Alex Bellini: The Ocean Rower

Explorer and campaigner, Alex Bellini, is attempting to traverse the 10 most plastic-polluted rivers in the world, and row through the Great Pacific garbage patch. Discover what drives his singular feats of endurance.

"The most dangerous moments on the water are when you are facing another human being."

I was training to be an accountant, but I was unfulfilled so I quit. I felt a call from nature that led to me making an expedition across Alaska on foot. After that I decided to row solo across the Atlantic ocean.

My first two solo rowing attempts were failures. I set off from Genoa, Italy, with the plan to row 11,000km to Brazil. The first attempt lasted six hours before I had to turn around because of the wind. The second attempt went a little better, but after 23 days I got shipwrecked off Formentera (an island in the Balearics).

It was November and I was the only man on this tiny island. The first person who helped me said, 'You’re the first Italian in Formentera in winter, you need to come earlier in the season.' It was a bad shipwreck and I was lucky to survive and return home with no injuries.

Third Time's a Charm

I've found the most dangerous moments on the water are when you're facing another human being. Sounds ridiculous but it’s true. It’s often not the big wave that will kill you, it’s the moment you come across humans on big boats carrying heavy loads. I’ve had near misses in both the Pacific and the Atlantic.

It’s especially dangerous while sleeping at night because a big boat might not see my tiny boat in the middle of the ocean. When you do see the navigation light of a large ship coming over the horizon you have 10 to 15 minutes to evacuate the area. In sailing terms that's not long. You have to commit yourself to a direction and hope they aren’t about to turn towards you. It’s a very scary moment.

Despite terrifying encounters like that, I was still committed to the challenge. A year later I set off for the third time with a new boat and I rowed the Atlantic Ocean in 227 days.

"I saw a study that listed the 10 most polluted rivers in the world... In that moment I decided to give my exploration a specific goal, rather than just exploring for the sake of it."

10 Rivers 1 Ocean

In 2008 I rowed from Peru to Australia and I could see the ocean pollution first hand. I saw a study that listed the 10 most polluted rivers in the world, which are responsible for 80% of the garbage in the ocean. In that moment I decided to give my exploration a specific goal, rather than just exploring for the sake of it.

I vowed to row all 10 of the most polluted rivers, plus the Great Pacific garbage patch (an area of rubbish that has accumulated in the Pacific, estimated to be three times the size of France). The project is called 10 Rivers 1 Ocean and you can track my progress on the website. You can even track me in real-time using GPS when I take on the next stage.

So far, I have completed the Great Pacific garbage patch, the Ganges and Pearl River. That's three stages down and eight to go!

Like the project? Help Alex spread awareness about 10 Rivers 1 Ocean using the #WeAreAllInTheSameBoat hashtag.

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