Ivan Macfadyen via Sydney Morning Herald
These fish were the only ones that yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen saw during his journey across the Pacific Ocean. They were given to him by fishermen on a trawler that was searching for tuna and was simply going to throw these hapless catches overboard.

'The Ocean Is Broken': An Absence of Life and a Plethora of Garbage Greet Yachtsman in Pacific


First there was the silence. Deafening, haunting, forsaken silence. Next came the garbage.

In scenes right out of a film noir, silence and garbage were constant companions for Australian yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen as he raced in the Funnel Web from Melbourne to Osaka, Japan. Though there was plenty of sound, it was of wind whipping the sails and whistling through the rigging, as Macfadyen told Australia’s Newcastle Herald. The sounds of birds were noticeably absent, as were the fish they would have preyed on. Instead of catching one fish per day for food, Macfadyen and his crewmate caught two during the entire 28-day journey.

Then came the second leg, from Osaka to San Francisco, and it was arguably even worse. His vessel could barely navigate through the garbage, and he was afraid to use his motor to speed things up lest the ropes, fishing nets and other pieces of debris clogging the waters get tangled in his propeller.

"The ocean is broken," Macfadyen told the Newcastle Herald. “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 3,000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen."

His trip took place earlier this year, pre-dating the death of two oarfish that have washed up in the past week on California’s shores. But Macfadyen’s story underscores the damage that is being manifested, largely unwitnessed by humans, in the open ocean.

RELATED: Oarfish Redux: Another Dead Sea Serpent Washes Ashore, Creeping Out Californians

It hadn’t been that way in the past, during 10 years sailing the same route.

''In years gone by I'd gotten used to all the birds and their noises,'' Macfadyen told the Herald. ''They'd be following the boat, sometimes resting on the mast before taking off again. You'd see flocks of them wheeling over the surface of the sea in the distance, feeding on pilchards.''

The only sign of life Macfadyen saw was a fishing boat that was stripping the life from a reef in the form of nets and nets full of fish. The fish were being discarded because they were not tuna, the real target.

“They gave us five big sugar-bags full of fish," he said. "They were good, big fish, of all kinds…. 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. That's what they would have done with them anyway, they said.”

After that encounter came the second leg of the journey, punctuated by so much debris that he could see it extending down to the ocean depths off Hawaii and hear it smashing against the hull. He had to navigate to avoid hitting something that could puncture the ship and take it down.

The Pacific Ocean is well known to be chock full of garbage, mainly plastic, that has only been augmented by the pile of debris that was washed out from Japan after the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Macfadyen told the Herald he’s still recovering from the “shock and horror” of his voyage.

Read The Ocean Is Broken.

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barbara Janes's picture
barbara Janes
Submitted by barbara Janes on

Man's greed is destroying everything ,from the oceans and land ..everything is suffering...and disappearing .Once we could go for a Sunday drive and see fox and rabbit ,owl, hear all kinds of birdsong...Now things have become eerily quiet.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

I had always heard of the "island" of plastic off Hawaii, but I didn't know it was this bad. it is a crime what people throw in the water, on beaches and all over our earth, I don't get it, are they all idiots, that don't give a damn about anything? or can't they clean up after themselves, are they too lazy, I suppose they are the same ones that don't recycle at home. the Japanese fishermen have always careless with fish, as careless as our fishermen, if they can be, I don't know I just would think their conscience would prevent them from doing this to the sea.

Steven Grant's picture
Steven Grant
Submitted by Steven Grant on

Take in consideration that over 400 tons of nuclear contaminated water is beeing dumped into the ocean daily and over the last 2 and a half years.. That would definitely effect ocean life. Nuclear waste!

kamana's picture
Submitted by kamana on

Greed is the root of all evil and wealth and trash are two of the fruits of that evil. If it is wrong to be evil then it is also wrong to be wealthy and trashy.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

Why don't governments from around the world pay "fisherman to go out and scoop up garbage? Even if they did this just for a few months it would help! Even one piece of rubbish pulled from the ocean is worth it.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

Why haven't governments worked together to get this stuff out of our oceans?