Thursday, August 28, 2008

JUNK makes front page in India!

News of JUNK's safe arrival in Honolulu travelled far and wide yesterday, including
a front page article on Such are the wonders of the AP wire. How does if feel to set foot on land after 3 months on a plastic bottle raft, crossing the Pacific?

"We were surrounded by boats, blaring horns, waves and whistles, as JUNK was towed into Ala Wai Harbor in Honolulu. The first thing I did was reach for my fiancee, Anna. Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation was there with a smile and a loud “Aloha”. Dr. Andrew Rossiter, director of the Waikiki Aquarium, presented us each with a handshake and a lei. There were perhaps 100 people there to greet us, including plenty of media representatives to cover our story, everyone asking, “Why did you do this,” or “Was it worth it?” If you've been following our blog, you know why. Yes, it was worth it. We would do it again.

I presented our last gyre sample from our marine debris trawl. In a glass peanut butter jar were hundreds of fragments of plastic and zooplankton floating around. “This is what you get when you skim the ocean surface. 2/3rds of the earth is ocean, and is now a plastic soup.” I also showed the shriveled stomach from the rainbow runner I caught a couple weeks ago, with 14 fragments of plastic in it's stomach. This is why we crossed this ocean. Then we talked about what we do about it.

Anna and I were soon strolling along busy streets to find a market and restaurant for fresh greens. Anything green, or a red tomato would do. As we walked I paid attention to my experience. I expected wobbly legs and quick exhaustion. What I experienced was unexpected. We found a restaurant and shared a spinach and tomato salad. We walked slowly. I was just taking it all in. The novelty of the open ocean is different from rush hour Waikiki, the noise, sights, smells, and concrete beneath my feet. The best analogy would be a monk walking through a burning building. I was used to the subtle novelty of an empty horizon and bottomless sea that shows you a unique world, especially when you travel at 1.5 miles per hour for 2600 miles. So much of our planet is ocean, so little of it belongs to us, and perhaps none of it does.

Today, one day later, I carry my cell phone. I wear shoes. I check email. Anna and I walked to Ala Wai Harbor to meet Joel. By the end of the day JUNK is gone. We've undone 3 months of work in 24 hours. We will rebuild the raft on the front lawn of the Waikiki Aquarium. Then we'll stuff JUNK in a shipping container and send it back to where it was built. It's been six months from the day I sketched the image of JUNK on a piece of paper, to the raft built, sailed, and dismantled in Hawaii. My dream for 4 years has come to a new beginning.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Arrival words from JUNK

JUNK has arrived safely, to a throng of cheering supporters, journalists, and videographers. After a few hours of interviews, the crew headed out for a much deserved lunch of FRESH FOOD and drink.

Photos coming of the arrival as soon as we've all settled into the land reality. Meantime, some final thoughts from Marcus and Joel:

At 1:00 am I took the helm, as Joel climbed into the cabin to sleep after having been on watch for 8 hours. A squall quickly overcame JUNK and left me and the deck drenched. The moon shot out from behind the clouds, illuminating the backside of the storm. By the light of the moon, a complete rainbow appeared. I’ve never seen one at night. I’ve 8 hours to keep the raft on a steady course for Honolulu, which is now only 40 miles away. There is so much to think about, so much to do, but still plenty of time to let my mind wander and ponder on this voyage. It’s been a long summer.

2,600 miles of open ocean crossed in 87 days. From our first week of sinking hopes on a sinking raft, through four hurricanes that swept under us, to the unbelievable chance meeting with Roz Savage in the middle of nowhere, we have had quite an adventure. We’ve collected 10 ocean surface samples using our marine debris trawl, managed to snatch a few large pieces of plastic debris that floated under us, and caught fish with stomachs filled with particles of plastic. Plastic is forever, and it’s everywhere.

