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Great Pacific Garbage Patch Cleanup Work Tackled By Sausalito Non-Profit

SAUSALITO (KPIX 5) -- Ocean Voyages Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Sausalito, has just announced it has successfully removed more than 40 tons of fishing nets and consumer plastics from the area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Mary Crowley, Founder and Executive Director of Ocean Voyages Institute, says it's better to call the so-called garbage patch the Pacific Gyre, since "patch" doesn't even begin to explain the size of it.

Often said to be twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France, Crowley says it's much more expansive because the plastic keeps moving around. "[It's] about the size of the continental U.S.

Crowley said the 25-day mission was the largest and most successful cleanup operation to date of the massive collection of floating trash, located in a large, circulating current called the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone.

The Ocean Voyages cargo ship, S/V KWAI, trawled an area in the Pacific, between California and Hawaii, where four ocean currents converge to create a vortex that collects huge amounts of plastics. Detergent bottles, beer and soft drink crates, bleach and cleaning bottles, plastic furniture, packaging straps, buckets, children's toys, and myriad types of plastic float mid-ocean.

This debris field covers vast expanses. A prime target for OV Institute's 2019 voyage was the fishing gear called "ghost nets." Often weighing tons, these massive nets of nylon or polypropylene drift for decades, amassing plastic debris, ensnaring wildlife, and even entangling ships.

"[The nets] collect fish other plastics so they're very deadly to whales, sea turtles they kill reefs smothering them when they wash against them," said Crowley.

An estimated 600,000 tons of this abandoned gear ends up in the oceans every year. According to the United Nations, some 380,000 marine mammals are killed every year by either ingesting or being caught in it.

Other ghost nets and plastic debris is being tracked with GPS devices for future cleanup missions.

Ocean Voyages Institute has three other cleanup expeditions planned for 2019 and a large-scale project scheduled for June/July of 2020.

Emily Turner and Susie Steimle contributed to this report.

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