Taking a Trip to Better Understand the Floating Piles of Garbage in Our Oceans

The writer and environmentalist Stiv Wilson is on a mission to better understand how plastic ends up in the ocean, and what he—and the rest of us—can do about it.

As a surfer, I've always been interested in the ocean's health. Several years ago I started noticing that no matter where I traveled one thing remained the same: Our world's beaches are covered with plastic debris. I've been to beaches in Nicaragua that are knee deep in plastic bottles, beaches in Canada where ground plastic is as ubiquitous as grains of sand. Understanding that plastic in the ocean doesn't biodegrade, I was alarmed. That alarm ultimately put me on a course that would change my life forever.

I read everything I could find on the subject. I combed through websites like whose founder, Captain Charles Moore, discovered The North Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997. Moore's research has been invaluable for getting the word out to the world that our ocean is becoming a synthetic soup. He's made remarks that plastic pollution in the marine environment is as significant and challenging an issue as climate change. As a Surfrider Foundation activist, and after working on plastic policy in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I started to look more globally at the issue because the more I read, the more my heartstrings pulled at me; I wanted to engage full time. For real. I just needed an "in." In April of 2009 I got that "in" and was invited to be part of a scientific research mission to The North Atlantic Gyre on The 5 Gyres Project (

There exist five major subtropical oceanic gyres in the world (North and South Pacific, North and South Atlantic, and Indian Oceans) and it is hypothesized by The 5 Gyres Project that these areas will collect plastic garbage much like The North Pacific does. A gyre is a naturally occurring phenomenon where two opposing dominant wind patterns (North and South) bend because of the earth's ubiquitous Coriolis Effect to form a swirling vortex in the ocean. In January of this year I boarded the science research sailing vessel, The Sea Dragon, as an embedded journalist. I got off the boat as a 5 Gyres Project board member. Seeing this collection of plastic trash in a vast wilderness of water, firsthand, had such a profound effect on me I quit my day job and started working on plastic issues full time. Most people (hopefully) have heard of The North Pacific Garbage Patch by now, but few realize that the problem exists in other parts of the ocean as well.

Now on land for a few months, I decided to tour the west coast in my 1984 Volkswagen Westfailia with surfboard and dog in tow. I'll go from San Diego to Tofino, B.C. documenting beaches, people, and plastic and share those stories with GOOD readers. Along the way, I'll be talking to Charles Moore, Surfrider CEO Jim Moriarty, Plastic Pollution Coalition co-founder Dianna Cohen, pro surfers Chris Malloy, Mary Osborne, and Jennifer Flanigan, as well as Portland Mayor Sam Adams and artist Chris Jordan. I'll also be chatting with plastic bloggers and ordinary folks who all have a stake in the sanctity of their beaches. As a full fledged marine plastic geek, I wanted to see what other folks with a big stake in the ocean had to say about plastic pollution and how we as a society might work together to solve this problem. So, in the coming weeks, I'll be posting on the interviews, pictures, videos, and stories I collect as I go. I hope you'll follow along.

Stiv Wilson is a freelance writer/photographer and the communications director for the Project. He lives in Portland, Oregon.


Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.