Roughly a thousand miles southwest of San Francisco, Ben Lecomte, a 52-year-old French long-distance swimmer, is exploring one of the ocean’s most polluted places. It’s day 71 of his 80-day swim across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling repository for some 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing nearly 90,000 tons. He’s dubbed the project the Vortex Swim and his route is determined by University of Hawaii scientists using satellite imagery and ocean modeling to locate the highest concentrations of debris. When they locate a particularly trashy spot, Lecomte jumps in from his 67-foot sailboat.
In 1998, Lecomte completed what he claimed was the first swim across the Atlantic Ocean, supported by a boat, but without using a kick board. In 2018, he attempted to swim from Japan to California to complete the world’s longest swim, but after traveling 1,500 nautical miles in 165 days, he had to cancel the last leg due to damage to his support boat. He encountered so much plastic during that attempt that he was inspired to plan a swim through the epicenter of marine plastic waste.
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