De Rothschild will be navigating through a man-made disaster called the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating landfill located between California and Hawaii that’s twice the size of Texas. Along the way, he’ll highlight other environmental problems, schlepping a crew of filmmakers and scientists to places like Bikini Atoll to examine nuclear fallout, and the sinking island of Tuvalu to investigate global warming. "The Eastern Garbage Patch is important," he says, "but what I’m really trying to accomplish is a mega-transect of the Pacific Ocean."
In 2005 de Rothschild founded Adventure Ecology, an organization that mounts far-flung expeditions to environmentally sensitive areas to raise awareness, particularly among schoolchildren. The effort has taken him to both geographic poles—he’s the youngest Brit to do so—and across the Greenland Ice Sheet in record time.
The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch is a decidedly different kind of target. Outside of a small circle, few folks know anything about it or its evil twin, the Western Pacific Garbage Patch. Both swirling systems are created by slow-moving currents called the North Pacific subtropical gyre that suck up garbage from around the world. Of the 200 billion pounds of plastic produced each year, researchers estimate that 10 percent ends up in the ocean, and a 2006 United Nations report calculated that each square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of plastic. Worse still, more than a million marine mammals and birds die each year from gulping down these bobbing bits.
De Rothschild’s mission couldn’t be nobler. The big question is, Will his lofty vision keep him from accomplishing his goal?