m still a shark specialist. I don’t know everything but I know a lot. It often happens that biologic teachers ask me as guest teacher to speak about sharks.

I started to organise them because they asked me to and right now I organise my actions because I like to do it.

How often do they happen? How do you promote them?

I organise a real action once a year. I promote these by social media, tv, radio, flyers and posters.

How many people come along? Are there lots of regular faces? What would you say, generally, are their reasons for doing so?

The past years there were a lot of people. Sometimes there were even too many people so we didn’t have enough trash – hahaha.

Of course there were faces who returned each year. They did because they love nature and because they were in the Sea First organisation.

What are the most common articles you find?

Coca cola cans and bottles.

What have been the most bizarre?

We once found a full playground climbing net, some underwear, a sweater and we also found once or twice a condom.

Buoy, that's a good find.

Buoy, that’s a good find.

Is there a strong beach-clean community where you are?

There are lots of beach clean ups but we have lots of trash on our beach, though the government tries to keep them clean by placing trashcans every 15 metres on the beach.

People are very lazy on getting up to walk a few metres for a trashcan. Some of them use a plastic bag whole day long and then drop it next to the trashcan.

Your website mentioned you do education work: describe what it is you do.

I’m working very hard on an educational package for schools which will be available for download September 2014. This package will be filled with educational games to learn about trash and you will also be able to work along with the educational pages that require a personal login for scholars.

Have you noticed a decline or increase in the amount of trash you find on the beaches?

Not really, each year we found approximately the same amount of trash except for last year. Then we found even more, but that’s because the distance we’ve cleaned was larger.


Gregory, hard at it.

The beach of Nieuwpoort and Ostend are the two most littered beaches in Belgium.

What do you think needs to change for us to better keep rubbish off our beaches and seas?

I think we need to learn children about the huge trash problems. Their parents apparently don’t do anything until someone dies or get hurt, so perhaps if children are well learned they can set an example for their parents.

Find Gregory on Twitter at @BeachCleanUp_be or email

Tamaki River clean-up (after snorkelling for an anchor)

Weather moves across Waitemata Harbour.

Weather moves across Waitemata Harbour.

Skipper Ben was closely looking at his Garmin sea chart to try to find out where he tried to anchor the boat the previous day, before it had started alarmingly drifting.

We were just off Rangitoto Island. The previous day’s sea clean had been here but had to be quickly abandoned after the anchor, about $NZ800 of kit, dropped off the chain and let the boat go the way of the current and wind (whichever was strongest).

My first job on Team Pacific Rowers’ day out with Auckland’s SEA CLEANERS last Thursday was to try to find it. As someone who loves mucking about in the sea, I couldn’t wait, quickly whacking on the snorkel and mask and leaping off the boat into the cool, refreshing water as Ben dragged a hook along the sandy sea bed.

The water was about three metres deep. And murky. After about 10 dives to the bottom we aborted. The visibility was less than a metre and my ability to hold my breath absolutely shocking. A tank is definitely needed.

The south-westerly wind was beginning to drag in some patchy weather. Having spent just over an hour around Rangitoto looking for the anchor we decided to go somewhere that was going to be trash heavy. We were going to the Tamaki River.

The Tamaki River.

The Tamaki River.

Auckland’s Tamaki River runs through the south east of the city, unloading into the Hauraki Gulf between Glendowie and Bucklands Beach, opposite Browns Island, which was the first piece of Auckland owned by a European.

Ben guided the boat through the eastern suburbs for about 20 minutes until he decided he had found a spot. I couldn’t see anything on the bank. I swear he has a sixth sense for these things.

We anchored up (with a substitute anchor), unloaded the kayaks and paddled to the area next to the weir. I made the mistake of stepping onto the muddy bank, and was soon thigh deep in thick, unpleasant mud. I managed to pull out my leg, relieved I had tied on my shoe pretty tight but curling my toes anyway to make sure it stayed on.

I then kayaked to where the rocks and concrete were.

Ben’s instinct served him well, but Auckland’s rivers are where you will always find the biggest concentration of rubbish. Having also been up and seen what’s in Henderson Creek and the Whau River, I was able to put the Tamaki River into the same category. I love sea cleaning on the beautiful islands of the Hauraki Gulf, but this is the business end of the location spectrum.

