Few people intentionally sail through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of the world’s most notoriously polluted stretches of ocean. Even fewer choose to do so in a ship that’s literally a piece of trash. In fact, only two people have done so: Joel Paschal and Marcus Eriksen. The two men accomplished their 2,600-mile journey in 2008 to help publicize the fact that we need to act now to stop the sea from drowning itself in plastic.
Eriksen, president and cofounder of ocean conservation organization 5 Gyres, has written a book about his adventure, Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution, which came out July 4. I recently spoke to him about his book, his adventure in Junk Raft—and yes, she is a registered oceangoing vessel—and his mission to convince the world to stop using and producing plastic.
Cirnio: Junk Raft recounts your epic trip in a boat of the same name across the Northern Pacific Ocean, from Los Angeles to Hawaii. What inspired you to take this journey?
Eriksen: My inspiration to do it was simply the plastic use and pollution issue. Prior to this, I went sailing on the Mississippi River for five months on a similar plastic-bottle raft. What I witnessed there was a never-ending trail of plastic leading to the sea. And then I went to Midway Atoll and saw all the effects on albatross. My idea for the second raft, Junk Raft, went back to my experience in the Gulf War. I was a Marine on the ground, in a sniper platoon. I saw the region’s great oil rigs catch fire and burn. I couldn’t understand the destruction around me. I wanted to rethink what I was fighting for: Conservation is worth it, not a resource war on petroleum.
I thought, “The plastic problem is fixable. Nonsensically we use plastic to create items we use once or twice and throw away—we just have to stop doing that.”
I have a lot of confidence in how rafts work and perform, and a great team: Joel Paschal, my fellow sailor and adventurer, and Anna Cummins, my wife, who served as a one-woman, land-based support team. All three of us were on a boat with Charles Moore—who coined the term “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”—on his sixth crossing across the North Pacific. This was the start of 5 Gyre’s global research. We’ve done at least 20 research trips since.