‘Nemo me impune lacessit’Motto of the Kingdom of Scotland in 1578; suggested motto for the Global Ocean.
(No one assaults me with impunity)
At Waterfront Charters we are concerned with all things nautical. After all, as we have said repeatedly, the Atlantic Ocean is where we work and play: it’s the base for all our activities. Our range of cruises offer a smorgasbord of opportunities to view, enjoy, admire and protect this outpost of the Global Ocean. One of our keys aims as a provider of recreational cruises is the education of our guests on the need for keeping our seas clean; pollution has become the evil byproduct of evolution, and it has reached a stage where it is overwhelming nature.
The levels of plastic waste in the oceans have become critical to the point of – almost – no return. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is such a blight that it has earned the right of capitalisation of its initial letters. We have addressed this monstrosity before, but some statistics need to be repeated: the patch covers 1.6 million square kilometres, consisting of an estimated 160,000 tons of plastic. A 2018 study found that 92% of the mass of the patch consists of larger objects which have not yet fragmented into microplastics. These microplastics are the real problem: they kill off the bulk of ocean creatures, while acting as hosts for new, competing species such as jellyfish, altering the natural order. Amazingly, (or not, come to think of it), some of the plastic in the patch is over 50 years old, and includes items (and fragments of items) such as ‘plastic lighters, toothbrushes, water bottles, pens, baby bottles, cell phones, plastic bags, and nurdles.’ (Nurdles are those odd f-hole shaped polystyrene things that are ubiquitously used in packing; they last virtually forever and are not particularly recyclable, so just get tossed. Overboard, mostly, it appears.)
It’s not the only Garbage Patch in the oceans of Earth, and each one is growing exponentially: by at least ten times each decade according to research by The Ocean Cleanup Group. Some simple maths would then project the weight of plastic in the Pacific Patch to be 160 million tons by 2050. Obviously the density will increase somewhat quicker than the size, but here’s a thought: should the size increase 10 fold each decade, by 2050 it will cover 1.6 billion square kilometres, or roughly three times the surface area of Earth. We’ll have a Plastic Planet, the ideal Barbie world.) 90 % of the rubbish in the ocean comes from the land, which points to the criminal lack of controls exercised internationally. What can we do as individuals? Reuse, reduce, recycle. It may be a cliché, but clichés exist because they have been reused, reduced and recycled too, and actually have an important meaning behind the words.
Now for something completely different relating to dumping and polluting, something that we would guess very few people on the planet know about. What actually happens when you find Nemo? Geographically, you find a ‘point of inaccessibility’, which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the most challenging point to reach in any geographical area. In Africa, should you be interested, it’s near Obo in the Central African Republic, and is not a known tourist spot. In the South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area, it’s at 49.0031°S 123.3920°W and is known as Point Nemo. It’s literally in the middle nowhere, halfway (sort of) between New Zealand and South America, and further away from civilisation than any other point on earth.
Why is this of interest? Scary answer. It’s one of the least known, yet most used dumping spots on the planet. For spacecraft. At least 300 one-owner, slightly used, orbiting craft have been ditched at the ‘spacecraft cemetery’ at Point Nemo, and let’s just say that these aren’t the tiddlywink Sputnik-sized orbiters: they are the Mir space station sized monstrosities that don’t burn up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. To Mir’s mortal remains you can add six Salyut space stations, over 200 other Russian craft, and debris in the cemetery belonging to the United States (Skylab), Europe, Japan, as well as remnants of craft from certain private organizations (are reading this, Elon?). The Chinese tried splashing down there too, with Tiangong-1, the first Chinese space station, but predictably they missed completely.
So what? you might ask – there are thousands of sunken vessels in the ocean too. True, but none of these were powered by hydrazine, the widely used rocket propellant that is highly toxic to living organisms, which survives re-entry. Not to mention the many radioactive chemicals present in spacecraft, particularly the unmanned ones. But, and here’s the rub, Point Nemo is not under the jurisdiction of any country, so apart from some virtually unenforceable dictates from the United Nations, there is no control over this pollution.
There are, unfortunately, things we have no control over, but this doesn’t mean we need to remain blissfully ignorant. We can – and must, as a society – focus on doing what we can to protect the integrity of our beautiful oceans. Join us for a cruise and marvel at the wonders that need to be protected at all costs for future generations.