A haul from about 150 metres of Tamaki riverbank

A haul from about 150 metres of Tamaki riverbank.

As the rain kept coming and going, we collected 20 bags of rubbish (plus a bike wheel, with air still in the tyre, and a kids plastic motorbike) from a section of river bank certainly no more than 200 metres long: coming straight form the urban areas, plastic bags and water bottles featured heavily. As did nappies. Used, stinky nappies (are reusable ones that much more awkward?).

Sadly the urban waterways always reveal evidence of flytipping. It makes Ben sad that some people don’t seem to care.

We managed to load it all onto one kayak, which we towed with the other. The weather was imposing, and I had to start my job at 2.30pm, so we made our way back out of the river – spotting which decrepit yachts we’d most like to bring back to life – and back to Westhaven and home at pier U2.



Danny Kirschner: a year without plastic. Part II.

Try to think about how much you use single-use plastic and then imagine going one year without it. Seems almost impossible right? Danny Kirschner, 27, from Athens, USA (@anosinplastico), has set himself the goal of doing precisely that. This is the second part of an interview with the rock musician and environmentalist to see how he is getting on.


Danny at the Berlin Wall.

Buying food. Cheese and yogurt. Some things just aren’t packaged any other way. Buying packaged vegan items like tofu, tempeh, vegan cheese. I have also used bags to buy bulk items, and then tried to reuse those bags each time I go to the store. Also cosmetics like toothpaste and shampoo – these things don’t come in any other container. I’ve still got a good bit of research to really be able to live plastic free how I want, but right now I’m OK having given up the vast majority of one time use plastic.

Have you inspired anyone else to adopt it? What have family and friends said?

I have definitely inspired my family and friends to be conscious of their plastic consumption. Most have even attained the low hanging fruit: not using plastic bags for simple purchases and not wrapping vegetables in plastic bags. Each time I am around people and say things like “no straw, no cup for ketchup, no bag please”, I am planting an awareness seed in everyone’s mind that will continue to grow.

I lived with a guy for the past three months, and in the beginning of this no plastic idea, he made fun of it just like carnivores do to new vegetarians. Recently, I noticed during a trip to the store that he specifically asked for one of his food items to not be put in a bag, and he commented how ridiculous it is that something in a container is placed in another. On a similar note, while staying with my parents that past few days, my notoriously carnivorous parents admitted they want to try going vegetarian. This came about after I made them a meal. I told them it was entirely vegan. They thought it was delicious. That’s what it takes – leading by example and not forcing it on someone, but letting them come to the discovery on their own. Everyone secretly wants to do good for themselves and the environment, but no one wants to talk about it for fear of being singled out and made fun of.

Luckily for me, my girlfriend Erin and her family have been big supporters of the no plastic idea. This would be a lot more difficult of I had no one to encourage me to keep going.

Do you have a better idea of how much plastic you consume?

I have not actually attempted to measure it, but I probably consume around three pieces of one time use plastic a week. In the beginning I tracked all of this, and want to get back to doing that.  It’s really all about being prepared to avoid these plastic situations: bring a metal eating utensil in your bag, a steel water bottle, travel coffee mug, and before you order food anticipate there will be a cup or straw or wrapped silverware and ask to not have any of that stuff thrown in.


Packaging water and soft drinks is not a necessary use for plastic.

Packaging water and soft drinks is not a necessary use for plastic.

Do you feel there is any part of life where plastic is unavoidable/better option?

Of course plastic is a great material for many purposes. Medical and sanitation for example. Food safety rule number one is change your gloves each time you handle raw meat. I don’t think that rule is going anywhere. But maybe we should just all be vegetarian 😉 In our day to day lives, we can mostly do without. In manufacturing, I imagine there’s good economic and scientific reasoning behind using plastic in cars, electronics, etc.

What do you hope to achieve?

What I want to achieve is consumption awareness.  Think about the consequences of your purchases. How is something made? Who made it? Where will it go once you’re done with it? Is it worth it for us to consume this item in this fashion? Who benefits? Who gets screwed?

What do you think is plastic’s main threat?

Plastic’s main threat is innovation. Everyone knows plastic is not an ideal material for the environment. Hundreds of cities around the world have banned bags. It’s only a matter of time before plastic in its current form is replaced by a similar behaving material that is environmentally friendly.  But, the gap between now and that time may be 50 years, and that’s an unimaginable heap of garbage we’ll be tossing away as we wait for scientists to innovate us out of this problem.

