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Volvo Ocean Race tackles marine debris

Ocean Summit on Marine Debris hosted during round-the-world race stopover
volvo ocean race Picture from MyGreenPod Sustainable News

During a stopover in Newport, Rhode Island, the Volvo Ocean Race took part in an Ocean Summit on Marine Debris in a bid to raise awareness about the global problem of marine debris.

The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the world’s most demanding global competitions. During the nine-month race around the world, nine teams sail in some of the most dangerous waters on the planet.

From May 5-17 the race stopped in Newport, Rhode Island, and held an Ocean Summit to explore the topic of marine debris.

Sailors as witnesses

The Volvo Ocean Race is in a unique position to affect change. It visits 11 countries on five continents and traverses four of the world’s oceans. Sailors in this edition of the race, which has been contested since 1973-’74, have said that they’ve seen more debris this race than ever before. Some of it wraps around the underwater appendages and slows the boats, forcing the crew to stop and back down or send someone overboard to clear it.

Describing the Malacca Strait, which divides the Indonesian island of Sumatra from Malaysia, Charlie Enright, the race’s youngest skipper, said, ‘It was just disgusting – you almost felt like you could walk across that stretch of water on the trash there at one stage.’

Enright added that the Strait was by no means the only example of such a littering of all kind of debris in the oceans. The Rhode Islander said he believed young, round-the-world sailors like himself could play a vital role as witnesses to the issue since they sailed through waters rarely, if ever, seen by others.

‘The sailors have given us a call to action and we ignore it at our peril.’

Professor Dennis Nixon, event host and a leading Rhode Island-based academic

Finding a lasting solution

In a statement, Andreas Merkl, CEO of Ocean Conservancy, explained that the majority of plastic in the ocean comes from developing economies, where the increased use of disposable plastic goods is outpacing waste collection and management. Any lasting solution to the problem will require close partnership and coordination between the public and private sector, on a global level.

‘Ocean Conservancy is grateful to the organisers and participants of the Volvo Ocean Race for bringing the issue of plastic marine debris to centre stage. We know that plastic doesn’t belong in the ocean, and yet it’s no surprise that the teams and sailors have seen significant amounts of plastic in their race around the globe.

‘Earlier this year, new research showed that roughly 8 million tons of plastic trash is entering the ocean every year. This is on top of the 150 million tons that we think is already in the ocean. In a decade, our ocean could hold one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish. But there is good news. This is a problem we can solve.’

Andreas Merkl, CEO of Ocean Conservancy

Ending marine debris

Ocean Conservancy is trying to identify the core ways in which plastic rubbish is ending up in the sea, and is working with partners in the Trash Free Seas Alliance to make plastic marine debris a thing of the past.

It’s also working with governments, corporations, scientists and conservation groups to work out how to improve waste management in a meaningful way that makes a real difference to the ocean and the communities impacted by this growing problem. It believes the key is to identify different solutions for different countries.

‘Debris is a serious problem for marine ecosystems and coastal economies. In Rhode Island, I’ve seen first-hand how it can foul our coastline and hamper economic development and recreation.

‘The Volvo Ocean 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.’

Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Senator

The event was also sponsored by The Embassy of Sweden, the US State Department, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sail Newport, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting and operating affordable public sailing instruction and attracting new sailors to the sport.

Ocean Conservancy educates and empowers citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean. Click here to find out more.

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