Longest-distance stage swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Ben Lecomte
626 kilometre(s)
Not Applicable ()

Between 14 June and 31 August 2019, long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte (France) swam a distance of 338 nautical miles (626 km; 389 mi) through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), setting out from Hawaii and ending in California, USA. The cumulative distance was achieved over 44 separate legs; the longest single-day distance swam was 12.76 nautical miles (23.63 km; 14.68 mi) on 15 July. The GPGP, located in the North Pacific Gyre, is the largest agglomeration of marine debris in the world, containing as much 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic weighing around 80,000 tonnes (88,180 US tons). It covers an estimated surface area of around 1.6 million km2 (618,000 sq mi) – about three times the size of France or six times the size of the UK.

The project, entitled the “Vortex Swim”, sought to draw attention to ocean pollution and plastic waste – particularly the growing problem of microplastics, as well as to conduct scientific research based on samples taken from the GPGP. Lecomte and his team, aboard the support vessel I Am Ocean, set out from Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, on 14 June and arrived in San Francisco, California, USA, on 31 August. In addition to microplastics, some of the more unusual larger items found during the Vortex Swim were a toilet seat, a razor and a hardhat; but by far the biggest contributor to macroplastic pollution was fishing gear.

The GPGP has been estimated to contain as much as 6 kg (13 lb) of waste plastic for every 1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) of plankton.

Lecomte attempted to become the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean in 2018, setting out from Japan on 5 June as part of “The Longest Swim” expedition. However, he had to abandon the attempt about 1,500 nautical miles (2,700 km; 1,726 mi) in, long before his intended destination of San Francisco, California, USA, owing to irreparable damage to his support vessel.