Do you see plastic free as sustainable? Will you carry on after a year?

I definitely see it as sustainable, and it achieves the goal of consumption awareness, which is what I do not want to lose, ever. There’re many paths to consumption awareness, and this is just one. Maybe I’ll try other experiments in the future to see what else I can live without in addition to one-time use plastic.

What do you think is the best way for society to reduce plastic waste and our dependence on plastic?

Outlawing bags has been the top down approach, but I believe this revolution against damaging and unnecessary consumption needs to start with the individual. We really need to instil in people the feeling of responsibility towards our environment. This needs to happen, whether it’s from parents, teachers, friends or documentaries on Netflix. If we continue consuming without having any responsibility for our actions, we’re going to move further in the direction of irreversible climate change and damage to this earth, which we kind of need to survive.

Once we feel responsible, those who are able to reduce their consumption and plastic usage need to lead by example and tell others how they are doing it and how it’s going.


Danny Kirschner’s blog is at He can be followed on Twitter at @danman01 and @anosinplastico.




Danny Kirschner: a year without plastic. Part I.

Try to think about how much you use single-use plastic and then imagine going one year without it. Seems almost impossible right? Danny Kirschner, 27, from Athens, USA (@anosinplastico), has set himself the goal of doing precisely that. Team Pacific Rowers caught up with the rock musician and environmentalist to see how he is getting on.

Danny with his girlfriend Erin in Norway.

Danny with Erin (and an aluminium canteen) in Norway.

Tell us about yourself:

I’m 27, from the south of the US. After high school I made my way to a liberal pocket in Georgia called Athens (home of REM, B52s, Widespread Panic and more), with hopes of being in a rock band and graduating from UGA. I did both and found myself drawn into the world of tech startups and entrepreneurship after graduation.  

On the environmentalism side, it all started with a few key friendships with people who focused on diet, travel, buddhism and yoga. These thoughts eventually crept into my own being, and I became pescatarian last year, and eventually gave up seafood a few months back. Being antiplastic is pretty similar to being a vegetarian – drawing a clear cut line in terms of what’s acceptable to purchase and what’s not. It’s really simple once you draw that line. 

Why did you decide to give up plastic for a year:

In short, I’ve learned too much. Unfortunately for many corporations, governments and bottled water companies out there, I watch documentaries and believe what many of them say. While TV has destroyed many good habits, it’s also led to the Golden Age of entertainment, aka Netflix. Once you’ve seen all the new releases, there’s all those documentaries on demand about every problem you can think of in our world.


Aaron Swartz

I’ve really been drawn to people who are movers and shakers in the community, who go out of their comfort zone to make the world better.  One of my biggest influences over the past year has been the writings and actions of Aaron Swartz. I admit I didn’t know him before hearing about his untimely death. One of my friends was really shaken up by the death of someone whom he praised as doing all he could for the common good, so I went digging into him.

He was a lot like me, but of course much more successful and genius.  He died on my birthday this past year. We were both 26. He co authored the RSS 1.0 specification as a teenager, co founded Reddit, and had just hacked into the MIT libraries to free a bunch of information that was supposed to already be free.  That was more than enough to peak my interest.  I spent a long time browsing his blog, and one article stood out: I made sure to focus on making my time “higher quality” ever since.

We’ve always heard the phrase “be the change you want to see in the world”. It makes so much sense, it’s so easy. All it takes is you doing what you want to get the outcome you believe the world needs. It doesn’t take a committee, a law, a grant, or your friends to lift a finger. If you think something should be changed, make sure you do that change.

I read about a group of people making a film about the atrocities we are committing to the marine environment with all of our plastic waste. This group was trying to raise awareness and raise money for their project. They were full time on it, making an all or nothing go at it. I had also realised the amount of plastic we use is ridiculous and is leading to problems we are only now seeing, but will become much greater if our use of plastic continues in its current state.

Plastic is a metaphor for how we (we as in the majority) live in our society. Buy it, use it, toss it, don’t think about it any more. I’m at Starbucks right now. Everything is served in a togo cup with a plastic top, or a sweet drink in a plastic cup with a plastic top and plastic straw. I was at Trader Joe’s earlier today. Some 95% of the produce and raw stuff is bagged and sealed. Yes they have paper bags for your groceries, but everything in the paper is wrapped in plastic.

