Long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte swam 555 kilometres through the worst area of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

By Holly Johnson


Posted on September 30, 2019

When long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte first dove into the patch of ocean halfway between Honolulu and San Francisco, he found himself surrounded by what he thought was a giant school of plankton.

But he quickly realised the tiny silver specks were something far more sinister: microplastics.

Covering an area of around 1.6 million square kilometres – double the size of Texas – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.

Over three months, Lecomte swam 555 kilometres through the remarkable trash vortex to gather valuable scientific data and raise awareness of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

His remarkable journey began in Honolulu and ended in San Francisco in early September.

Wearing a special snorkel and mask to prevent microplastics from entering his body, the 52-year-old spent up to 8 hours in the water each day.

He likened the experience to swimming through a smog-like soup of microplastics.

“All the plastic I saw in the Pacific didn’t really surprise me,” Lecomte told nine.com.au.

“I was expecting it to be pretty bad out there. But after seeing it, day after day, I became numb to it. And my numbness surprised me.”

Read next: Silken tea bags found to contain billions of microplastics

He came across everything from toothbrushes and plastic bags to bottle caps, abandoned fishing nets and even a toilet seat.

At one point, Lecomte’s small team of scientists collected 3,000 pieces of microplastic within the space of 30 minutes.

With 8 million tons of plastic dumped into our oceans every year, marine animals are swallowing more plastic than ever — and it’s killing them.

At current rates, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.

Icebreaker yacht. Photo: The Vortex SwimThis was just one of the trash trunks Lecomte and his team came across during their journey. Photo: The Vortex Swim.

In 1998, at the age of 31, Lecomte become the first person to swim across the Atlantic Ocean without a kickboard after a 73-day drift swim from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Quiberon, France.

It was during this swim that his eyes were opened to the severity of plastic pollution in our oceans.

Twenty years on and he continues to focus his efforts on being a voice for our oceans and uncovering the myth of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“I want people to understand that the solution is in everybody’s hands,” says Lecomte.

“It’s true when people say, we don’t need one person to do it perfectly, we need millions to do it imperfectly.”

Ben Lecomte. Photo: The Vortex Swim Lecomte found a crab that had made its home inside a piece of plastic. Photo: The Vortex Swim.