COURTESY PETER BENNETT
Junk, a makeshift sailboat made of 15,000 plastic bottles, a Cessna 310 airplane and other odds and ends put together by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, set sail from Long Beach, Calif., on June 1 on a trip to Hawaii.
Junk floats to isles carrying message
A sailboat built from trash is meant to call attention to the issue of plastic pollution
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A raft of plastic refuse might not seem the ideal vehicle for a trans-Pacific crossing, but two environmentalists hope their plucky venture will call attention to ocean litter.
"There are many thousands of tons of plastic trash polluting Hawaii's heritage," says Marcus Eriksen, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, based in Long Beach, Calif.
Eriksen is one of two crewmen aboard the makeshift sailboat, Junk, made from part of a Cessna plane fuselage and 15,000 plastic bottles. It left Long Beach for Hawaii June 1.
NALEA J. KO
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More than a month ago, Marcus Eriksen and Joel Paschal set sail for Hawaii on a raft made of rubbish to spotlight plastic refuse in the sea.
Aptly named Junk, their makeshift sailboat -- constructed from a Cessna 310 airplane and 15,000 plastic bottles -- left Long Beach, Calif., on June 1.
The crew hopes to call attention to a problem particularly concerning Hawaii: plastic pollution. Some ends up on beaches; some snags or chokes fish and turtles; some floats aimlessly in an area north of the islands called the North Pacific gyre.
"There are many thousands of tons of plastic trash polluting Hawaii's heritage," Eriksen, director of research and education for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, wrote in an e-mail sent from sea. "Smart legislation is what is working around the world to curb the use of disposable plastic trash. It can work in Hawaii also."
The Junk is a motorless raft with six pontoons each made out of 2,000 plastic bottles, encased in discarded fishing net. Although Junk looks like a floating landfill, it has all the required seafaring gadgets: three GPS units, two satellite phones, a Coast Guard beacon and two VHF radios.
Necessary provisions are aboard for an unescorted expedition during hurricane season, which began June 1.
Encountering storms at the trip's onset, Eriksen, 40, and Paschal, 32, are unperturbed by the potential dangers.
"Yes, we are risking our lives, but the issue of petroleum-based plastic and our national dependence on petroleum warrant urgent action," Eriksen wrote in a blog documenting the trip.
Early on in their adventure, the seafarers repaired Junk's pontoons after the waves' force unscrewed the tops of Nalgene plastic bottles. There have been no major upsets since.
Organized by Algalita, this trip is the second part of a campaign called "Message in a Bottle."
On a voyage last fall, six researchers noted exponential increases of plastic, especially in the North Pacific gyre.
"I've been an environmentalist my whole life," said Anna Cummins, Algalita education adviser and Eriksen's fiancee. "I was stunned to hear that there are areas of the ocean where plastic outweighs plankton."
A Gulf War veteran, Eriksen made a similar, five-month solo voyage in 2003 down the Mississippi River in a plastic bottle raft. He documented the prevalence of plastic pollution in his book, "My River Home."
"The current scientific question being asked as I write is, 'Are there pollutants from plastic marine debris in my sushi?'" Eriksen wrote.
Eriksen said recycling is not the solution.
"The Age of Disposable Plastics has to end." Eriksen wrote. "Recycling programs show marginal success when compared to the amount of plastic produced." He and colleagues want to see legislation to curb plastic consumption.
"Hawaii should be at the forefront of a movement to reduce and eliminate single-use plastic items and derelict fishing gear," said Paschal, who formerly worked for NOAA. "I live in the Ala Wai Harbor and see all the ABC and Foodland bags floating down the Ala Wai Canal. ... Why can't we keep one small canal clean, especially in the heart of our tourist district?"
It took $30,000 to fund the voyage; $15,000 is needed to transport the crew and raft back to California.
The vessel is slated to arrive at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor in August.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Peter Bennett shot the courtesy photo of a raft made of junk sailing to Hawaii from California. Originally, this article incorrectly credited the Star-Bulletin.