Plastic takes 500-1000 years to degrade. In the meantime it breaks into smaller pieces of plastic and eventually its toxic components that go into the environment. It fuels our dependency on oil. It pollutes our environments and destroys marine life.

Plastic at the airport, snapped by Danny.

Plastic at the airport, snapped by Danny.

So the question is, how can I not contribute to this? The answer seemed pretty clear: reduce, reuse, recycle. Be the change I want to see. It’s nothing groundbreaking, simply do the things others have outlined for me.

I wanted to do something that I could accomplish myself, but also would cause people to take notice, even if it were just my friends and family.  If you are going to put in effort to do anything, you might as well strive to be as effective as possible, which in this case means reaching as many people as possible. That’s why I’m doing a blog about it. The thought to try to live plastic free was a big enough idea that I knew it would ruffle some feathers and be worthy of blogging about, and that’s a start to getting the word out. I also wanted to try this in a city surrounded by normal consumers who will be challenged by my questions and choices.

Since I’ve started the journey, I’ve found a few other outspoken opponents to plastic who live a plastic free life and live to write tips and stories from the battlefield.  This is a great blog and resource for those thinking of ways to reduce your plastic usage:

 How do you achieve ‘Plastic Free’ and how has it gone?

 Well it’s a lot like going vegan while surrounded by carnivores. When I’m with others (friends and family) at the store, around holidays, etc, I have to compromise. I make sure to look for alternatives, but can’t argue if someone else is paying the bill and prefers a certain packaging. I’m pretty laid back about it right now.

What I really focus on is the main, definable purpose that I’ve finally reached: no one-time-use plastics, unless it’s for health reasons (something medical, I’m starving, I’m dehydrated). Again, at this point in time I’m only focusing on myself. This process of consumption awareness comes from internal realisation, not from external laws. This simple rule has allowed me to cut out probably 95% of my plastic usage. It’s also led to some interesting positive discoveries, such as the no plastic diet (post from my blog:, which basically forces me to eat good food.

Besides eating, purchasing other goods is also something to be wary of. I found a loophole in my rules: I can still have nice plastic things, as long as they aren’t one time use. I can buy a new phone because I’ll use it for a few years. But to stay true to the spirit of the antiplastic lifestyle, I am moving to only purchasing used goods. I think not pulling on the demand for new plastic goods is a positive and very attainable thing, that has the side effect of saving me money and making me less materialistic. All good things for me right now.

Continued next week…

Pacific row quartet launches #PlasticFree campaign

Team Pacific Rowers, an entrant in 2014’s Great Pacific Race from California to Hawaii, has officially launched its #PlasticFree Campaign.

The four Brits – Fraser, Sam, and James, who live in the UK, and Colin, who lives in New Zealand – want to complete the row to raise awareness of plastic and rubbish in the world’s seas and oceans, in particular the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The route between Monterey and Honolulu will take them to the fringes of the patch, where trash from land and sea gets caught up in the huge rotating ocean current, or gyre.

Four more ocean gyres across the globe act as circling conveyor belts for our rubbish, which is eaten by wildlife, deposited indiscriminately on coastlines, or simply bobs for thousands of miles, continually being broken down by sunlight and seawater but without fully degrading for hundreds of years.

Rower Colin Parker said: “Taking on such an epic challenge as the Great Pacific Race affords us the opportunity to do some good, and highlighting a huge problem facing our oceans seems a perfect tie up. I am ashamed to admit that this time last year I had never heard of the plastic gyres, but the more you learn, the more you understand the tragic consequences.

“But the silver lining is there are some amazing people out there who are dedicating their time, money and careers to getting our seas cleaner and raising awareness of the harmful effects of our dependence on plastic. Other groups carry out in-depth, long-term scientific research into plastic in our seas. We want to help publicise all of this.

“I have been out with clean up crews in Auckland and they do an amazing job against a continuing torrent of trash. The amount of rubbish that makes it into the waterways is astounding, and Auckland is a fairly small city compared to some.”

The campaign will mostly be about publicising the amazing work of people across the globe who are fighting the plastic menace in our seas, including beach cleaners and plastic abstainers.

