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"The Ocean Is Broken:" A Sailor's Account Of His Journey To The Sea

Por: María Isabel21 de septiembre de 2021

The sailor is still trying to assimilate the horrors he encountered on his last boat trip.

Sailor Ivan Macfadyen recounts the colossal disillusionment he experienced on his voyage through the oceans of Australia, Osaka, Japan, New Guinea, and the United States in 2013. It is a devastating testimony about how the seas are being destroyed by humanity. And no one seems to be doing anything about it.

"It was the silence that made this voyage different from all of those before it," Macfadyen noted for the Herald:

"The wind still whipped the sails and whistled in the rigging. The waves sloshed against the fiberglass hull. And there were plenty of other noises[...] What was missing were the cries of seabirds that surrounded the boat on previous voyages across the same seas. The birds were missing because the fish were missing." 

Exactly ten years earlier, sailor Macfadyen had sailed exactly the same course from Melbourne to Osaka, and all he had to do to catch fish was casting a baited line.

"There was not one of the 28 days on that portion of the trip when we didn't catch a good-sized fish to cook up and eat with some rice," he noted. "Only the desolation of the ocean surrounded our ship as we traversed a ghost sea."

After that, north of the equator, above New Guinea, the sailors spotted a large fishing boat working a reef in the distance.

"All day it was there, trawling back and forth. It was a big ship. Like a mother ship. And in the morning, we noticed that they had sent a motorboat towards our ship. Obviously, I was worried. We were unarmed, and pirates are everywhere in those waters. But they were not pirates, or at least not in the conventional sense. The boat came to us, and the Malaysians offered us five sugar bags full of fish. It was good, big fish, of all kinds. Some were fresh, but some had evidently been in the sun for some time."

"We told them there was no way we could possibly use all those fish. There were just two of us, with no real place to store or keep them. They just shrugged and told us to tip them overboard."

"They told us that this was just a small fraction of a day's by-catch. That they were only interested in tuna and everything else was rubbish. It was all killed, all dumped. They just trawled that reef day and night and stripped it of every living thing." 

Macfadyen thought of all the ships like that one that are slowly running out of the ocean. No wonder the sea is dead. No wonder his baited lines caught nothing. There was nothing to catch. The story continued to get worse as they made their way from Osaka to San Francisco.

"After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,'' Macfadyen says. ''We saw one whale sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumor on its head. I've done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life, and I'm used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks, and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles, there was nothing alive to be seen."

"Part of it was the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan a couple of years ago. The wave came in over the land, picked up an unbelievable load of stuff, and carried it out to sea. And it's still out there, everywhere you look." 

Macfadyen and his brother found giant knots of synthetic rope, fishing line, nets, and millions of pieces of Styrofoam; oil and oil slicks; light poles with everything and wires that were ripped off by the tsunami; soda bottles; giant containers floating on the surface; a factory chimney, and so much more. So much that they couldn't start their engine for fear of getting tangled up in something if they did.

"We were weaving around these pieces of debris. It was like sailing through a garbage tip."

Back in New Castle, Ivan Macfadyen is still trying to assimilate the horrors he experienced on his voyage. "The ocean is broken," he said.

Recognizing this problem is a vast task, and it seems no organization or government has any interest in doing anything about it. Macfadyen plans to summon government ministers in the hope that they will help. He will also approach Australia's maritime competition organizers to enlist sailors in an international scheme that would use volunteer sailors to monitor marine life debris.

Text and photos courtesy of Ecoosfera
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards

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