Last spring, Santa Monica residents Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen took a bike ride along the West Coast to spread the message they have learned from their work with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation: the accumulation of plastic waste in our oceans is endangering both marine and human life. Now Cummins and Eriksen are about to embark on a journey to the North Atlantic, to study the mass of plastic waste known as the North Atlantic Gyre.
The expedition, known as the 5 Gyres Project, is a collaboration between three groups: the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF), Livable Legacy, and Pangaea Explorations. The research to be conducted will be following up on AMRF’s discoveries of plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre where wind and current patterns circulate billions of plastic particles.
These “gyres” are areas where plastic has gathered to the point of becoming a huge mass in the ocean. Fish unfortunately not only become entangled in the plastic, but also ingest particles of plastic-which because it does not break down chemically, can be a hazard to the health of anyone who ingests it, both marine animals and humans.
Cummins and Eriksen will be managing the expedition, as well as another planned voyage in August of 2010 to the South Atlantic Gyre. They will be collecting surface samples and examining the fish they find for evidence of plastic ingestion. They will maintain a blog (at 5gyres.org) with updated information, including photos and videos of the research.
“Our research goals are to understand the endgame for plastic pollution at sea by sampling the ocean surface, seafloor, and the contents of fish stomachs,” says Eriksen.
“We’ve now seen how bad things are in the North Pacific gyre, as plastic trash continues to wash off our coasts and out to sea,” notes Cummins. “We know very little however about plastic pollution in the four other large oceanic gyres. This is a chance to go global with the research and with our public communication campaigns.”
The first leg of the North Atlantic expedition will be leaving on January 7 from the U.S. Virgin Islands and will cross the Sargasso Sea between the West Indies and the Azores. It will make a stop in Bermuda to enable Eriksen and Cummins to give a series of public lectures and to pick up new crew members. The second leg to the South Atlantic will journey from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Cape Town, South Africa.
And following the two trips, the indefatigable couple (they’re also married—they celebrated their honeymoon on the bike ride last year) will embark on a yearlong bicycling lecture tour of the East Coast called “The Last Straw.” This tour is meant to draw attention to the hazard of using plastic drinking straws and will also involve the building of a boat called ”STRA” from a quarter-million plastic straws, which will sail the Seine in France and cross the English Channel. For more information go to 5gyres.org.
Lynne Bronstein * firstname.lastname@example.org