Solving a problem starts with knowing that you have one. Project Kaisei vividly shows how discarded plastics are clogging the ocean, causing a major problem for the planet’s vital “blue heart”, entangling marine life and insidiously killing as it accumulates in the food chain, from tiny plankton to great whales. Best of all, the mission highlights hope with ideas for positive action.

-Sylvia Earle, National Geographic


Project Kaisei was the initial ocean cleanup initiative of Ocean Voyages Institute. It was established in 2009 to focus on major ocean cleanup and to raise awareness regarding the global problem of marine debris/ocean trash. Project Kaisei heralded the need for our ocean ecosystem to recover and takes action both on land and in the sea.

Ocean Voyages Institute’s Project Kaisei :

  • Sailed S/V Kaisei, Project Kaisei’s flagship, on three scientific voyages to the North Pacific Gyre, 2009, 2011 & 2012
  • Participated in maritime education festivals in San Diego, California and Richmond City, British Columbia
  • Convened a Marine Debris Collection Equipment Think Tank
  • Made educational presentations all over the world
  • Received national and international recognition
  • Created a documentary for educational distribution

The vital connection between the health of our global ocean, the health of our planet and our own health is intertwined. It is imperative to stop the flow of marine litter and toxins into our oceans. It is of equal importance to begin significant clean-up efforts along all coastlines and in the Gyres. We must take responsibility, as part of the problem and part of the solution, in order to restore the ocean’s ecosystem and preserve our ocean for future generations.


The North Pacific Gyre

The North Pacific Gyre, located between Asia and the US, is formed by four major ocean currents creating a vortex of scattered fields and rivers of trash. This area of water coupled with the garbage it accumulates swirls slowly creating a hazard for mariners, sea life and all life on the planet. The disbursement of this plastic trash is spread out over thousands of square miles of ocean and is commonly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Of the 11 major gyres in the world, the North Pacific Gyre presents the greatest mass of pollution. Large accumulations of sub-surface and floating garbage (most of it plastic) converge in certain current conditions while other areas of the Gyre resemble fields of garbage. This vast, dense and diverse expanse of marine debris/ocean trash has become the world’s largest toxic dump. The Atlantic and Indian oceans are not far behind.

Scientific Expeditions

All three expeditions of the S/V Kaisei, our 151-foot Brigantine, to the North Pacific Gyre, have been scientific sampling and data collecting voyages.  Taking place in 2009, 2010 and 2012, the results continue to bring vital research from analysis for the development and testing of collection equipment prototypes. This process continues to define and ultimately addresses the problem of plastic waste in our global ocean.  These expeditions galvanize tremendous international recognition of this global problem.

Research from the expeditions has resulted in a clarification of the types of marine debris in the global ocean and possible solutions:

  • Ghost nets:  Ranging anywhere from 300 lbs to five tons. Removal – using tugs, barges, cranes and excavators (ocean industry equipment).
  • Floating Consumer Plastics:  Laundry detergent and bleach bottles, drink crates, pails, car fenders and the like.  Removal – use of fishing vessels by adapting nets to collect within the first 10 feet of depth.  Project Kaisei advocates the policy of paying fishermen to do ocean clean-up as they are ideal ocean stewards.
  • Smaller Plastic Articles and Crushed Plastics:  Toothbrushes, children’s toys, plastic debris that has gone through crushers, etc.  Removal – oil abatement equipment such as oil skimmers can be adapted to clean-up small debris.  Oil skimmers exist and are unused except for disasters.
  • Micro Plastics:  Including pre-production plastic pellets (the form in which plastic is shipped), degraded plastics.  Removal – we are creating passive collection devices using principles of biomimicry (based on nature).

The Marine Debris Collection Equipment Think Tank convened by Project Kaisei has an excellent team of naval architects and marine scientists who assist with the design and evaluation of innovative approaches for marine debris collection devices and systems. Adapting traditional fishing methods, such as purse seining and trawling, as well as oil spill clean-up technology (skimmers) for collecting plastic at surface level are included from this group’s evaluation process. OCEAN VOYAGES INSTITUTE continues to focus on solutions, major clean-up, global education and prevention.


Since 2009 Ocean Voyages Institute (OVI) has been sounding the alarm about the mounting threat of ocean plastics—and finding solutions. In our eight cleanup voyages to the Pacific Gyre, mid-way between California and Hawaii, OVI had retrieved more than 700,000 pounds of plastic debris—ranging from household plastic trash to abandoned fishing nets. In 2020, OVI completed the largest open-ocean cleanup in history—recovering and upcycling, recycling and repurposing some 340,000 pounds (170  tons) of plastics. We’re now preparing to take these proven methods to scale. 

Over the last four years, OVI has developed and successfully employed satellite-tracking technologies to locate and recover some of the largest and most destructive of all plastic pollution—enormous “ghost nets,” derelict fishing gear, that drifts below the ocean’s surface, entangling ships and entrapping wildlife. In addition to our removal of ghost nets, we have removed tons of consumer debris – both that has been caught by the ghost nets and scooped up by our ships.

With a lead grant from Matson Navigation Company, OVI has launched a campaign to build and operate two custom-designed sailing vessels, enabling OVI to extend our clean-up operations beyond the summer months and focus on collecting plastics in areas of the Pacific most at risk, including Marine Protected Areas.

“OVI’s proven method for removing plastics from the ocean efficiently and sustainably is a scalable, viable global solution,” says Matson CEO and Chairman Matt Cox. “Matson is proud to support this project, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with OVI to advance its important work in the years to come.”