The Volvo Ocean Race is a grueling, 9 month long, around the world sailing challenge that takes competitors across all the world’s oceans during the 42,000 mile race. In the beginning of May, the race had a 10 day stopover in historic Newport, Rhode Island.
During the stay, the Volvo Group hosted an Ocean Summit On Marine Debris which focused attention on the problem of plastic trash that is choking the world’s oceans. Several of the sailor’s in the race, including Charlie Enright, skipper of Team Alvimedica, were on hand to tell the conference exactly how bad the problem is from the perspective of the racers who spend virtually their entire lives on the water.
Present at the conference were a host of dignitaries, from Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to Swedish ambassador Bjӧrn Lyrvall, Professor Dennis Nixon of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race.
“Debris is a serious problem for all marine ecosystems and local coastal economies,” Senator Whitehouse told the audience. “In Rhode Island, I’ve seen firsthand how it can foul our coastline and hamper economic development and recreation. The Volvo Ocean Race racers have seen how far offshore this pollution reaches. I’ve also seen how partnerships between government, private industry and motivated citizens can deal with this problem, and that’s why I’m happy to have joined today’s summit.”
Dumping trash into the oceans has created enormous garbage zones. Plastic debris is particularly harmful to the marine environment because it takes decades to break down. One collection of debris is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and consists of plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.
The problem was first noted by ocean racer Charles J. Moore as he was sailing home through the North Pacific Gyre after competing in the Transpac sailing race in 1999. Suddenly he came upon an enormous stretch of debris floating on the surface of the water.
“Our biggest challenge in fighting the pollution of the oceans is ignorance,” said Knut Frostad, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race. “In the Volvo Ocean Race, our sailors experience this every day at sea, and I am honored to be part of the Ocean Summit to help bring more attention to a growing catastrophe that is the responsibility of all of us to reverse.”