That’s been our point. The Synthetic Century should have ended 8 years ago, replaced by the Age of Sustainability. There are over 20,000 man-made chemicals produced by the billions of pounds annually that are dispersed throughout the globe in an open loop of consumption that often ends as waste to be buried, burned or to flow down coastal watersheds out to sea. It is unsustainable and deeply troubling knowing that many synthetic compounds are persistent in the environment and are harmful to wildlife and humans. Plastic marine debris is one of them, and is the most ubiquitous form of pollution visible around the world. It is clear that single-use disposable plastic products have no place in modern society.

We return to society tomorrow if all goes well, to the world of alarm clocks, calendars, cars and shoes. Three months is enough time to forget the world you left and accept a new reality. But not everything is forgotten. I long for my friends, family and fiancée. I crave fresh veggies and exercise. In three months I wonder how I will reflect on this summer? Will there be days when I will find myself wishing to be back on JUNK, even if only for a minute? I don’t know what this experience will bring, but it is my intention to use it as a starting point for hundreds of conversations about solutions to the plastic plague. We have, in half a century, transformed 2/3rds of the ocean surface into a plastic soup. Knowing what I know, it would be immoral to do nothing.

As I watch the sun set on the final day at sea, I am overcome more with humility than excitement. I am truly humbled by the efforts of so many people that have made this journey a reality. Donations of time and funds came pouring in once we committed to this project, and thousands of people followed our story online. From an idea sketched on paper years ago, to the final miles of an amazing adventure, I can only say “Thank you.”

Best wishes,

And for Joel's final words, read on:
Land oh! I spotted land this afternoon at 1:45 Hawaii Time. The flanks of Mount Haleakala were showing through the clouds on East Maui. It’s been 85 days since we were towed out of Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach and around two months since sailing away from Isla de Guadalupe, the last piece of land sighted.

Junk was built in Long Beach next to the mouth of the Los Angeles River. Everyday I was there working on Junk the tide would push plastic debris into the harbor and remind me why as doing this. In the 2600 nautical miles since then we have observed all kinds of plastic debris floating and collected in the trawl. We have also watched a small school of fish, rainbow runners, that have been following Junk, grow from small fries with their egg sack attached to juveniles close to a foot in length. They too have traveled through the gyre gathering plastic debris. After catching one of the larger rainbow runners we looked in it’s stomach and found it was full of plastic bits including a pre-production plastic pellet or a nurdle. It gives me a profound sense that there is no place and no life form on earth that isn’t being affected by the on slot of synthetic chemicals that humans are releasing into the environment. It also brings home the point that planetary life support system works in cycles and we eventually learn (usually the hard way) that things we once though were benign directly affect human health and that there is no difference between environmental health and human health.

I am looking forward to being on land, but I’m staying focused on the task at hand, that is safely navigating Junk through the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu and into the Ala Wai Harbor. The open ocean has it’s challenges but sailing close to land is often more dangerous. Kalaupapa Peninsula almost wrecked Don McFarland on his rafting voyage from California to Hawaii more than fifty years ago. We trying to stay at least 10 nautical miles north of Kalaupapa but not so far north that we get trapped on the windward side of Oahu and blown into the sea cliffs around Makapu’u. Right now the weather is perfect. We’re making our course dead-on and at this speed we should arrive at Diamond Head around noon.
Malaho for following the Junk Blog!
/span> Read more!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Final JUNK PSA and arrival details

PSA #8 from JUNK: Solving The Problem:

As for the arrival:

JUNK will be pulling into the Ala Wai Fuel Dock at around 10:00 am, Wednesday the 27th, to what we hope will be a wonderful welcoming. All are invited! Give a call Tuesday if you want more exact arrival times: 310-998-8616

After a few days of rest, showers, fresh food, and reconnecting with their land legs, JUNK's crew will join Surfrider, The Nature Conservancy, The Kokua Foundation, and others at Sunset on the Beach, for music, activities, booths, food, and a word or two from JUNK (and perhaps Roz!)

