President Obama announced his plans today to expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii. This would make the Marine Reserve the largest in the world.
Many years ago, after an injury and a need to get to New Zealand to recover, I took a cruise ship from United States through to New Zealand. It took 3 weeks, with two separate weeks- 6 days each - at sea with no land in sight.
The Pacific ocean is vast indeed. I loved that trip and after being on a ship with 1500 strangers, did not begrudge for a moment those with vast superyachts filled with friends.
In fact, I wondered, with my new found love of the ocean why I had not studied to become a superyacht designer or marine biologist. Having said that I have thought that way about NASA too . When you originally come from a small remote country like New Zealand these possibilities in life were not offered up. In fact they were not even on the radar of young kiwi kids dreams, well they were not in my day and age. So I had my own dreams. Dreams I pondered on the ship, staring out at the ever changing horizon line.
Amongst the pondering thoughts were the knowledge of my parents generation. My parents traversed the world in ships, New Zealand to England and return. Six weeks it took, through the Panama Canal .It was considered normal, a rite of passage(no pun intended) to visit the old homeland - Mother England. The fact I was doing it now, was not normal. Because of that, one was able to clarify clearly and with stark contrast , though spoken word ,the vast difference in the pacific ocean between those who had travelled it in the 1940's 1950's and today.
Two things struck me on the trip. One was simple, the delightful change of colour in the ocean's water, every few thousand miles, from the warm waters of Hawaii, through to azure turquoises, to deep teal navy blues over the Mariana Trench, to the clearer lighter waters around the tropical islands of Tahiti and it's atolls, then to the greenish grey shores of New Zealand.
The other thing that struck me was not so simple and when I arrived in New Zealand, one stormy day with the tenders lurching, this "thing" compelled me to research it immediately. There was out simply, no wild life-on the entire three week trip. Where were the whales breaching, the dolphins guiding us, the sea birds? The ocean was empty. Apart from one very small pod of flying fish approaching the South Pacific there was no ocean life at all. This was in stark contrast to what my parent's generation confirmed from their travels years ago, where the ocean was full of life.
My research led me to Captain Charles Moore and Algalita. Captain Charles Moore is the man who discovered the Pacific Gyre. The vast waste of trash that swirls in the Pacific, poisoning the ocean life. The vast broken down bits of plastic - the result of our wasteful ways in countries stretching from the United States, through to all countries in Asia, Australia New Zealand and elsewhere. It's the plastic from industrial waste, human garbage, from sail boats and sun screen lotion and ships crossing oceans, from satellites in the sky.It's our waste.Humanity's reliance on plastic and our lack of heed as to where we put it when we dispose off it.
That is why on that trip I saw no ocean life. I made contact with Captain Charles Moore and was given permission and the opportunity to board his research vessel and travel make a film on his work, to raise first hand awareness of the issue, but at that time, which was only a few short years ago, before the Plastic Gyre became well known public knowledge it was impossible to raise funding for it. So I wrote about it instead.
Maybe I was ahead of my time today in the White House today as well.
I wanted to thank the Administration for the expansion of the Reserve and also ask Press Secretary Josh Earnest as to whether the Pacific Gyre had any influence or bearing on the decision to expand the reserve and protect that part of the vast expanse of ocean from further damage- but the Press Secretary either didn't want to take the question and discuss the Reserve or else he just wasn't interested, in spite of me being there most days, in taking questions from anyone who wasn't a big five news network. This is a pity as the Press Secretary always expouses his support of bonafide independent and free press but rarely if ever takes questions from us. So my only thing I can say to my question is "no comment from the White House", but I will tell you this , you heard the question here first as not one of the big five networks or newspapers asked it.