Charles Moore’s Relationship With Plastic

In 1997, while returning to southern California after finishing the Los Angeles-to-Hawaii Yatch sailing race, he and his crew caught sight of trash floating in the North Pacific Gyre.

He has since dedicated his life to understanding and remediating the ocean’s plastic load. He has written articles about the extent of this garbage, and the effects on sea life, which attracted significant attention in the media.

“As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean,” Moore later wrote in an essay for Natural History, “I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” An oceanographic colleague of Moore’s dubbed this floating junk yard “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” and despite Moore’s efforts to suggest different metaphors — “a swirling sewer,” “a superhighway of trash” connecting two “trash cemeteries” — “Garbage Patch” appears to have stuck.

His 1999 study showed that there was six times more plastic in this part of the ocean than the zooplankton that feeds ocean life. In 2002, a later study showed that even off the coast of California, plastic outweighed zooplankton by a factor of 5:2. These numbers were significantly higher than expected, and shocked many oceanographers.