'Plastiki: Across the Pacific by Plastic: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans'

Check out a new book by David de Rothschild.

ByABC News via logo
April 20, 2011, 1:57 PM

April 21, 2011— -- Check out an excerpt of "Plastiki: Across the Pacific by Plastic: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans," documenting the journey of adventurer and environmentalist David de Rothschild and his five-person crew. embarked on an extraordinary journey aboard the Plastiki, a unique 60-ft. catamaran engineered from 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles and Seretex, a fully recyclable material.

Read an excerpt of the book below and then check out the "GMA" Library for more great reads.

Chapter 1

I'm only thirty seconds into a three-hour tour of duty on watch, the tiller and beanbag chair still imprinted with our co-skipper Mr. T's warmth. Just over a week removed from a grand departure from San Francisco, and nothing yet about life at sea—the constant motion, the middle-of-the-night wake ups, the tiger-in-a-cage restlessness of living on a 20-by-60-foot platform with five other people—resembles comfortable routine.

"Did that one get you?" asks Mr. T with a grin. "Nice! Got off just in time." His silhouette dissolves quickly into the red glow of the cabin. Alone.

"Oh, yes! Wet again!" I yell into the night, the sound of my voice devoured by the blackness.

Really, Dave? Really? There isn't even a breath of wind or a ripple on the ocean, and you still find a way to get wet. I guess that's the true meaning of a rogue wave. A stream of phosphorescence pulsing and swirling on the port side catches my eye and distracts me from my situation.

And what a situation! What was I thinking in wanting to sail the entire Pacific Ocean? Can I legitimately use the word thinking in conjunction with building a boat from 12,500 plastic bottles and then attempting to sail from San Francisco to Sydney?

My eyes flicker back and forth trying to find some focus in the black void. Our boat is moving along at a speed of less than 2 knots, if you can call that moving. Bobbing is more like it. This is going to be a long journey, I fear.

"Hey, Mr. T! Do you think we'll make Sydney?"

"Not this year," comes the reply from out of the glowing cabin.

I'm sailing the dream: The Plastiki, after two years of hard work, is our best and most sincere expression of the fresh ideas necessary to create a better future. A future

that avoids the unsustainable waste and environmental damage of our current way of living. A future that sees waste as a resource—like the 12,500 reused plastic bottles I'm floating on right now.

Yet tonight I can't stop thinking I've bitten off more than I can chew. Maybe the doubters and naysayers were right. Surely, just sailing across San Francisco Bay would have proven my point. Be careful what you wish for, I always tell others. Maybe I need to start heeding my own advice. Salt does not course through my veins. I know a jib from a mizzen, and a cleat from a winch, but the extent of my nautical experience prior to Plastiki amounted mostly to sailing Hobie Cats while on family vacations as a kid.

It wasn't salt water but ice that was the medium for my first big adventures. On ski expeditions across Antarctica, Greenland, and the Arctic, I logged hundreds of days and nights on frozen surfaces. While brutally cold and rife with dangers, polar environments in my estimation offer a distinct advantage over the open ocean: They tend not to pitch and roll beneath you. They're also impossibly pristine and beautiful and, as we're discovering in a warming world, quite fragile.

Plastiki's journey began years before the boat ever touched water. In June 2006, I'd just returned to London from an expedition to cross over the North Pole from Russia to Canada. It had been humbling—rapidly melting pack ice had ended our journey two hundred miles short of Canada. I saw how one of the earth's ecosystems was changing right before my eyes. And while thousands of schoolkids around the world had joined the "Top of the World" journey via the Web, I wanted the expedition to do more than raise awareness. I wanted to make it personal, to make everyone feel connected to the earth's fragility.

After any expedition there is some readjustment. It's an anticlimax. You've been living closely with your teammates in some of the most extreme and inspiring natural environments and then, with the planting of a flag or the last stroke of a paddle, it's over. Back in the real world, the thought kept running through my mind: "What's next? What can I do to keep the momentum going?"

Whatever the next expedition turned out to be about, I was resolved that it had to move beyond simply raising awareness of an environmental problem. It needed to touch people's lives, it needed to provoke an emotional response, and it had to point the way toward solutions. I felt strongly on these counts. Here I was, only weeks removed from having spent one hundred days living on the ice, and already I was feeling disconnectedfrom what had transpired in the Arctic. If I was feeling that way, then how could I expect other people to relate to my experience?