And Team Pacific Rowers will put its time where our mouth is. Colin will be dedicating two days a week to sea clean ups in and around Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, in New Zealand.

Each week two new blogs will appear on with interviews, information and beach clean up reports, and there’ll be plenty of and news-spreading on our social media pages @pacificrowers and

In the first week we will publish the first half of an interview with Danny Kirschner (@anosinplastico), a man from Athens, Georgia, who is attempting to go a year without plastic. We will also have a blog from Colin about a plastic pick-up on Auckland’s beautiful Rangitoto Island.

Rower Fraser Hart said: “Each of us in Team Pacific Rowers loves the ocean: we swim in it; surf in it; dive in it; eat from it; kayak on it; gaze at it; SUP on it; travel on it; party next to it; get seasick on it; and in our attempt to row halfway across the biggest ocean on the planet, will live on it. We don’t want it full of trash.”

Team Pacific Rowers is a UK/NZ quartet hoping to become the first crew of four to row 3000 miles (2100nm/4500km) from Monterey, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. The crossing, which is scheduled to start on June 8, 2014, is expected to take the foursome five weeks to complete, during which they will row in pairs, two hours on two hours off, 24 hours a day.

They are an entrant in the Great Pacific Race, organised by New Ocean Wave, and will battle against about 19 other teams, including solos and pairs, to become the first to Hawaii.

The team is now looking for corporate partners to help fund the expedition in return for some exciting benefits, including naming rights, brand awareness, photography and video and more, further information on which can be found on our website

Any groups that would like to feature in Team Pacific Rowers’ campaign, or companies wishing to sponsor Colin’s volunteering, please email us at


For further details contact us at or visit Our Twitter handle is @pacificrowers.



Lessons learned from the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge

With only 5 months to go before the start of the Great Pacific Race, we (and I’m sure all of the GPR crews) have been avidly following the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge which is currently underway, taking crews from the Canary Islands off the north west coast of Africa to Antigua.

14 crews left La Gomera 32 days ago only to be hit by weeks of storms and heavy seas which saw numerous capsizes, resulting in shaken crews, cuts and bruises, equipment loss and failure and in a few extreme cases, teams have had to be airlifted to safety, leaving their boats bobbing around in the Atlantic.

Crews have had to spend days locked in their hot, humid and cramped cabins with their parachute anchors out to keep safe from the seas. Emerging from the cabin when the weather permitted would find them having to reclaim lost miles.

Following along with the highs and the lows of the Atlantic crews really does put things into perspective. It’s very easy to get lost in the romance and excitement of 5/6 weeks at sea rowing from California to Hawaii. My mind is filled with thoughts of celebrations at achieving milestones, the sun rises, the sunsets, the starscapes, the pods of dolphins following us for days, the whales breaching next to us, the banter with 3 good friends and all the other highs we will experience as we chase the sun west. It is good then, that we are brought back to reality so we don’t get carried away. We are reminded that it won’t all be joyous. We’ll experience sores all over our hands, feet and bodies, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, unbearable heat and cramped conditions. At times we will even be in fear of our lives.

A capsize, now seems a probability rather than a freak 1 in 1000 occurrence as I previously perceived it to be. I don’t think there is a single crew on the Atlantic Challenge who hasn’t experienced one yet. With the capsizes, along with equipment being lost to the sea, many of the Atlantic crews are reporting electrical failures due to water getting into the systems.

An electrical failure has now moved from completely off my radar to my current biggest worry. If the electrics fail, we won’t be able to make water. If we had no water we’d have to pull out of the race. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of a handyman, if we needed to start rewiring the electronics to get the watermaker functioning, I wouldn’t have a clue where to start.

Luckily, we have a manual for our wiring system on board. I’ll surely be spending a lot of time on the boat with a knowledgable friend to show me at the very least the basics before we set off.

One of the teams has even reported being attacked by a shark (or possibly swordfish) a few days ago. It seems the shark attempted a few taster bites before realising that the boat was inedible and moved on. Not before leaving a hole and one of it’s teeth in their hull. Any of my friends who have been swimming with me in the sea will tell you that I’m the first one to race back to shore if I see anything on the sea floor that isn’t untouched sand.

Following the Atlantic race really has been an eye opener. I’ve been glued to the race tracker and eagerly read each of the crews’ blog updates the second they fall into my Feedly account. The event organisers have done an amazing job with the coverage of the race and I look forward to similar coverage of our race.

