French anti-plastic campaigner Benoît ‘Ben’ Lecomte has embarked on a six-month swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a stretch of ocean filled with floating rubbish that spans an area three times the size of France.
Ben Lecomte plans to swim the full length of the Pacific Ocean – 8,000 kilometres (4,971 miles) from Japan to San Francisco – in 180 days. If he succeeds, the 51-year-old will be the first person to make this journey, for which he has been training and preparing for seven years. His route will lead him through 1,600 kilometres (994 miles) of the 1.6 million-square-kilometre (approx. 620,000-square-mile) Garbage Patch, with the goal of raising global awareness about plastic pollution. Lecomte, who began his epic swim from Choshi, Japan on Tuesday June 5th, previously swam across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998.
Throughout the quest, Lecomte and his team of researches from 12 scientific institutions (including NASA) will be monitoring the journey, focusing on key areas of interest such as oceanic radiation around Fukushima and varying levels of plastic pollution throughout the Pacific. The team will also keep track of Lecomte’s physical and psychological state over the 180-day period.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (or ‘trash island’) will be of particular interest to Lecomte’s team. Containing almost 80,000 tonnes (88,185 tons) of plastic, the Garbage Patch is caused by the North Pacific Gyre, a circulating ocean current that traps the plastic and other waste in a vortex.
Tyral Dalitz, Lecomte’s first mate, told ABC that the team wants to dispel a common misconception about the Garbage Patch. Many believe that ‘trash island’ is made up mostly of large pieces of plastic, when, according to Dalitz, ‘the truth is much worse.’ He explains: ‘The ocean is now filled with microplastics… [meaning the patch] is more like “plastic smog” throughout the ocean.’
A typical day on Lecomte’s adventure will include eight hours of swimming, equivalent to about 50 kilometres (31 miles). He will wear a shark-repellent bracelet and attempt to use ocean currents to his advantage. His team will accompany him in a yacht called Discoverer, where Lecomte will rest each day after his time in the water. The following day, he will be dropped at the place where he last stopped off.
You can follow Lecomte’s progress on this live tracker.