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Project Kaisei: voyage to clean up the plastic vortex

  • Voyage to the North Pacific Gyre found plastic in the ocean over 3,500 miles
  • Plastic vortex has large pieces of plastic and microscopic fragments
  • Aim of voyage was to learn how to collect the waste and turn into fuel
  • Project Kaisei will embark on another mission next year

(CNN) -- A salty soup of seawater, microscopic pieces of plastic and marine debris. Those are the ingredients in the North Pacific Gyre, an ocean vortex estimated by Greenpeace to be the size of Texas, contaminated with the floating detritus of our modern lives.

The sheer size of the ocean area affected has been enough to catch public attention, but a number of concerned groups are aiming to capture more than that. Project Kaisei plans to find a way to scoop up the plastic waste and devise a way to turn it into a future fuel source.

It's a huge task, but led by innovator and environmentalist Doug Woodring, Project Kaisei has already embarked on a mission to the gyre. An August voyage onboard the New Horizon and Kaisei sailing ships was in partnership with Scripps Research Institute.

The crews returned with samples of the water from various locations in the gyre and the most immediate discovery was the pervasiveness of plastic material found at regular points over 3,500 miles. The most heavily polluted areas of surface water in the gyre contained six times more plastic than plankton biomass.

Video: Visiting the 'Garbage Vortex'

Derelict, or "ghost" nets, plastic crates and even toys were found by the crew. Some items like plastic bottles had become impromptu homes to varieties of marine mollusc.

As well as posing hazards to the oceans through toxic contamination and to sealife through ingestion or being trapped in nets, unnatural transport systems could allow invasive species to be introduced to different areas and upset delicate ecosystems.

The project now counts scientists, innovators, sailors and environmentalists among its ranks, galvanized around a desire to clean up the Pacific's plastic vortex. A further voyage next year hopes to gather more data and move closer to a practical solution to the ever increasing problem.