Also on the program is an evening event at the Hawaii Yacht Club on September 3rd, with slides and tales; a press conference with Roz Savage and her Brocade on September 4th at the Waikiki Aquarium, and a North Shore party Saturday September 6th at Kainoa's Bar.

Details to come - hope to see you on Wednesday! Read more!

Joel's bristleworm and marine debris

Less than 100 miles to go per recent satellite phone conversation!

And a few words from Joel on a recent pet he found on a piece of floating debris:

While on watch earlier this week I spotted something large floating towards us. I put JUNK hard over and managed to scoop up a chunk of a plastic crate. We often see plastic crates in the Gyre. I’m not sure way we see so many. Maybe a nearby fishery uses - and often loses them overboard. The crate had started the process of photodegredation. Not only did we fid a bristleworm hitching a ride, it was brittle, cracked, and had the owner’s name or boat’s initials “JR” with a floral design melted into. Anybody know any fisherman named JR missing a crate?
Read on for Joel's continued Marine Debris Observations

Now that we are in the North Pacific Gyre the amount of debris that floats by has greatly increased. Last week I saw a basketball sized ball of rope float by. The fish that have been with us since they hatched and were recently swimming around with their yolk sack still attached, swam out to check the ball of rope out. They came back to JUNK with some friends, two black and white fish that all are also staying with us now.

When getting in the water to spear Mahi Mahi it’s almost like swimming through a snow globe of plastic confetti. From the surface you may only see a fleck of plastic here and there but once in the water you can see the plastic bits floating deeper in the water column. I’ve seen the all too common packing strap both on the surface and underwater while diving. JUNK’s debris trawl does a great job of collecting the plastic fragments from the surface and concentrating them into a sample that make quite a visual impact when you hold in our hand and see all the little plastic pieces swirling around. It’s a great way of educating people on land about the magnitude of the problem, but getting in the water in the middle of the ocean and seeing more plastic floating around me than life make even more of an impact and gives me profound feeling that we are smothering the planet with all of our synthetic waste.
Read more!

Friday, August 22, 2008

180 miles to go!

Just 180 miles to go. We’re almost due north of Hilo. This morning I scanned the deck for flying fish and found one. I’ll likely use it as bait to catch another Rainbow Runner. Joel and I think constantly about making landfall next week. I want a fresh salad and Joel wants a beer. What we don’t want: ANY MORE FISH!

(Our intrepid sailors don't know this yet, nor can they read the blog....but thanks to Kona Brewing company, they will have cold ones awaiting their arrival!)

We’re still catching fish though. Joel is making jerky for his friends in Honolulu. Right now, we’re more interested in the guts than the meat. Ever since finding that Rainbow Runner filled with plastic, we’ve collected 4 more of them and two Mahi Mahi. Of the four little fish, three were 4-5 inches with empty stomachs. The 8-inch Rainbow Runner had plastic in its gut. The Mahi Mahi were empty. We would like to catch one with fish still in it’s stomach, then dissect the stomach contents to see if big fish are eating little fish that eat plastic. And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Plastic Sushi:

Here it is.....this should be all the reason we need to start seriously reexamining our trashy ways.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Groundbreaking JUNK News: Plastic Sushi

We remember seeing little 1-inch fish with yolk sacks still attached swimming next to JUNK 5 weeks ago. They followed our raft, enjoying the security of its undulating underbelly with nooks and crannies to hide in. They would ride what little bow wake JUNK created, and at times keeping up with the raft at 3 knots. Now they are a foot long, with yellow stripes, and there are fewer of them.

This morning I awoke to find two thumb-size flying fish on board. They became bait and soon I had one of the yellow fish on deck. I cut two fillets out of it and then opened it’s stomach. It was full of plastic. A dozen large fragments, and nothing else, filled the tiny stomach to capacity. There is no way this fish, at this size, will be able to pass those fragments.

