GREG RAY: Ocean story resonates

OCEAN yachtie Ivan Macfadyen has been feeling a little out of his depth this week.

That's an unusual feeling for a self-reliant offshore sailor who is happily at home traversing the deepest deep-sea trenches in his fibreglass yacht.

But a flood of emails and phone calls from every corner of the globe this week has had him struggling to stay afloat.

Mr Macfadyen told the story, in last Saturday's Newcastle Herald Weekender magazine, of his recent experience in the Melbourne to Osaka yacht race, and his subsequent journey from Japan to San Francisco.

A shaken Mr Macfadyen returned from the voyage - retracing the same course he took in the same race 10 years ago - declaring that "the ocean is broken".

His story, describing the loss of wildlife on the journey and the massive increase in floating ocean pollution, resonated deeply with readers across the world, rapidly becoming the most-read article yet to appear on the Fairfax Regional Media network.

By yesterday afternoon the story on the Herald website had registered more than 620,000 views from unique readers, and for a time it lit up global social media as people passed the story around.

Mr Macfadyen has been inundated by requests for interviews by other media around the world, and has been approached by at least one documentary filmmaker who is keen to explore the story further.

His first priority, however, is to help researchers with the Trans-Pacific Marine Debris Survey - based in Hawaii - raise enough funds to hire an intern to help them process data gathered by the ocean racing community.

After that, he wants to help build that survey into a truly global program.

Among the sobering experiences he described to readers was an encounter with a big fishing ship that was systematically trawling a mid-ocean reef north of New Guinea, seeking only tuna and dumping tonnes of other incidentally caught fish, irrespective of size or species.

Such practices helped explain, he said, why he only caught two fish to eat in 28 days between Brisbane and Japan when, 10 years ago, he'd caught one a day without any trouble.

Off Japan he sailed through a massive field of rubbish, much of it left in the ocean after the catastrophic tsunami.

His description of this marine disaster area - almost lifeless and full of debris of every shape and size - sickened readers worldwide.

But Mr Macfadyen and his yacht, Funnel Web, weren't the only witnesses to this horror.

In July, the big trimaran racer Lending Party was battered by debris while trying to break a North Pacific sailing record.

The boat's goal was thwarted when it struck the same floating garbage dump that so worried Mr Macfadyen.

The trimaran was halted in its flight after ploughing into two telephone poles and various other heavy objects torn out of Japan and dumped at sea.

"We experienced 'Fukushima's Revenge'," yacht owner John Sangmeister told the CNN network at the time.

Accounts of this appalling plume of rubbish have prompted many calls for a concerted clean-up, but Mr Macfadyen warned this would be very hard to do.

"For a start, it's not all clustered in neat clumps. It's in moving plumes that are sometimes close together, sometimes far apart," he said.

"Next, it's floating at all depths. Some of it is on the surface, but plenty of it is hundreds of metres below the surface.

"Finally, you'll often be trying to scoop up this stuff in an eight-metre swell," he said.

Yes, it would be ideal to get this dreadful mass of garbage out of the sea, bring it ashore and recycle it.

But ultimately, the only real answer is to stop putting it in there in the first place.

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