The Gomi Sea

By Michael C. Keith

‘Twas twilight, and the sunless day went down

Over the waste of waters.

—Lord Byron



he sunrise looked different to thirteen year-old Hideaki Morioka. A brown tint made it appear dull . . . dirty. It reminded him of the sea’s hue in recent weeks. The discoloration had alarmed fishermen who drew their income from the sea off the eastern coast of Kyushu, a small island forming the southern portion of Japan. At first it was feared there might have been an oil spill, but soon local authorities pointed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as the likely source of the pollution.

Hideaki’s father, Shinobu, had fished the waters off Kyusha his entire life, as had his father and his father’s father. But the size of his catch had declined sharply in recent times for two reasons. One was his vessel’s antiquated equipment, which he could not afford to replace due to heavy medical expenses resulting from his wife’s major back surgery. But there was also a disturbing decrease in the overall supply of fish in the area waters. Shinobu’s fellow fisherman had more sophisticated devices on board to keep up the volume of their hauls during what had become lean times for all.

After fighting to keep his ailing wife and children fed, it occurred to Shinobu that there might be another kind of ocean catch that could provide him with a viable income. It was then that he began collecting plastic bottles and containers from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and selling them to recycling centers back on shore.

To Shinobu’s great relief, he was quickly earning more than he had fishing in recent months. His effort was greatly aided by Hideaki, who was as equally adept at netting soda containers as he was sea creatures.

“Twenty-six bottles, Oto-san,” declared Hideaki ecstatically.

“We will do well this day, my son,” replied Shinoba, recasting his net.

“We should move closer to Gee Pee Gee Pee,” suggested Hideaki, using the term that had become shorthand for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“It would not be good to get too close to it. We could get sucked in. Other boats have. There has been a great loss.”

Just then Shinobu noticed his craft was rapidly moving toward the floating garbage mound. When he attempted to reverse its course, the motor died.

“We must drop anchor to keep from being pulled in!”

Mr. Morioka hastily unraveled the line and tossed the steel hook overboard. To his chagrin it caught onto a large piece of drifting Styrofoam that prevented it from sinking.

“Oto-san, we are close to the garbage island!” warned Hideaki.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch rose from the sea like a jagged mountain range. The Moriokas had never been so close to the massive island consisting of global refuse, and while Hideaki was fascinated, his father was increasingly anxious.

“There is a terrible force to that vortex. It turns very quickly and draws everything to it like a giant magnet. Large ships and their crews have become mired in its trash and never heard from again.”

The closer they came to the massive conglomeration the more horrible its odor. Shinoba could not keep from heaving up his breakfast. By the time their small boat touched the edge of the swirling dump, he was in such agony that he was forced to lie down. In contrast, Hideaki had become completely mesmerized by the extraordinary sight before him. As far as he could see, everything was encased in shimmering polymers of a multitude of colors. It was not until he discovered what was inside the plastic that his fascination turned to horror.

Hideaki’s eyes were fixed on people trapped in translucent coffins, their expressions frozen in terror. Countless men, women, and children, as well as objects of every conceivable type and variety––deck chairs, luggage, lifeboats, bedding, clothing––had been claimed by the flotilla of toxic waste. It was so vast that Hideaki could not calculate its size.

A sudden scream redirected his gaze to his father. “Tasukete! Tasukete,” desperately bellowed the elder Morioka.

“What, Oto-san?” replied Hideaki.

When he bent over his father he saw what was causing him such anguish––his lower legs had become encased in plastic.

“Oto-san!” shrieked Hideaki. “What is happening?”

His father groaned deeply and then his tortured expression went blank and he became motionless.

“Let us escape Gee Pee Gee Pee!” shouted Hideaki, grabbing at his father’s limp arms.

As he attempted to lift his father, he saw that the insidious polymer already covered the floor of the boat and the entire bottom half of Shinobu’s body.

“It is moving up you, Oto-san!”

In the time he had dragged his father to the side of the boat, the rapidly creeping plastic had reached the upper part of his chest.

“We must leave the boat and try to swim away!”

Hideaki pushed his father’s stiffening torso over the side and into the shallow water. He then leapt from the boat grabbing at his father, who was now completely secreted in plastic. It took all of Hideaki’s strength to move himself and his unconscious parent toward the open sea. In the process, he discovered that his father’s engulfed body floated. He desperately clung to his legs and paddled away from the menacing garbage drift.

When it became night, Hideaki could see the lights of Kyusha Harbor.

“We will make it Oto-san,” gasped Hideaki.

His strength was nearly depleted and his leg muscles had tightened so much they could barely be move.

By the time they washed ashore, Hideaki had become immobile. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’s plastic covered his entire body as well.

When the sun rose in the tainted sky, a young couple strolling along the beach came upon the Moriokas.

Suteka na!” exclaimed the couple, intrigued with what they perceived to be a marvelous polyurethane sculpture of a man and boy.



Michael C. Keith is the author of an acclaimed memoir, three story collections, and two-dozen non-fiction books.

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