These plastic particles, including one pre-production plastic pellet, are sinks for several persistent organic pollutants. PCBs, DDT and PAHs from the incomplete burning of fossils fuels, absorb into plastic marine debris, making the particles toxic. From the size of the particles inside the stomach, and the size of the fish’s cloaca, there is no way this fish can pass the plastic through its body. Therefore there will likely be a long residence period. Will the toxins in the plastic leach into the tissues of the fish?

This question about migration of toxins into the fisheries we harvest is the question we want to know now. Is plastic marine debris a vector for pollutants to enter the food chain and eventually your dinner plate?

To date, 267 species have been known to ingest or be entangled by plastic. Captain Charles Moore recently discovered #268, the 2-4 inch nocturnal lantern fish. Half of the specimens collected had plastic in their guts. One even had 84 individual fragments. Our fish, #269, adds to the list of marine organisms impacted by manmade synthetic compounds.

Please check out our website to see what research we are conducting on plastic in the marine environment. In the meantime, can anyone identify this fish to the species level? Read more!

Jack Johnson Foundation and JUNK press!

A few exciting bits of recent media for Algalita and JUNK:

Algalita was chosen to be a partner for Jack Johnson's All At Once campaign, joining people from around the world who are active in their communities, to inspire and create positive change.

From now until September 14th, any donation sent to Algalita will be matched by the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation - up to $2500. And every time viewers watch our video on the website (currently featuring JUNK), AMRF receives a donation.

And on the media front, JUNK has received some wonderful recent press as the ETA approaches - yesterday's Honolulu Star Bulletin ran a great article on the JUNK - Roz meetup, and the Honolulu Advertiser also plugged the arrival.

And Joel's home town paper in Lafayette also ran an article. The word is spreading far and wide.

This was, and continues to be our ultimate goal: to draw attention to Algalita's critical research on plastic debris, and get people talking about solutions. The growing accumulation of plastic in our oceans may well have devastating impacts on marine ecosystems - impacts we are only just beginning to understand. Our window for addressing this problem will disappear unless we have greater public awareness, enlightened leadership, and engaged citizens. We're all responsible. Read more!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The home stretch!

We crossed 500 two days ago, 400 this afternoon, and we expect to arrive in Honolulu in 8 more days. It definitely feels like the home stretch now. Maintenance is still paramount, but new projects are off the table. There are only standing watches and passing time left to do. We still drag the marine debris trawl behind us. Still, every sample is filled with small fragments of plastic debris.

Today, to celebrate the 400 mark, we had cheesecake. We've been hording a stock of freeze dried food that was given to us on the dock before we departed by a Dave, a volunteer for the project. "You might need these." Two and a half months later, you were absolutely right. And of course, thanks to Roz Savage we are enjoying a delightful assortment of dehydrated meals and Larabars. We often wonder where she is right now.

As I close this email there are 383 miles to go. At 1.7 knots, we should be enjoying pizza soon.

Meanwhile, plans are coming together for a wonderful arrival celebration, in collaboration with Roz Savage. Details to come for all the Hawaii folks.

Read more!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

PSA #7: Cleaning this mess up?

A few days ago, CNN ran a wonderful article on JUNK in their science blogs section, "The Pacific toilet bowl that never flushes".

After describing the problem of plastic debris in the gyre, CNN producer Marsha Walton concludes with a public call for suggestions:

"So, any ideas from the brains of our astute blog readers? How would you fix this? Outlaw single use plastic items? Push for plastics that biodegrade? Put a litter cop on every ocean-going vessel? Teach your kids to respect the planet?"

So far her query has elicited 116 responses! Everything from getting fleets of fishing boats to trawl for trash, to demanding UN involvement, to curbing our production of plastics. And more (for a full list, read the post)

The suggestion of netting, scooping, or trawling out the plastic is often posed.....unfortunately its simply not a feasible option, yet. Too big an area, and the debris far too difuse. Here's Marcus on why cleanup is impractical:

Read more!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

JUNK/Roz recount: like two snails chasing each other

A wonderful recount from JUNK of the other night's historic mid-Pacific encounter. Here Roz has the boys in a savage headlock....

