In the U.S. The Kon Tiki (Image credit: Dagny at Wikimedia Commons, released into public domain.)

Published on July 1st, 2008 | by Shirley Siluk Gregory

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Journey to the Center of Floating Junk Earth

Dagny at Wikimedia Commons, released into public domain.)It’s one thing to be appalled by the monstrous accumulation of millions of square miles of plastic waste spinning slowly in the North Pacific gyre. It’s another thing entirely to build an ocean-going vessel out of plastic waste and set out across the sea to call attention to the environmental catastrophe.

That’s exactly what two men, one from California and one from Hawaii, are now doing. The two — Marcus Eriksen, a Ph.D., Gulf War vet and director of research and education for the Long Beach-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and Joel Paschal, a former businessman in Hawaii and a one-time employee of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — are sailing across the Pacific in a homemade vessel, Kon Tiki-style, to “raise awareness about plastic fouling our oceans.”

And foul it is: the “garbage soup” swirling in the North Pacific gyre stretches across some five million square miles, an area twice as large as the continental U.S. Worse still, the floating dump is steadily growing and threatening every level of the food chain … yes, all the way up to humans.

The big chunks of plastic — bottles, six-pack rings, caps and more — entangle wildlife or choke creatures that swallow them. But the smaller bits — broken-down fragments and microscopic nurdles from plastics manufacturing — are ingested without immediate harm. It’s then that the longer-lasting damage begins: the tiny swallowed bits attract DDT, PCBs and other poisons, and gradually accumulate in the tissues of jellyfish, fish and other creatures. Sooner or later, people end up eating that poisoned plastic too.

It might be “out of sight” for most of us, but Eriksen and Paschal are determined to make it “out of mind” no longer. That’s why they’re sailing from Long Beach to Hawaii in an ocean-going junk made of actual junk: a discarded Cessna cockpit rigged with plastic waste to 15,000 plastic bottles. The vessel’s name? “Junk,” of course.

Throughout their journey, Eriksen and Paschal will be taking ocean surface samples, reporting on their findings and blogging about their experiences. Through the Algalita foundation, they’re also seeking sponsors for their message-in-a-bottle campaign. After they finish their voyage, they plan to take those messages on a tour of the West Coast before delivering them to state and local lawmakers.





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About the Author

Shirley Siluk Gregory, a transplanted Chicagoan now living in Northwest Florida, represents the progressive half of Green Options' Red, Green and Blue segment. She holds a bachelor's degree in Geological Sciences from Northwestern University but graduated in 1984, just when the market for geologists was flatter than the Florida landscape. Just as well, though: she had little interest in spending her life either in a laboratory or, heaven forbid, an oil field. So, of course, she went into journalism. After extremely low-paying but fun and educational stints at several suburban Chicago weeklies and dailies, Shirley and her then-boyfriend/now-husband Scott found themselves displaced by a media buyout and spending the next several years working as freelancers. Among their credits: The Chicago Tribune, a publication for the manufactured-housing industry, and Web Hosting Magazine, a now-defunct publication that came and went with the dotcom era. Shirley's always been concerned about nature and conservation (and an avid pack-rat, as her family can attest to), but became even more rabidly interested in the environment primarily due to two factors: the growing signs that global warming was real and threatening, and the birth of her son, Noah, in 2003. Suddenly, the prospect of a world that might not be quite as habitable in 40 or 50 years took on a whole new, and personal, meaning. Living where she lives now also helped light the fire of Shirley's environmental awareness: her hometown was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and beaten up again by Hurricane Dennis in 2005. That, and the fact that she and her family were vacationing in New Orleans until the day before Katrina -- and spent 12 hours driving home for a trip that normally takes 3 -- has made Shirley deeply appreciate how fragile our lifestyles are, and how dependent they are on sound management of natural resources and sustainable living practices. That's why she's become a passionate reader and writer about all things green and sustainable.



24 Responses to Journey to the Center of Floating Junk Earth

  1. A very important effort!

    As if sea life doesn’t have ENOUGH to worry about from over fishing, industrial whaling and carbonic acid!