Despite all the harsh realities that the Atlantic Updates have brought, they have also made me even more excited and impatient to make that first push off from the pontoon in Monterey.

Team Pacific Rowers in Auckland beach clean-up on Rangitoto Island

That's Rangitoto Island in the background.

That’s Rangitoto Island in the background.

Rangitoto – at 600 years old the youngest island in the Hauraki Gulf – sits as a natural guardian to Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour.

All vessels that sail towards and away from the downtown skyscrapers towards the Pacific do so under the shadows of the 260-metre high volcano.

The jagged black rocks reaching out to the gulf at the island’s edges – which moat the world’s largest pohutukawa forest – bear testament to the island’s violently fiery birth.

Its location and makeup combine to turn Rangitoto into a bit of a trash net for Auckland. Rubbish is blown/dropped/flushed out by storm drains from the city and suburbs into Waitemata, from where currents take swathes of it towards Rangitoto, which means Bloody Sky in Maori.

It’s good news for the sea, not so good for the beauty of the island.

It’s one of the last points plastics will pass before leaving Auckland and venturing out into the Pacific. According to, after 10 years most rubbish leaving New Zealand ends up off the coast of Chile, in South America, while some accumulates off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

On Tuesday December 3, at 7.30am, I joined Sea Cleaner, who are contracted by the Watercare Harbour Clean-Up Trust to keep the city’s waterways rubbish free, from berth U2 at Westhaven Marina in downtown Auckland. The original plan had been to go up Henderson Creek in the west of the city, but due to falling tides this was changed. We – four volunteers including regular David and a Danish and a German tourist, and the boat’s captain Ben Harris – were going to Rangitoto.

Because it acted as a trash net for the harbour, the island is a regular destination for the clean-up crew and today is my third time there. The sea is proper choppy, so Ben guides the flat bowed Phil Warren II slowly over the retreating tide, past Brown’s Island to our right until we find a landing point. Against the black rocks in the distance it is possible to see quite clearly white plastic trash. Especially the garden furniture.

The ocean collates the rubbish, which tees it up nicely to collect.

The ocean collates the rubbish, which tees it up nicely to collect.

Debris of all shapes and sizes ends up on Rangitoto, from the small clear nurdles that are the raw material for bags and other products, to tyres, to garden furniture, to kids’ toys. But from my first time on the island what really struck me was the amount of small debris there is: bottle caps; lighters; straws; cellophane wrapping from cigarette packets; tennis balls; clothes pegs; along with plenty of fragments of larger items smashed and broken down by the sharp rocks and shifting tides. To me this is evidence of items washed down storm drains from Auckland’s often brutal rain, which deposit the debris out into the harbour and then onto Rangitoto or beyond.

Head out into the harbour one morning after a storm and you can see all this debris; the cellophane from cigarette packets, along with cigarette butts, are the most prevalent.

Back to the clean up and like other areas we clear, the rubbish accumulates in specific spots, like the sea collates it for us and leaves it in easy to find batches. It’s its last-ditch attempt to get the trash out. We each take a blue sack and forage about and it’s never too long before you come across a large deposit of crap. A good way to spot it is to look for the easier to spot timber. Usually where this is found, there’s plastic. Finding plenty of rubbish feels good and bad: good because you can rid the island of a lot of plastic; bad because it is there in the first place.

After about an hour and a half scouring just a small section of the 5.5km diameter island we are back on the boat, about a dozen large sacks filled with rubbish, along with a plastic garden chair and a plastic garden table.

Rangitoto's sharp volcanic rocks that splay into the ocean help trap rubbish.

Rangitoto’s sharp volcanic rocks that splay into the ocean help trap rubbish.

I found dozens of plastic bags, close to a hundred or so bottle tops of well-known soft drinks brands and dairy brands, a LEGO man, a decent looking rugby ball (that’s filled with water), lots of straws and stirrers, and heaps of polystyrene blocks.

On the way back we stop off at Rangitoto’s wharf, which is pretty clean, before heading to the viaduct for a sweep through.

Here it tends to be small debris too: fag butts; straws; stirrers, none of which will degrade completely for years and may too, at some point, make its way to Rangitoto Island, one of Auckland’s most valuable seacleaners.