Cross-Pacific swimmer to pass through garbage vortex
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Cross-Pacific swimmer to pass through garbage vortex

ON United Nations’ World Environment Day, 51-year-old French adventurer Ben Lecomte launched his efforts to do what many people may consider the impossible by swimming 9,000 km across the Pacific Ocean.

Battling sharks and jellyfish, the passionate environmentalist hopes his epic mission from Tokyo to San Francisco will raise awareness of plastic pollution in the oceans – an obstacle that could prove to be his most dangerous foe.

The mapped-out route will take Lecomte through the centre of the infamous Great Pacific garbage patch, or Pacific trash vortex, a giant gyre of marine debris the size of Texas. A recent study published in Scientific Reports found the sprawling patch contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic and is 16 times larger that previously thought.

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The team accompanying Lecomte will collect water samples each day along the way to determine the level of plastic and microplastic pollution.

The expedition’s first mate, Tyral Dalitz, told ABC the team wanted to dispel a myth about the garbage patch.

Rather than being made up of large pieces of plastic, most of the pollution is made up of invisible pieces of microplastic that sit in the water like a “plastic smog”, he said.

“In reality the truth is much worse – the ocean is now filled with microplastics … Rather than calling it an island of trash, it is more like plastic smog throughout the ocean.”

Lecomte set off from Tokyo at 9am local time. His son and daughter swam the first 100 metres alongside him before returning to a crowd of family and friends gathered to cheer him on the first day of this six-month journey.

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It was becoming a father that inspired the Frenchman to take up his cause.

“When I was little and I was with my father walking on the beach, I didn’t see any plastic, or hardly any,” Lecomte said in an interview with AFP.

“Now every time I go with my kids, we see plastic everywhere.”

Lecomte will swim for eight hours a day before resting on the 20-metre support boat that will accompany him throughout the journey. He will then return to the water in the same spot the following day.

While the swimmer is expected to burn more than 8,000 calories a day, Lecomte says the hardest barrier is in his head.

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“The mental part is much more important than the physical. You have to make sure you always think about something positive or you always have something to think about,” he said.

“When you don’t have anything to occupy your mind, it goes into kind of a spiral, and that’s when trouble starts.”

And he would know. This is far from the first challenge Lecomte has taken up. In 1998, he became the first person to complete a solo trans-Atlantic swim, covering the 6,4000 km in 73 days. His words as he left the water? – “Never again.”