Feature

"We should call this planet Ocean"

G Magazine

He's waging a war against plastic and with his crew last year, he completed sailing Plastiki, a boat made of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles, across the Pacific. Meet David de Rothschild, the environmental adventurer who won't take no for an answer.

David de Rothschild

"Convenience stores are wrapping bananas in plastic. It's time to wake up," David de Rothschild.

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He has reached the North and South Poles and traversed Antarctica using a kite and sled, but perhaps the greatest feat of David de Rothschild to date is leading the Plastiki voyage from San Francisco to Sydney. Three years in the making and four months on the seas, the expedition was skippered by British environmental adventurer Jo Royle and sought to draw attention to the extraordinary amount of plastic (an estimated eight million items per day) dumped into our oceans. Judging by the global media coverage of the Plastiki's arrival in Sydney on 26 July 2010, de Rothschild and the crew got the message out loud and clear.

"It was so incredible to be out there on the ocean. It is this extraordinary place and I think, for the most part, most people are slightly intimidated by it. It can be scary but it's actually this amazing character, full of little nuances and charms and you start to recognise its movement and what it's doing. I think that's why it takes a lifetime to become a sailor; you don't learn overnight. It's like how the Inuit have 50 different names for all the different types of snow, and the way that you hear about these Hawaiian navigators who can literally read currents by looking at the ocean's surface. So to live on the ocean and have that sort of connectivity to the ocean has been probably the most humbling experience I've had. You have respect, you're really in nature's backyard - there are a lot of variables outside your control.

It's beautiful - you get up and think the day is the best part, it's awesome, and then night comes and it's constellations and stars and phosphorescence flowing through the bottles, and little eyes popping out of the water and looking at you and disappearing. It's crazy comets - shooting stars just become boring, you make about 20 wishes a night - I saw one comet just fly and break off in the air.

It's insane we just don't have a deeper respect and understanding for our oceans. We need to start recognising that the oceans drive life on our planet; 70 per cent of our planet is oceans. We should have called this planet Ocean. We just disregard it, it's just a big old space out there and we've not really connected to it other than in that way of ownership. Drilling rights are 200 miles off shore and then it's just a free-for-all; we overfish, we dump stuff, we do whatever we want, you know, no one is claiming any responsibility.

While on the boat we caught three fish. In four months. It was extraordinary how little we saw and how desperate it feels. You look at it and think, these reports that by 2050 our oceans are pretty much out of stock, that can't be right, and then you realise we've got these slaughter boats twice the size of football fields producing 200 tonnes of fish a day, and literally just sucking up the fish. We're waging war on these fish and we've got these nets you could fit twelve 747s in the mouth of - they go on for miles and miles and miles. It's going to be interesting to see how we solve that one. I think we can - we've just got to let the oceans breathe, because they're incredibly regenerative, but we've got to pause and give it a chance.

It really is extraordinary how we've totally disconnected. There's nature there, and we're over here.
We can externalise ourselves from life so dramatically. We're basically setting ourselves up for a massive fall. We just have to figure out, are we going to break a wrist, or going to break our neck when we fall over? We've got to decide.

One of the things I wanted to try and do was to try to demystify this so-called Eastern Garbage Patch. We've become really focussed again in a very simplistic way in that there's a patch, it's only one, it's isolated, it's solid, it's in the north-east Pacific and it's twice the size of Texas. But everyone asks, 'well, where's the photo of it? Where is it?' The reality is most of the plastic in the ocean is either on the ocean bed or is molecular in size - 61 per cent of ocean plastic is less than a millimetre in diameter. It's one of those things where its far more ominous, it sits below [the surface], so you can think the water looks awesome, it's clean... but it's full of toxic waste, shards of plastic.

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