  2. aaron says:

    interseting, on the link from where it says “garbage soup” (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-worlds-rubbish-dump-a-garbage-tip-that-stretches-from-hawaii-to-japan-778016.html) it speaks much more about the garbage soup. upon first reading this i thought about looking on google earth at it but as i read my thought was answered. “it is not detectable in satellite photographs. “You only see it from the bows of ships,” “—Mr Moore. can someone who has pictures of the actual garbage post them please, i would greatly like to see it and think this article would have a greater impact if the pictures were visible. thankyou

  3. Mr. Gaiaist says:

    Oh for Gaia’s sake! This is a GOOD thing — the Earth and its life force will shortly learn how to digest the plastic in the gyre, and soon our society will be eaten from the inside out, starting with all of the detritus that we’ve stupidly thrown into the mix. Stop whining and prepare for the glorious apocalypse of “civilization” as we’ve known it.

  4. 4thwave says:

    It would be absolutely great, to see lots of pictures and video, of the “garbage soup”. Many people believe this is a myth, and some actual footage would be great. Does anybody have pictures of the “garbage soup”.

  5. Siberia says:

    Interesting article, I agree the world needs to have its awareness raised of this. I hope they are making some kind of documentary on their journey?

  6. Johnnyredeyes says:

    Where can i find a picture of this garbage soup?

  7. Trif says:

    I keep hearing about this massive floating plastic mess, but I’ve never seen any good pictures of it. I don’t doubt that it exists, but it’d be nice if one could see it on google earth maybe, or a plane fly over…

  8. Charles says:

    I want to thank you for putting this topic to the attention of millions. I hope it stimulates the masses to think about their visit to the beaches this summer and the junk they leave at the beach!

    Keep up the good work!

  9. Jimmy Dwiply says:

    Wow dude that is going to be a pretty narley trip!

    http://www.FireMe.to/udi

  10. PD says:

    “And foul it is: the “garbage soup” swirling in the North Pacific gyre stretches across some five million square miles, an area twice as large as the continental U.S. Worse still, the floating dump is steadily growing and threatening every level of the food chain.”

    So if this thing is so big, where the hell are the photos of it taken by planes or ships or Google Earth? Even Algalita’s photo gallery shows nothing more than coastal litter.

  11. Curious says:

    I’ve seen a lot of articles about this mess floating in the ocean, why are there so few photos? Something that huge must be easy to take a picture of other than the occasional entangled sea animal. People are visual, show some nasty pictures to get people worked up about this.

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  13. Akhilesh says:

    There’s a good side to this. If we cover the ocean surfaces with more reflective garbage (such as metals, say), then they would reflect the thermal radiation from the sun, reducing the net heat input onto the planet.

    This might actually end up reducing the effect of global warming.

    So, let’s go ahead and pollute all we want. But instead of those paper cups that we drink our cokes and coffees from, we should use aluminium cans. (The obvious discomfort of using Al cans to drink warm coffee notwithstanding)

  14. angrydroid says:

    Here’s a link to some photos…

    http://www.viceland.com/int/v15n2/htdocs/oh_this_is_great.php

    It’s not like it’s a mountain of garbage you could walk on. It’s a soup of degraded plastics some of which are microscopic. It’s way the hell out in the middle of nowhere so it’s not exactly like people can pop out for some snapshots.

    Search around for the ViceTV series these guys did on an expedition of theirs out to the gyre. It’s a bit anti-climactic in the end but well-produced nonetheless.

  15. Barry Smith says:

    Here’s a dumb idea, especially mentioned here, but doesn’t all the garbage, being lighter in color than the sea, help reflect some sunlight back towards space, helping, even a little bit, combat global warming? If we dumped LOTS of styrofoam peanuts in the sea, wouldn’t that help more? – Just a crazy idea…

  16. Johnny says:

    Couldn’t someone go and “fish” the plastic waste out and then sell it to recycling plants?

  17. Craig Murphy says:

    What the hell???? This thing gets bigger every time I read about it. WTF? The largest before this, that I read, was twice the size of Texas…..Now it is twice the size of the U.S.? Come on….if we can’t get together on its size how can we get together to do something about it? Factual reports need to be published. Until then how can we convince others that this exists and poses a problem other than a possible obstruction to a sailboat.

  18. Dan says:

    The people over at Vice did a video documentary on the plastic island. it can be viewed here;

    http://www.vbs.tv/shows.php?show=1154&source=sc

    it is about an hour long cut into 12 4-7 minute sections
    it is a must see if you are interested in this issue.

  19. Here is a short clip on YouTube that shows some of the effects of plastic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnUjTHB1lvM

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  22. Pingback: Oprah Shines Light on Great Pacific Garbage Patch

  23. Ferres Art says:

    Have you got twitter account sir? So i can stay with your site

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