The ocean is 'dead'


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That was the alarming verdict of a yachtsman who recently returned from a voyage on the Pacific Ocean, a decade after he sailed almost exactly the same course and when things had been very different indeed.

Ivan MacFadyen was sailing from Melbourne in Australia to Osaka in Japan for the first leg of a yacht race, the second leg of which took him to San Francisco in the US.

He told The Guardian: "In 2003, I caught a fish every day. Ten years later to the day, sailing almost exactly the same course, I caught nothing.

"It started to strike me the closer we got to Japan that the ocean was dead.

"Normally when you are sailing a yacht, there are one or two pods of dolphins playing by the boat, or sharks, or turtles or whales. There are usually birds feeding by the boat. But there was none of that. I’ve been sailing for 35 years and it’s only when these things aren’t there that you notice them."

MacFadyen described Queensland waters as "barren" and overfished and told The Guardian that the lack of life started at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

Later he discovered one of the reasons for the lack of fish — up above New Guinea, a big fishing boat could be seen working a reef — it worked all day and all night, under floodlights.

The following morning some of the ship's crew came alongside Ivan's yacht in a speedboat and offered him five "big sugar-bags" full of all kinds of fish — about 100 in total. When he explained that there were far too many fish there for the two people on the yacht the fishermen told them to just tip the unwanted ones overboard, saying it was only a small fraction of that day's by-catch and they were only after tuna — everything else they caught was going to be dumped anyway.

"They just trawled that reef day and night and stripped it of every living thing," Ivan told The Newcastle Herald. Just one fishing boat among many more doing the same.

The second leg of the voyage from Osaka to San Francisco was even worse, with a distinct lack of life.

"We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening.

"For 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen."

During the trip he had to repeatedly swerve to avoid crashing into piles of debris, some of which he said were as large as a house. There had been nothing like that on his 2003 journey.

"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.

"We did 23,000 miles and I’d say 7,000 of those were in garbage," he said. His boat still shows signs of damage from the debris on the journey.

"On the bow, in the waters above Hawaii, you could see right down into the depths. I could see that the debris isn't just on the surface, it's all the way down. And it's all sizes, from a soft-drink bottle to pieces the size of a big car or truck."

There was also an amazing amount of discarded plastic — everything from bottles and bags to toys and dustpans.

Ivan says he is planning to lobby government ministers, in the hope that they might help.

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