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Milman reports: "An Australian sailor has described parts of the Pacific Ocean as “dead” because of severe overfishing, with his vessel having to repeatedly swerve debris for thousands of kilometres."

Van MacFadyen says he was shocked by absence of sea life during his 37,000km voyage between Australia and Japan. (photo: Van MacFadyen)
Van MacFadyen says he was shocked by absence of sea life during his 37,000km voyage between Australia and Japan. (photo: Van MacFadyen)

Yachtsman Describes Horror at 'Dead', Rubbish Strewn Pacific Ocean

By Oliver Milman, Guardian UK

23 October 13


Ivan MacFadyen says he was shocked by absence of sea life during his 37,000km voyage between Australia and Japan

n Australian sailor has described parts of the Pacific Ocean as "dead" because of severe overfishing, with his vessel having to repeatedly swerve debris for thousands of kilometres on a journey from Australia to Japan.

Ivan MacFadyen told of his horror at the severe lack of marine life and copious amounts of rubbish witnessed on a yacht race between Melbourne and Osaka. He recently returned from the trip, which he previously completed 10 years ago.

"In 2003, I caught a fish every day," he told Guardian Australia. "Ten years later to the day, sailing almost exactly the same course, I caught nothing. It started to strike me the closer we got to Japan that the ocean was dead.

"Normally when you are sailing a yacht, there are one or two pods of dolphins playing by the boat, or sharks, or turtles or whales. There are usually birds feeding by the boat. But there was none of that. I've been sailing for 35 years and it's only when these things aren't there that you notice them.

MacFadyen said that the lack of ocean life started at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, describing Queensland waters as "barren" and "unquestionably overfished".

"We saw a boat come towards us and we thought they might be pirates, but they had bags and bags of fish," he said. "We said 'there's only two of us, we can't do anything with all that' and they said 'don't worry, just throw it over the side'.

"There was around 100 large fish there. But it was valueless for them because they were after tuna and nothing else. They just trawled the whole ocean and everything other than tuna was bycatch."

For the majority of the voyage to Japan, MacFadyen had to ensure that his yacht wasn't holed by clumps of rubbish he said were "as large as a house".

"There were fenders from ships, balls of net and telegraph poles with barnacles on them that were never going to sink," he said. "There was nothing like that 10 years ago. I couldn't believe it.

"We wouldn't motor the boat at night due to the fear of something wrapping around the propeller. We'd only do that during the day with someone on lookout for garbage. When you stood on the deck and looked down you'd see the rubbish shimmering in the depths below, up to 20 metres under the water.

"We went onto the US and back again. We did 23,000 miles [37,000km] and I'd say 7,000 of those were in garbage. The boat is still damaged from it. We had to free the rudder of rubbish one night, which was scary. We were terrified of something ripping a hole in the boat."

MacFadyen said that the trip had made him "very cranky" and has inspired him to encourage better monitoring of ocean rubbish to ensure governments' anti-pollution policies are working.

"Humans are such a blight on the planet that we will just trash an area because it is out of sight most of the time," he said. "It completely changed the way I look at things. I used to chuck rubbish away without thinking twice but there's no way I will do that now."

According to marine conservationists, overfishing is a global problem affecting nearly 90% of the world's fisheries.

The problem has resulted on catch quotas being placed on many species of fish, although the exact extent of overfishing in Australia is slightly unclear.

Government fisheries data shows only bluefin tuna and the school shark are dangerously overfished in Australian waters. However, the Australian Marine Conservation Society's guide to sustainable seafood places 26 species - including kingfish, snapper and tiger prawns - on a "red list" that should not be consumed due to their fragile status.

Pamela Allen, marine campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Guardian Australia that there have been improvements in Australian fisheries in recent years but problems remain.

"The quota for bluefin tuna has just been increased by 10%, despite there being no evidence to justify this," she said. "There are also issues in state fisheries - Queensland has no scientific observer system, for instance, and rely just on fishers' logbooks for what they catch in sensitive areas such as the Great Barrier Reef.

"Trawling the ocean results in a high level of bycatch because it's hard to be exact with what you're catching when you're dragging a gigantic net along the sea floor.

"People don't realise that flake is shark and that sharks are threatened due to overfishing. There is no single sustainable source of shark in fisheries. Consumers have a choice every day to make a small difference.