Those two hours 600 miles from land, the highlight of our trip, an encounter with tremendous joy and gratitude, were spent with Roz Savage aboard JUNK. Her boat, Brocade, saddled up next to JUNK at 6pm on August 12th, after three days of communicating our whereabouts back and forth. “We’re like two snails chasing each other,” Roz said, regarding our respective methods of movement. JUNK only sails. Roz is rowing across the Pacific Ocean.

Joel and I listened to the VHF radio to her tender British voice, wondering, “Do you think she looks more like Princess Diana or the Queen?” Joel spotted her first a mile off the bow. Within 200 feet of each other we threw out the sea anchor and dropped the sail. The first attempt to toss her a line failed, so I swam out to her with the end of the line and a handshake. She looked like Guinevere in pigtails with the forearms of Popeye.

Aboard JUNK we gave her the grand tour of patched pontoons, broken masts and worn lashings. Bobbing next to her streamlined, carbon-fiber, competitive rowboat with waterproof hatches, JUNK appears to have well earned its name. We knew our time would be short, and that we hadn’t seen other human beings for 2 ½ months, therefore we intuitively cut through the small talk and had real conversations, equally enjoying the company, if nothing else.

Roz was in need of water. Both of her watermakers malfunctioned. We were in need of food, having resorted to peanut butter for the bulk of our nutrition. We had two watermakers, and plenty of water in buckets. Roz had food, and plenty of it. Before climbing aboard JUNK, she hurled three bags of food over to us, and three empty containers. We had been making water all morning, so we quickly gave her a full stock to keep her going. We peeked in the bags she gave us, as if Joel and I were children on Halloween. “What did you get Joel?” I asked. “Larabars and Teriyaki chicken,” he said. “I got turkey jerky,” I replied, thinking that I can now refrain from eating the fish jerky still hanging outside. There’s an underlying joy, not in the prospect of full meals, but in giving, the reciprocal altruism that is deeply human.

Read the full account here:

Joel jumped in the water after a school of Mahi Mahi that had been following us all day. I asked Roz, “So what do you do to keep your mind active?” She knew exactly what I was talking about. I described that in my experience thus far, there have been moments of ecstatic joy and bottom of the barrel sadness, blooming randomly in a wide, open field of boredom. She responded, “I can focus on rowing, or anticipate the next tea break, and then there’s audio tapes. But it’s different from when I rowed the Atlantic…” This isn’t Roz’s first long distance rowing expedition. “…there were more doubts and more to think and worry about. For example, when my watermaker broke this time, I simply said, ‘oh well.’” Here blue eyes are loaded with experience and the patience that comes with it. You get to a point where you can choose to worry or not worry about things, because worry simply doesn’t change anything outside your head. I looked overboard to see Joel struggling toward the raft.

“Hana pa’a!” he yelled. A three-foot Mahi Mahi thrashed as I heaved it on deck. A quick cut above the eyes and it’s still. Joel climbed out of the water, and turned on the stove. I handed him the first filet, the muscle still twitching. In minutes we’re enjoying curried fish, a gift from the sea. We promised Roz a fish, and Joel came through. I could see Joel was content, as I was, having the opportunity to give to someone else. Roz appeared to feel the same way.

We’re all here to raise awareness about the issue of plastic marine debris. Just before Joel nabbed dinner, I retrieved a small sieve towed behind JUNK. I unscrewed the cod end to show Roz the contents of our research trawl. “Many people think it’s an island of plastic trash out here, but it’s worse.” I showed Roz the particulate fragments of plastic collected along with a few jellyfish, halobates and zooplankton. “If it were an island, it could be mined. The reality is that it’s a thin soup, with millions of tons of plastic, the size of peas and smaller, distributed around the world. There’s no techno-fix, only a cultural one.” This sample is for Roz to use in her efforts to show the public what’s happening to our oceans.

