Mission Plastiki—Catching Wind, Storing Rain:

David de Rothschild’s Quest for Pacific Plastic

Click on the link above to read the whole interview from circle of Blue Waternews

You mentioned the Plastiki as its own ecosystem in the middle of the ocean. Fresh water is a tiny percentage on this plant, tell me what you have learned about using fresh water in a closed ecosystem in similarities between living on Plastiki and living on Earth.

David de Rothschild: Water has been one of the most topical points of conversation on the boat from the very moment we began this project. One of the things we obviously wanted to do was work within our limit—mainly our energy limit. When we first started looking at different systems one of the first systems that was proposed to us was a very smart system that was based on the Namibian desert beetle. The system looks at evaporation and the differential in temperature to create condensation that then can be collected. We went through a number of trials and we discussed this with a number of experts. Michael Pawlyn, who is the concept architect and is a big advocate of this, is doing a big project on this called the Sahara Forest project, which is looking at this Namibian desert beetle for influence for the irrigation systems that they’re setting up. We went through to a number of different call-outs to various smart brain trusts on these issues, and to be honest with you, we came up with a blank in finding a very compact and suitable way of generating freshwater without huge amount of energy. If you start getting into things like reverse osmosis you really are talking about vast amounts of energy that are required, at least today.

David de Rothschild

One of the things we went for was just good, old-fashioned rainwater collection. We designed the cabin to be a one great water catcher, so the cabin roof is hooked up with four outlets. Every time there’s a downpour we fill up our tanks. And it becomes a real moment of the day. You will see every crew member take their clothes off and run outside and have a freshwater shower and make the most of those precious drops. Sometimes the school lasts a minute, and you can’t wash the soap off. And sometimes we’re getting showers lasting almost day to a day-and-a-half of solid rain that fills our tanks up—it is quite an extraordinary story on the first leg. We realized our limitation with the water. We had to make a few decisions; one of them was the garden. Halfway across from Christmas Island we had to decide whether the water was going to be for us, or the water was going to be for the garden. Obviously we chose us, which meant the garden suffered. This is one of our big challenges, and the big challenges that we see all over the world. We see communities that have no access to water and it’s very hard for them to make the choices between do I feed myself and or hydrate myself, knowing that without water I will be gone in 15 days. You cannot survive without freshwater. It was quite an extraordinary story, but oddly enough on the first leg it only rained one day and along with the rain I should make clear that we also had big bladder bags where we stored our water and had an allowance each day of three liters a day per person. It really became a mind strain because we really did start to go through our water and you know the wind wasn’t in our favor and the first leg was dragging on longer than what we anticipated and when we arrived at Christmas Island we were literally at the bottom of our supplies. I think that had a big psychological effect on me and made me very aware about how incredibly lucky we are in the developed world or in any part of the world where we can just turn a tap on and not even contemplate the journey that water has taken and the process its taken to flow out of our taps so easily. The water issue on board has always been one we contended with whether it was carrying enough water, or whether during re-supplies. It’s really become a big topic of conversation and really does highlight how precious a resource it is. Without water we are really in dire straits.

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