"Fish is one of the last wild foods we eat, along with mushrooms, and we have to realise that once it has gone, it is gone. Governments and fishers are making some changes but they need to move more quickly or there won't be any fish left." your social media marketing partner


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+49 # indian weaver 2013-10-23 08:13
I read this yesterday. The tragedy of destroying our planet is well underway and irreversible now. The greed and arrogance of humans results in our extinction as well as the extinction of all living things, and eventually of the Planet Earth herself. The native peoples' of the planet had it right for millennia. Our raison d'etre, our basis for being a manifested consciousness, was to honor our Great Mother, live in harmony with her, and celebrate our spiritual nature. Not to acquire bullshit material junk. But so much for raison d'etre. We've forgotten why we exist, and thus will kill ourselves. Good riddance.
+39 # indian weaver 2013-10-23 08:16
This is the most important article published anywhere. Every other consideration depends on our existence, which is now no longer to be taken for granted. No other issue matters until this one is "solved". Everything else is trivial compared to our existence, and all other articles' topics assume / presume we'll live forever. Not true. All other article's topics are irrelevant until we can live in harmony with Planet Earth. And, that's not going to happen.
+28 # angelfish 2013-10-23 10:21
Who can blame the Whales and Dolphins for beaching themselves? We've turned their Home into a Garbage Dump and a Sewer! Sad to say, not only have we "paved Paradise" we've DESTROYED it, for WHAT? Filthy Lucre! Pitiful!
+21 # tedrey 2013-10-23 10:29
Also, the fish they come up with will kill us. See:

I sailed those clear, clean, life-filled waters half a century ago. Now I weep for them . . . and for all of us.
+23 # tclose 2013-10-23 11:09
The population of humans has reached a point where stringent pollution and resource management is needed, but that is not happening fast enough. We were warned about this happening 50 years ago (Paul Ehrlich et al) yet very little was done to slow population growth, mostly due to pressure on the part of religious groups to reduce the availability of contraception and women's rights. We have gone from 3 to 7 Billion in those 50 years, and we are still climbing in most of the less developed countries.

The result of this inaction is the need to be much more strict about environmental controls, worldwide, including oceans and fisheries. At the same time we still have to work on staunching this population growth or it will just get worse.
+22 # Doggone 2013-10-23 11:13
I think it is important to note that the media chooses to hide this information. It isn't front page news though it ought to be and everyone ought to take part in the solution. But as long as the majority are kept ignorant they can keep buying plastic crap and throwing it away without a thought. The corporate lords also don't want us to know so they can keep selling their plastic crap that pollutes and kills the oceans. They're making a profit and despite the fact that it is killing us ALL, they would rather have short term gains and deny their eventual suicide. It is so much easier for the public to ignore and pretend that everything is hunky dory. It requires nothing of them to stay in denial, they can continue to go to McD's, throw the wrappers away and get fat and all the rest of the consequences of this stupidity we call living.
+11 # 2013-10-23 12:47
Thank you, Mr. MacFadyen, for this eye-witness, first-hand account of the devestation being wrought upon our oceans and our planet. What are we supposed to do, shorn as we are of the power delegated to our alleged representatives in the Congress of the US?
+8 # Annietime13 2013-10-23 15:07

IT GETS DONE!!!!!!!'

And keep on living,,,,,,,
+9 # Anarchist 23 2013-10-23 16:52
When the sea dies, the land dies. 'Mother Jones' carried an article about this in the early '80's. Nobody took any action. as a species we appear to be greedy,destruct ive and incredibly stupid. I suppose
that all of us, even if we tried during our lives to be generous,constr uctive and smart will share the same fate: extinction.
+3 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-10-23 20:07
& if MacFadyen sails on from Japan to the N Pacific coast, say Vancouver or San Francisco, he'll see great swathes of Hurricane debris coating the ocean...& for years to come.
+2 # beardog 2013-10-24 08:35
I wonder if some of the larger outwash debris Van MacFadyen sailed into was the result of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011.
+1 # roger paul 2013-10-24 20:46
In the late 1960's I worked as a benthic ecologist for the OSU Dept of Oceanography. We had a research line off of Coos Bay OR, with stations every ten miles out to 100 miles.

One evening we had just made a trawl, brought our specimens on board and were sorting them. At this point we noticed two Russian trawlers, they were approximately a mile apart and were towing the same trawl. After they passed through the area I decided to make another trawl with our small research net...instead of an abundance of species like were in the first sampling this one had not a single specimen....the area was wiped clean.

That was over 50 years ago and they and others have been fishing night and day since then. Is it any wonder why our oceans are in peril.

roger paul

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