One man's 300-mile swim through a vortex of trash

Ben Lecomte's passion for preserving the ocean has compelled him to swim from Hawaii to California.

Benoît Lecomte has previously swam other notable long distances, including from Japan to Hawaii and even across the Atlantic Ocean.Icebreaker

The world is facing a plastic crisis: The once-pristine beaches of Bali are so overwhelmed by trash, they’re totally unrecognizable; videos of sea turtles having plastic straws removed from their noses are going viral; and tiny fragments of plastic have been found in even the most remote corners of the world, from the Mariana Trench to the Pyrenees Mountain Range in France.

Thanks in part to modern technology, awareness for this plastic disaster is spreading fast. Brands like 4ocean work tirelessly to remove plastics from the ocean. The #TrashTag challenge gained speed as thousands of teens posted their clean-up efforts. Every day, more and more people are joining the throng of people fighting to reduce plastic waste—and use—across the Earth.

But one man in particular has decided that he has a unique part to play in all of this. Benoît Lecomte, a 52-year old French long distance swimmer, is currently swimming across the largest garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean to raise awareness for plastic pollution. The Vortex Swim crew and Lecomte have teamed up with Icebreaker—a brand known for its nature-based clothing—to fulfill their vision of a 300-nautical-mile swim from Hawaii to California.

“We were prepared to find plastic, but not [this] much. We have seen plastic floating at the surface every single day of the expedition, same goes under the surface, when we tow our net we find an average of 2 microplastic fragments per minute,” said Paul Lecomte, project manager and the French swimmer’s nephew, when asked what their expectations for the expedition were. “Last week we even found plastic in the stomach of a fish we just caught.”

While sailing, the team sets up trolling lines in order to catch fish to eat as well as to study. Last week, they caught a 36.5-inch, seven-pound female Mahi Mahi. After removing the meat from the fish, samples were taken to study for contamination. The Vortex Swim crew found that on this particular occasion, a piece of checkered plastic measuring approximately 2 inches by 0.5 inches was discovered in the fish’s stomach along with several squid beaks, a pelagic trigger fish, and unspecified digested marine life. They are seeing the impacts of plastic first hand, visibly and detrimentally impacting marine life and food sources.

\”Every single piece of plastic that was thrown away is still somewhere in nature today, and it comes back to our plates,\” Paul Lecomte said.Icebreaker

A recent study published by the World Wildlife Fund found that humans ingest about a credit cards’ worth of plastic every week—from their food. It happens through the cycle of life: Birds and fish ingest microplastics, they’re then eaten by larger animals, and then consumed by humans. “Plastic is designed to last, it doesn’t degrade like natural material. A plastic bottle will take an average of 450 years, up to 1000 years to decompose. This bottle will not magically disappear, we know that due to sunlight and sea water, every piece of plastic in the ocean is breaking into smaller pieces over the years,” said Paul Lecomte.

And if that isn’t concerning enough, Paul Lecomte explained to us that plastic is known to be a magnet for chemical substances that often play a role in common diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, and even some hormone related cancers.

So what can we do? “One good first step is to gradually remove single use plastic from our life, using reusable bags, cutlery, bottles, etc. Even if it doesn’t feel like much, by doing that we set an example and become part of the solution,” Paul Lecomte said.

“We don’t need millions of people to do it perfectly, we need millions to do it imperfectly.”

You can follow live updates of The Vortex Swim here.