Tsunami Debris Disaster Tourism

Two environmental research and advocacy centers, 5 Gyres Institute and the Algalita Marine Research Institute, are offering nine places on a 72-foot research yacht for $13,500 to $15,500 per person to view– and research– the ocean debris fields of Japan’s tsunami.

The expedition’s first leg will sail from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands through the area of the North Pacific Gyre commonly referred to as the “Western Garbage Patch” where little research has been conducted on plastic pollution.  The trip’s second leg will travel due east from Japan to Hawaii through the gyre, a vast vortex of ocean currents where plastic debris accumulates, to cross the “Japan Tsunami Debris Field.” Of great interest to the researchers is how fast the plastic trash is traveling across the gyre, how quickly or slowly it is decomposing, how rapidly marine life is colonizing on it, and whether it is transporting invasive species.

Algalita and 5 Gyres have been selling crew positions on their voyages for a few years. There is a theory that experiencing environmental ills (or joys) has the ability to deeply affect environmental values. Though there is ample and well-deserved debate over whether disaster tourism creates or reinforces environmental values enough to turn people towards life-long behavior change or leadership, in this case, “tourists” become crew members and part of a scientific team. Not only will participants develop concrete skills in sailing and trawling for debris, but they will become an inextricable part of a system of producing knowledge about international plastic pollution. In other words, participants graduate from “Tourist” to “Expert.” This is one of the more promising sides of what we might call rigorous disaster tourism.

The trip runs from May 1 through July 1, 2012. The voyage is open to anyone 18 years or older, and participants are expected to help crew the ship and work along scientists.

The full call for participation is here.

4 thoughts on “Tsunami Debris Disaster Tourism

  1. Thanks for this post. One of the issues with doing this work is the expense. At 5 Gyres we saw that there was a serious gap in data for understanding oceanic plastic pollution. Typically a research vessel costs about 30k a day. We’ve managed, by sailing, to get this cost down to about 4k a day. We’ve been criticized for ‘selling disaster’ tourism in the past, but that’s not what this about. It’s about bringing other stakeholders to sea, to see first hand what this marine Eco nightmare looks like togive artists, teachers, students, etc. An authentic vantage and a rigorous, intensive education so that when he or she returns to land he or she can engage with their community– this cost represents the actual cost of running the ship- we dont profit. And this not just for the wealthy- personally- I was once crew who fundraised in my community to get onboard

  2. Oops- cut myself off- and after seeing what I saw out there I came home, quit my job and started working for 5G. With a firsthand knowledge of this issue, I was able to lead a ban the bag campaign in Portland, Oregon. Today, that ban went into effect and overnight, we have eliminated 240 million plastic bags from the waste stream. Countless other crew have similar stories. To solve this problem, we need the scientific community to effectively engage with the public at large. We are built to facilitate that end. Thanks.

  3. Hi, Stiv. Thanks for posting. I tried to catch people with the same-sing disaster tourist title and then have that idea nuance and change by the time they finished the post. I know a grad student (CR) who fund raised to get onto a voyage and its furthered her research. Its a remarkable opportunity I’ve thought of myself more than once. If anyone is fund raising this time via kickstarter or another public forum, please invite them to post here.
    Btw, one of my favorite posts in the world is your work on the fallacy of gyre clean up. I’m citing it in my dissertation.

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