At the end of October, the STS Pallada discovered a 20-million-ton mass of tsunami debris from the mega 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Sendai, Japan in March. Since this discovery, scientists have been studying, and tracking the contents of the giant floating mass, and now, they are inviting the public on an exclusive ride to see the floating spectacle aboard a 72-foot sailing yacht.
Very few people have seen the tsunami debris trolling the ocean except for scientists and ship crews. The mass being tossed by ocean currents in the North Pacific is laden with remains from houses, entire motor vehicles, household appliances, and televisions is potentially as large as the US state of California. And in May of 2012, Pangaea Explorations along with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and 5 Gyres Institute will launch a two-leg tour of ocean debris to paying customers aboard the 72-foot sailing yacht, the Sea Dragon.
The first leg of the unique journey will start in the Marshall Islands, pass through a massive ocean vortex known as the Western Pacific Gyre to see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and end in Tokyo, leaving a small chance of running into the tsunami debris. The second leg, however, will start in Tokyo and track the path of the Japanese tsunami debris for 32 days with the intent of sampling the remains throughout, and in hopes for a better understanding of plastic accumulation in oceans. The 32-day-long voyage will end in Hawaii, appropriate as it is the expected site for debris to come washing ashore at the beginning of 2012, according to International Pacific Research Center predictions.
While this cruise is no buffet and spa jaunt, it sure does exceed the price tag of a luxury vacation, at the steep price of $15,500 per person for the tsunami debris expedition. The entire cruise will be comprised of 13 people, including 4 crew, and even the paying participants will be active in the daily duties of life at sea, including sailing the boat, cleaning, cooking, collecting data, and keeping watch for hazards in the tsunami debris field.
Jeanne Gallagher of Algalita Marine Research Foundation told National Geographic news that researching plastic accumulation was presented through the natural disaster, and the cruise will not just be a study, but a voyage through pieces of people’s lives to be treated with care. Gallagher said that although their primary goal is research and not recovery, if they encounter any small items that appear traceable to people in Japan, they will make every possible effort to return the items.
The team is hoping to determine how fast the material is moving, decomposing, and the nature of the debris’ colonization by ocean animals. Unlike other trash accumulations in the ocean, the tsunami debris has a known start date and original location, giving scientists a clear opportunity to track, and analyze how materials from land behave in the ocean environment.
No one knows what the expedition might uncover, or what to expect to find while rigorously pilfering through the debris field. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, oceanographer, commented on the venture saying that human remains still intact in sneakers are totally plausible finds in the mass and travelers of the Sea Dragon should expect the unexpected.