By MATT McDONALD
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
If not for the coronavirus pandemic, Jackson McMuldren, a recent Bend High School graduate, probably wouldn’t have made it aboard the sailing vessel Kwai for a record-breaking environmental mission with Ocean Voyages Institute.
“The original person who was going to come is from Canada and they got locked down,” said McMuldren. “They actually needed to find someone in Hawaii.”
McMuldren moved to Maui last year to go to college.
After learning to surf in at the Bend whitewater park, he combined two passions and started a company filming and photographing surfers. During the first week of May, with the original photographer sidelined due to pandemic, McMuldren boarded the Kwai and set sail.
“The first couple of days I was really seasick and just over the side of the boat the whole time,” McMuldren said.
Five days into the trip, what he saw overboard might make anyone sick.
“When you look off the boat it would just be clouds of pieces smaller than your fingernail,” McMuldren said.
The crew had reached a giant floating trash heap in the middle of the Pacific. For over a month, they worked to pull out abandoned fishing nets, plastic and other bits of trash floating in the blue waters.
“You know that those nets are just constantly catching and killing fish and then they decompose and don’t leave any trace besides the skeleton,” McMuldren said.
After 48 days at sea, just over 100 tons of trash were offloaded on Oahu.
“Nothing will end up in landfill. Nothing will ever go back in the Ocean,” said Mary Crowley, Executive Director of Ocean Voyages Institute.
The nets, plastic and other debris will be sorted and recycled in various ways.
For McMuldren, the entire adventure is a reminder of lessons he learned on the High Desert.
“Being stewards of the environment and seeing all the good that it has to offer, like people in Bend really take advantage of outdoor recreation opportunities,” he said.
He plans to return to Central Oregon for the summer to continue to build his film company, but hopes to join Ocean Voyages on future missions to pull trash from the ocean.
“One ship is not going to get the job done,” he said. “We pulled out 100 tons, it was estimated there is 80,000 tons in the ocean. So we got .00125% of the garbage patch.”