But are there deeper reasons other than the issue of plastic marine debris for exposing one’s life to the intolerances of the sea? Perhaps it’s the 360-degree view of stars to the horizon, or the identity we gather from our adventures, like feathers in our cap, or it’s the novelty of unanticipated consequences of just being truly present in the world. I don’t know, perhaps all of the above. The sun is beginning to set behind a bank of clouds. The last rays are an unspoken cue that it’s time to part ways. We take a few photos together, and Roz autographs our cabin with a marker, “No doubt, you’re the coolest guys I’ve met in the last three months. Thanks for a great dinner. Bon Voyage. ROZ.” We watch her drift away, and the silhouette of her oars in the air as she begins rowing another 600 miles to Hawaii.
Read more!

JUNK meets up with Roz Savage!

A miraculous reunion. In the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, JUNK and the Brocade, two tiny motorless crafts, managed to locate one another, meet up for dinner, trade essential supplies, and marvel at the wonder of it all.....

Stay tuned for a full recount and a video from Marcus tomorrow. Meanwhile a few photos here: Marcus and Roz with The Algalita Marine Research Foundation flag, and sporting some tools to kick plastic: an Ecousable water bottle, and a Bring Your Own bag!
Read more!

Monday, August 11, 2008

JUNK gaining on Roz

The two Pacific voyages have yet to rendezvous, but getting closer......JUNK and Roz are in communication every few hours, trying to pinpoint one another's coordinates. Here's their latest, tracked by Michael on Kaua'i.

Hoping they meet soon - Roz's extra Larabars have got to beat the raw squid Marcus and Joel tried the other day. Seems Joel has a tougher stomach or a more experimental palate than Marcus.....

And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Savage encounter!?

For a few weeks now, we’ve been trying to orchestrate a marine meeting with Roz Savage an incredibly daring British adventurer who is also crossing the Pacific....IN A ROWBOAT!

Roz’s story is an inspiration to all. Though she had, for all intents and purposes achieved success - a stable, high paying job, a house, a dog, and a picket white fence, Roz found her self strangely unhappy. So she ditched the whole package to pursue a dream, and in 2006, became the first woman to row across the Atlantic. Now 2 years later, Roz is 3 months into her next challenge, a solo row across the Pacific. Amazing.

Many months ago, Roz contacted Algalita, as her mission is also to bring attention to the plastic debris issue. There was talk then of somehow linking up, but the discussion was lost in the flurry of preparations, to say nothing of the seeming impossibility of meeting up “somewhere in the middle of the Pacific”. It would be a miracle. And yet...

Their respective coordinates for the past few weeks showed Roz and JUNK on a similar course. Map here, courtesy of Michael, shows their proximity. Two days ago, JUNK was a mere 20 miles away. And yesterday the two boats were finally able to chat on the satellite phone, after numerous attempts through Roz’s wonderful mother Rita. Marcus and Joel thought they’d likely pass Roz sometime Sunday evening or Monday morning.

We’re now on pins and needles, awaiting the news. Though they are close, the difficulty of maneuvering two unusual rigs with limited navigability amidst sizable swells is no joke.

An at sea encounter would be a huge blessing for both. Not only could they exchange key survival supplies - a watermaker for Roz, and some snacks for JUNK - the human contact would be a godsend. Roz hasn’t seen a soul since she set forth on May 26th, while Marcus and Joel have only had one another for company. God knows some delightful female energy would do wonders for their spirits!

Stand by and think good thoughts for a Savage - JUNK reunion. This would be an incredibly cool happening.
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Kamikaze squid = Mahi meal

August 7th
We’re 825 miles from Honolulu. Joel just made a grab for a piece of tangled fishing line floating under the raft. We’re now having to take turns at the helm as we sail downwind and the wind picks up. The morning sun brought 30 knot winds and endless whitecaps across the horizon.

