16 AUGUST—36°55' N, 129°27' W

Around eight thirty the following morning, I spotted Debris Item No. 2: a large bundle of synthetic yellow rope, to starboard. The crew began scanning the ocean surface for debris whenever they were on deck. Several people went up into the cross-trees to look out from above. The call came down of another rope sighting. Gabe and I went thronging to the rail. There it was: a tattered section of rope, maybe eighteen inches long.

"Oh, shit," said Gabe. "That is going to fuck up some ecosystem."


You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: a vast island of trash, twice the size of Texas, formed by the currents of the North Pacific.

Let's nip this in the bud: It's not an island.

No, really. It's not an island. If anyone tells you different, you should get ahold of a blunt object and use it to strike them in the solar plexus.

It is real. But the actual Garbage Patch is infinitely more subtle, problematic, and bewitching than the plastic atoll that haunts the dreams of environmentalists around the world. Joining a motley crew of environmental misfits, I set out on a three week voyage across the high seas of the north Pacific, in search of the real Garbage Patch, in all its hidden glory. But what happens when a group of activists become more attached to the image of the problem they're fighting than to the reality?


Examine an annotated map of our somewhat-hapless voyage.

See a slideshow of plastic objects we fished out of the Garbage Patch.


next: Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon