Rapa Nui to Tahiti

Jess Cramp

Bleary eyed, I peeked out the window to see an emerald green hill dotted with wild horses. The deep blue on the horizon already beckoned me as I searched for another island in the distance. Stepping onto the ground felt like I was walking straight off the last page of great novel and into a place in my life that will forever be marked as before and after. Before I sailed the Pacific.

Thanks to The Quiksilver Foundation, who sponsored my berth, I am embarking on the trip of a lifetime aboard a sailboat to Tahiti, in search of plastic pollution with the crew from 5 Gyres.

For the past three days on Rapa Nui, I have been lucky enough to explore volcanic craters filled with marshy freshwater, surf a perfect little right hander on my perfect new 5’4” Moss Research Eco-Board (so graciously donated by Jake Moss, Rey at Entropy Resin, and Clay at Marko Foam) share laughs around a fire with people from eight different countries and dodge near arraignment at a World Heritage site. But a single walk on the sand has been a staunch reminder of our wastefulness on the larger lands of this planet.

The words “plastic confetti” have been used time and again, but they are the best two little descriptors for what happened upon us yesterday. With 15 Moai staring westward, behind their backs we quietly collected large pieces of buoys, bags and bottles. Niko, a local guide and environmentalist (whose group I can’t remember right this second!), led me to a well, which was nestled between the lava rocks not far from shore. This was a sacred spot to the indigenous because it was one of the few sites to collect fresh water. To my dismay, the interior and exterior of the rocks were littered with 2-5mm particles of plastic. I wish I thought they were beautiful, colored white and pink and blue. Niko looked at me and said, “Do you see the baby lobsters? Hmph, I suppose they’re eating this shit too.”

Our next stop was a sandy beach, where the surroundings must have inspired a Tolkien sequel. And maybe it’s because I was looking for it or maybe it’s because of the sheer number of particles, but I have never seen such a concentration of bits of plastic in my life. There is no glitter or gleam to polypropylene. I took a scoop of the sand with a metal strainer and played, like a child looking for treasure. In less than a minute, I had about two teaspoons worth of nurdles—the plastic pellets that are precursors to our bags and bottles. Until recently, many manufacturing facilities were careless about their little pellets, allowing them to wash into storm drains and roll their way out to sea. But with the help of Anna and Marcus of 5 Gyres, regulations have been put in place in many locations to manage this “overflow”.

As with every new crew member about to set sail with Sea Dragon, I am openly curious about just how much of this stuff I will happen upon in the big blue. I honestly don’t know of a beach in the world that is free from plastic, but what happens to it out there? How much of it sinks and then what happens to it? How much is ingested by birds and fish? Have the fish I eat been eating plastic? How many of these items onshore are items I use on the daily? Scary thoughts…

These are the questions I will try to answer with this experience.