Sea of Trash (NYT)
June 21 2008 | Jim's Blog,
By Donavan Hohn, New York Times
Off Gore Point, where tide rips collide, the rolling swells rear up and steepen into whitecaps. Quiet with concentration, Chris Pallister decelerates from 15 knots to 8, strains to peer through a windshield blurry with spray, tightens his grip on the wheel and, like a skier negotiating moguls, coaxes his home-built boat, the Opus — aptly named for a comic-strip penguin — through the chaos of waves. Our progress becomes a series of concussions punctuated by troughs of anxious calm. In this it resembles the rest of Pallister’s life.
A 55-year-old lawyer with a monkish haircut, glasses that look difficult to break, an allergy of the eyes that makes him squint and a private law practice in Anchorage, Pallister spends most of his time directing a nonprofit group called the Gulf of Alaska Keeper, or GoAK (pronounced GO-ay-kay). According to its mission statement, GoAK’s lofty purpose is to “protect, preserve, enhance and restore the ecological integrity, wilderness quality and productivity of Prince William Sound and the North Gulf Coast of Alaska.” In practice, the group has, since Pallister and a few like-minded buddies founded it in 2005, done little else besides clean trash from beaches. All along Alaska’s outer coast, Chris Pallister will tell you, there are shores strewn with marine debris, as man-made flotsam and jetsam is officially known. Most of that debris is plastic, and much of it crosses the Gulf of Alaska or even the Pacific Ocean to arrive there.
The tide of plastic isn’t rising only on Alaskan shores. In 2004 two oceanographers from the British Antarctic Survey completed a study of plastic dispersal in the Atlantic that spanned both hemispheres. “Remote oceanic islands,” the study showed, “may have similar levels of debris to those adjacent to heavily industrialized coasts.” Even on the shores of Spitsbergen Island in the Arctic, the survey found on average a plastic item every five meters.