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Plastic Junk to Sail the Pacific

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Several months ago, I returned from a life-changing month at sea with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. We were a crew of six, aboard a 50-foot research vessel, and our mission was to survey quantities of plastic junk in the North Pacific.

Thousands of miles from land, our ocean is slowly, steadily turning into a massive bowl of plastic soup. By our estimates, roughly 3.5 million tons of plastic debris foul the North Pacific alone. And we are only now beginning to understand the devastating impacts this plastic debris has on marine wildlife, as well as on seafood eaters.

Enormous quantities of plastic trash enter our oceans daily through watersheds, rivers, storm drains and more. We estimate approximately 10,000 pounds of plastic a day flow into the Pacific from Los Angeles alone. Once at sea, these plastics accumulate in massive, rotating oceanic currents called “gyres,” and are the source of countless environmental nightmares--from sea birds choking on toothbrushes and cigarette lighters, to microscopic particles attracting toxins like PCBs and DDT before being consumed by fish. (Which leads me to ask: is there plastic in my sushi?)
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After a month at sea, pulling sample after disgusting sample of plastic confetti from what should have been clean, plankton-rich water, we were left with a tremendous sense of urgency. In the 10 years that AMRF has been studying plastic debris in the Pacific, the quantities of trash have increased exponentially, and will continue to rise unless we take radical action now.

Starting June 1, Algalita's Director of Research and Education Dr. Marcus Eriksen (and, for full disclosure, my fiancée) will sail a raft built of junk across the Pacific to alert the nation to the growing problem of plastic trash in our oceans.

A veteran junk raft builder, Dr. Eriksen is also a Gulf War veteran, and has witnessed firsthand the true cost of our petroleum addiction.

In his words: “We are trading young lives for access to cheap oil, and we’re destroying our marine ecosystems with throwaway plastic products. This is both morally and ecologically wrong. The age of disposable plastics must end now.”

So was born the idea to build Junk–a raft made from 15,000 plastic bottles and a Cessna 310 fuselage—and sail it from Long Beach to Hawaii.

“We’re hoping that this somewhat unusual, ambitious journey will get people talking about solutions to the plastics problem,” Eriksen says. “We see this voyage as a risk worth taking, to push the idea of statewide action to end the disposable plastics plague.”

LA readers: Join the Bon Voyage party for Junk on Sunday afternoon, June 1, from 2-3 p.m. at the Long Beach Aquarium. Everyone else can follow the journey here.

Anna Cummins is Algalita's Education Adviser, and the founder of Bring Your Own. She currently lives in Los Angeles, preparing for a fall BYO tour from Vancouver to Mexico on amphibious bikes. Contact: annacummins@gmail.com

Photos courtesy of Anna Cummins. Top photo: Junk's test run to Catalina, with (left to right) Joel Paschal, Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins. Second photo: Captain Charles Moore bobs in plastic debris in the Pacific gyre, with the Orv Alguita behind.

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Comments

Tales of swarming plastics are now circulating with more urgency lately, at last. Glad to find your article on HuffPost Green - vital that this vast crisis gets wide coverage, and especially the Algalita research.

Anna, I remember and share your descriptions of plastics in the Pacific, from when we worked at Save Our Shores.

May we make rapid, major, effective changes to halt and remove plastics and toxins from our seas.

Throw away? - there is no away on this lovely blue jewel of a planet!

Blessings on your work and on your loving partnership.


Posted by: Kelsey Ramage on 4 Jun 08



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