While researching potential themes for a new expedition, I stumbled upon a small passage in an obscure report issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (my reading interests can run a bit geeky) that opened my eyes to an issue I was unaware of. Buried within "Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas" was this astounding fact: Every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic garbage. Every square mile! I thought that this must have been a typo. I even asked UNEP. Nope. The stat turned out to be correct. How could this be? I dug deeper. From reports by Greenpeace and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, I learned that the vast majority of marine waste is composed of plastic and, further, this pollution congregates in five enormous, slowly spinning ocean eddies. One estimate states that in the Eastern Garbage Patch, a gyre in the North Pacific that's approximately twice the size of Texas, every pound of plankton is outmatched by 6 pounds of plastic litter.

I went online to find out more about these garbage gyres. What was in them? Could you see them from space? What harm were they doing to marine life? I couldn't find much of anything. Not in academic journals, not in the popular press. "Hang on a second," I thought. "This can't be true." Why doesn't everyone know that our oceans are filling up with trash? Here was this amazing, disgusting manifestation of modern waste and overconsumption floating ominously between Hawaii and California, and it was effectively a secret. The thought of these human fingerprints smudging the oceans both alarmed and inspired me. What could I do to create an energy that would help solve this problem? From that question sprang the dream of Plastiki. The details would follow, but I knew then that I'd throw myself and the full resources and passions of the Adventure Ecology team, the expeditionary environmental organization I had launched in 2005 for the Arctic journey, into tackling marine debris.

Plastic pollution is a massive and at the same time intensely personal environmental problem. Although the effects of global warming—caused by colorless, odorless gases—are not yet widely felt, we touch and see plastic every day of our lives. With every trip to the grocery store or takeout deli, we can readily see our waste footprint grow. On the bright side, all of us can do something immediate and measurable to reduce it. A good starting point would be bottled water, which epitomizes the absurdity of our throwaway society. Each and every day, Americans consume 70 million bottles of water—nearly 9 billion gallons of bottled water a year. This despite the fact that the purity and taste of the water in those bottles is often lower than the water flowing freely from taps in our homes and workplaces. Only one in six plastic water bottles in the United States is recycled. The rest, some 22 billion empty plastic bottles a year in the United States, end up in landfills and incinerators, or as trash in the street waiting for the next rainstorm to sweep them into our seas. It was a few months later that I had what can only be described as an epiphany. I'd gone to Los Angeles in August 2006 to meet with Jeff Skoll, the first president at eBay and now chairman of Participant Media, the film production company behind The Cove; Food, Inc.; and An Inconvenient Truth, among other movies. I'd talked with Jeff about an idea for drawing attention to marine pollution: I'd take a bunch of artists out to the Eastern Garbage Patch and have them make sculptures of trash pulled from the ocean. The whole thing would be filmed documentary style. Jeff was unimpressed. "Where's the drama? What's the hook?" he asked. He was entirely right. The idea was flat.

Flying back to London, I could see the dazzling snows of the Arctic and then Greenland, sites of my previous adventures, slide past far below. Then came miles upon miles of blue ocean. My mind went back to Jeff's words. Where was the drama? I started to think about the big, game-changing expeditions of the past. When it comes to oceans, there is only one that comes to mind: the Kon-Tiki. Who doesn't know of Kon-Tiki, the legendary balsa raft that Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to Polynesia in 1947? Heyerdahl and a crew of very game fellow Scandinavians lived out his theory of oceanic migration as they traveled the Pacific. I've always considered the voyage of the Kon-Tiki one of the most compelling and captivating adventures of modern times. Heyerdahl followed his dream, and the world has never forgotten.

"There it is," I practically shouted out on the plane. Kon-Tiki. Plastiki. If plastic was the main human fingerprint on the oceans, then why not use it as the basis for a craft, a boat that would highlight this mess. "Let's build a boat out of plastic bottles and sail across the Pacific." Now that would be dramatic. It would be more than a voyage across the ocean; the boat would prove the point that plastic didn't have to end up as waste, but that the material was misunderstood and misused. At Adventure Ecology, I operate on a philosophy called the Equation of Curiosity: D x AS = I. Simply put, dreams are the breeding grounds for adventures; adventures spawn stories; and stories produce the inspiration needed to seed more dreams. The whole equation is driven by curiosity. It's a perpetual-motion machine—a philosophy rooted in mankind's, especially children's, ability to ask questions and to dream. Plastiki would do homage to Heyerdahl and his brave team and, if we were lucky, bring ideas and ideals together much as Kon-Tiki did to create an epic adventure on the open sea. The adventure of Plastiki, from San Francisco to Sydney, would showcase a new way of thinking about waste, and it would generate the stories to inspire more new ways of thinking, more dreams, more adventures.

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