Yesterday was more calm, a chance to hang out on deck. While Joel stood on top of the fuselage, a dozen small squid leapt 8-10 feet out of the sea. One smacked Joel in the chest. He promptly ate it. The rest we used as bait, and soon reeled in a Mahi Mahi. It bought us two meals, a bit of insurance against our dwindling supplies. We’ve got just enough food to make it home.
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


A few posts back, we heard about the mini trawl Marcus and Joel fashioned at sea. Like a plankton net, the trawl is a fine, mesh net used to skim the oceans surface, and analyze the collected contents for plastics.

Here, Marcus discusses what they are beginning to find (three guesses, first two don't count) as JUNK skirts the edge of the infamous North Pacific Gyre....

As JUNK is now in the gyre, the notorious plastic soup zone, Marcus and Joel have been on the lookout for debris all along. See here Joel’s marine debris observations, starting from their launch back in June:
Part I

I try to spend several hour each day looking out to sea while listening to my iPod and there is quite a few things to look for, hazards like tanker ships that could run us over or large pieces of floating debris like shipping containers, changes in weather, or interesting and tasty sea-life. And of course plastic debris.

At first, most of the plastic debris I've seen so far was right there in Long Beach's Rainbow Harbor, where we built and launched JUNK. Plastic bags, snack bags, bottles bottle caps, all kinds of packaging, rubber slippers and organic slime. The mouth of the LA river is next to the entrance to Rainbow harbor and the tide seemed to bring a fresh load of rubbish during float. Everyday four or more workers went around with long nets and tried to scoop up the flotsam – an exercise in futility, as “fresh” trash poured down the river and into the harbor daily. On days when the tide brought in lots of debris they brought out the "Trash Boat", with large booms that scoop the trash on board. It didn't seem to work to well though. The water displaced by the hull of the boat would push the plastic rubbish further underwater before the boom could scoop it up. I talked to one of the city workers and they said that the boat can’t pick up items like plastic that have a density close to that of water and float just below the surface.

It made me think...if we cannot clean one little harbor on a budget that can afford four employees and a boat how could we expect to clean up an area the size of the North Pacific Gyre?

Part II

The ocean surrounding the Channel Islands had a lot of observable plastic debris floating on the surface, mostly common items like bottles and bottle caps, fishing floats and plastic bags. I didn't notice much fouling. Fouling is marine growth like algae, barnacles or coral on man-made things in the ocean. Heavy fouling can indicate that a piece of debris has been in the ocean for a long time. Most of the debris I saw around the Channel Islands had very little, suggesting it was litter that had recently washed into the ocean. The presence of a large amount of debris with little fouling and little heavily fouled debris can indicate an area that disperses debris instead of collecting it. I would guess that the floating rubbish from the LA river washes up on local beaches or moves off shore and makes a long voyage around and around in the North Pacific Gyre.

Part III

After leaving the Channel Islands we sailed south staying about 100 miles off the coast of Baja California. South of Isla Guadalupe we started heading west. I spent a good amount of time staring out at sea during that time. We were becalmed several times which makes it easier to observe small photodegraded pieces of plastic that are nearly the same density as sea water and tend to get pushed down the water column when the wind stirs up the water and then raise to the surface when the seas are calm. Yet in spite of being close to land and being becalmed often I didn't see much debris at all. Mostly just palm leaves and kelp, the “good” type of marine debris.

More to come....
Read more!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

999 miles to go!

Actually, fewer at this point. I'm currently out of the country, thus a slight lag in blog posting - breaking the 1,000 mile mark happened a few days ago.

Meanwhile, Marcus and Joel are preparing for a diet of peanut butter and jerky. Which, all things said and done, sure beats the plastic fragments many marine creatures are feasting on.....

