‘Planet is doomed’ unless ocean health improves, says yachtswoman

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Yachtswoman says 'planet is doomed' unless ocean health improves

Her Volvo Ocean Race campaign aims to raise awareness of plastic pollution

CNN  — 

She’s witnessed awe-inspiring sights at sea, but yachtswoman Dee Caffari has also been left “dumbfounded” by the vast floating islands of plastic and rubbish she has seen in the world’s oceans.

As the first woman to have sailed single-handedly around the world in both directions, Caffari has seen up close the harmful effects of man’s activities, from global warming and the northward drift of icebergs in the Southern Ocean to the plastic pollution that is threatening ecosystems and impacting on the human food chain.

To help raise awareness of declining ocean health and add some science to the debate, Caffari is skippering the Turn the Tide on Plastic boat in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race, sailing’s premier around-the-world competition.

“I feel very privileged to have the ocean as a playground and a work office, and yet I can see first-hand some of the damage we’re doing,” Caffari told CNN Sport.

“It’s a realization by so many more people now that it’s critical. If we actually don’t do anything about it our planet is doomed.”

‘Get worse’

According to the Plastic Oceans website, 550 million plastic straws are thrown away every day in the US and the UK, while worldwide more than 500 million plastic bottles are used every year and more than one trillion plastic bags are discarded.

More than eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF). About 50% of it is used once and then discarded, and 91% never recycled.

“We’ve created this problem for our planet and unless we actively do something about it or stop using it or make manufacturing change it’s only going to get worse,” says the 44-year-old Caffari.

The 2016 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the EMF said that if this trend continues at the same rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight) by 2050.

Britains’ Prince Charles told delegates at the recent Our Ocean summit in Malta it was crucial to create a circular economy that allows plastics to be “recovered, recycled and reused instead of created, used and then thrown away.”

READ: Plastic island – How our throwaway culture is turning paradise into graveyard

READ: The plastic plague – can our oceans be saved?

‘Plastic is on the menu’

Much of the plastic waste in the world’s seas tends to collect in one of five ocean gyres – huge areas of circulating current and winds in which trash gathers.

During a recent race from Los Angeles to Hawaii, Caffari’s boat skirted the edge of the North Pacific Gyre, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“Every single day we were passing pollution, which was like having trash just thrown in the ocean, like fishing nets, floating crates, washing bowls, chairs, all sorts. It’s sad,” said Britain’s Caffari.