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Cleaning a great floating garbage patch the size of Texas

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

There is a lot of trash to clean up in the world's oceans. And so far, the way to do it is one big boat at a time.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Kwai is back in its homeport of Sausalito, Calif. Yesterday, the 140-foot cargo ship completed a several-week round trip to pick up about 96 tons of garbage.

MARY CROWLEY: Buckets, containers of all sizes, laundry detergent bottles, and crates, lawn chairs, toys.

SUMMERS: That's Mary Crowley, president and founder of the Ocean Voyages Institute, sharing just some of the junk found in what is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it is less of a patch and is really a large area of the ocean where debris extends across the surface of the water and down to the ocean floor. The Pacific patch is between Hawaii and California.

KELLY: The Kwai also picked up tons of discarded fishing nets on this trip.

CROWLEY: Sometimes the nets are called ghost nets because they continue to fish and kill sea creatures when they're out there.

KELLY: So far, the nonprofit says it has cleared out almost 700,000 of garbage over about 14 years.

SUMMERS: And Crowley says her organization will have two boats eventually. But even then, they are looking at many, many trips to the patch and back. The sheer size of the job is daunting, but Crowley says every bit does make a difference.

CROWLEY: You know, some people say there's so much, but the fact is everything we remove saves the lives of whales and dolphins and fish. And so it has immediate effects.

KELLY: And Crowley says everything will be either recycled or repurposed. None of it will go to landfills.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUINCY JONES' "SANFORD & SON THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gabe O'Connor
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.