Project Kaisei is a non-profit organization dedicated to understanding, raising awareness of, and developing innovative solutions to the problem of plastic debris in the oceans, especially in the region commonly known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or the “Plastic Vortex.”
What Is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of concentrated marine debris trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. The exact size of the patch is unknown, but Project Kaisei estimates it is at least twice the size of Texas. The debris consists both of large pieces of plastic and other debris, and large amounts of suspended plastic particles created from the breakdown of larger pieces.
The Plastic Vortex is a serious environmental and human health issue, because the debris affects marine wildlife, who often mistake it for food. In some parts of the Plastic Vortex, researchers have found concentrations of plastic up to seven times higher than the concentration of zooplankton, the primary source of food for many wildlife in the region. The plastics can harm wildlife directly, by choking them or causing internal damage.
Plastics and other debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may also be entering the human food chain, as humans eat fish that have mistaken particles of debris for food. With concerns already rising over the long-term health effects of exposure to certain chemicals, such as BPA and phthalates, commonly found in plastics, more research needs to be done into the effects of plastic consumption on fish and wildlife, and the people who eat them.
Another concern is the spread of invasive species, since researchers from Project Kaisei and others have found a variety of invertebrate species clinging to larger debris, raising concerns that they might use the debris to travel between islands or even continents.
What Is Project Kaisei Doing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
Project Kaisei’s main initial focus is on research to learn more about the Plastic Vortex. In combination with oceanographers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Project Kaisei researchers visited the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in summer 2009 to study the patch, analyze its effects on marine wildlife and human health, and experiment with solutions for cleaning it up. The team plans another trip this summer.
Project Kaisei is working on a number of education and outreach projects to raise awareness of the Plastic Vortex. These projects include a children’s book, university outreach programs, and annual ocean clean-up drives in celebration of World Ocean Day on June 8th. Project Kaisei is also working on a documentary to raise awareness of the Plastic Vortex and Project Kaisei’s efforts to find a solution.
Finally, Project Kaisei is experimenting with a number of innovative solutions to the problem. Ultimately, Project Kaisei hopes to collect and recycle the debris to convert into diesel fuel, clothing (such as these cool recycled polyester swimsuits), and other products. With a growing number of independent fishermen being pushed out of the business by large commercial fleets, Project Kaisei also hopes to create jobs for unemployed fishermen by enlisting their assistance in collecting debris for recycling.
How You Can Help
You can support Project Kaisei’s work directly by making a donation on their website and helping to spread the word about its efforts to clean up the Plastic Vortex.
You can also help by practicing the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and helping reduce the overall amount of debris that makes it into our ocean ecosystems. A few simple ways to start the transition to a plastic-free life include reusable water bottles and reusable shopping bags.