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French marathon swimmer Ben Lecomte at the start of his attempt to swim through the Pacific Ocean’s garbage patch Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Man begins six-month swim through ‘Great Pacific garbage patch’

Ben Lecomte hopes to make it from Japan to San Francisco in 180 days while raising awareness of plastic pollution

WT24 Desk

A French anti-plastic campaigner has begun a six-month journey to swim through the giant floating rubbish mass known as the Great Pacific garbage patch.

Ben Lecomte, who has previously swum across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998, left the shores of Choshi in Japan on Tuesday morning, heading east.

The 50-year-old plans to swim from Japan to San Francisco in 180 days, covering 8,000km. His journey will take him through 1,600km of the garbage patch, in an attempt to raise awareness about plastic pollution.

The Great Pacific garbage patch, according to the latest March estimate, is twice the size of France and contains nearly 80,000 tonnes of plastic.

Also known as the Pacific trash vortex, the patch is caused by the North Pacific gyre – a circle of currents that keep plastic, waste and other pollution trapped.

According to scientists, the patch has been growing “exponentially” in recent years. The March estimate found it was 16 times larger than previously expected.

Lecomte and his support team intend to sample the water they swim through every day of the journey, and gauge the level of plastic and microplastic pollution.

The expedition’s first mate, Tyral Dalitz, told the ABC the team wanted to dispel a myth about the garbage patch.

Rather than being made up of large pieces of plastic, most of the pollution is made up of invisible pieces of microplastic that sit in the water like a “plastic smog”, he said.

“In reality the truth is much worse – the ocean is now filled with microplastics … Rather than calling it an island of trash, it is more like plastic smog throughout the ocean.”

The team will also be catching fish along the journey to track how plastic pollution accumulates within the food chain.

To complete the journey Lecomte plans to swim for eight hours, or 50km, each day. He will use ocean currents to push him along and will wear a shark repellant bracelet.

He told the ABC that the psychological factor was the hardest part. “It’s mind over matter … Sometimes that’s very difficult to do, when you are dry and sleepy and in pain, to jump in the water and to stay in that water for eight hours when it’s cold.”

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