999 miles to go! We’ve got three weeks of meals, then it’s peanut butter and fish till Hawaii. If we can average 42 miles toward Oahu per day, then we will be fine. We’re 0-3 on fishing. The other day I got one with the spear, flung it on deck, and watched it flop back in the water. Three feet of steaks, sushi, curry and jerky back in the sea. Then Joel hooked one, but it got caught on the netting of the pontoon and wriggled its way off the hook. Then yesterday I missed an easy shot with the spear gun. It’s one thing if you’re fishing for sport, but when you’re hungry it’s a different story. We will probably drop the sails today and take a dip in the drink for better luck.

We got an email from Don McFarland the other day. He’s the fellow that rafted to Hawaii on a 20-ton wooden box in 69 days back in 1958. I remember thinking, “We’re a lighter raft, fewer people, and better technology.” We’re 65 days at sea, with three weeks to go. We planned and provisioned for 50 days. Don said they used t-shirts to sieve the ocean for plankton. “Tasted like lobster,” he said. We’ve been trawling the ocean as well, but our samples are proving to be more plastic than plankton. Very filling I imagine, but not very nutritious. There is no way I would eat this stuff....unless we ran out of fish and peanut butter perhaps.

Meanwhile, our boat is suffering the predictable wear and tear of a long journey. Inevitable entroy, requiring constant vigilance and maintenance, as you'll see here:

Now for a few responses to recent blog comments:

Janelle in Tanzania, I was in Arusha years ago and walked up Kili to see the melting glacier. One thing I also noticed in East Africa was the use of disposable plastic without an infrastructure to deal with it. I saw bottles and bags everywhere. What do you see there today?

Sumwearnnyc – Yes, kind of like Life of Pi, but no tigers. Just Mahi Mahi.

Kim – You mentioned your use of plastic on your blog being a different focus than ours. Could you share any details with us?

Quasivoid – You said, “the disagreeable feeling it gives us is not an excuse to do nothing about it.” My sentiments exactly.

Maki – The image of other organisms eating or becoming entangled in plastic has been documented in 267 species thus far. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation visited the North Pacific Gyre earlier this year (That’s where Anna and I met Joel) to study plastic marine debris. We caught small fish in our nets called “Myctophids”. Recently, in the lab, we’ve dissected them and everyone had plastic in their stomachs. Make that 268 species.

Anonymous – Yes, we are sampling the ocean surface with a 1 mm net. We’ve been finding small plastic fragments in every sample.

Ron – Thanks for adding us to the list of masochists that raft the ocean. Thor H. just might be looking down and smiling, or laughing. One big difference between our rafting voyage and all others is that we can’t eat plankton. When we trawl for the stuff, most of it is plastic.
Regarding a contribution, please check out the “Message in a Bottle” link on our blog and sponsor a bottle. You can sponsor a case, send us an email with a message, and I’ll write it out an put it in one of the bottles on our raft.

Wallace J. Nichols – We haven’t seen any turtles yet. I would love to see a loggerhead. When I was in college in New Orleans years ago, I was involved with the Sea Turtle Stranding Network. We documented turtle deaths along the Gulf Coast. We never had a chance to do a necropsy on stomach contents. It seems you’re doing more with sea turtles than the average person. Do you have any info on stomach contents, or stories of entanglement to share? If I see any turtles, I’ll try to get a photo and look for tags.

Jessica – It is difficult to go 30 days without plastic. It’s all around us and nearly impossible to avoid in the developed world, or actually anywhere else as well.

Curt in Seattle – Provided I make it to Hawaii before the end of the month, I’ll be in Seattle giving a talk around Sept. 9th. I look forward to reading the details about the successful legislation in your neck of the woods. Although recycling programs are necessary, they are failures by themselves. Legislation is the key. Thank you Seattle for taking a lead.

Brad & Alicia – You’ve got the right idea “Bring Your Own!” is the slogan we should champion. Begin with your own reusable bag, coffee mug and water bottle. Thank you for making these fine suggestions on our blog.

Beachgal – Thank you for your kindness. This morning we crossed the 1000 mile mark. We will feast today on Mac and Cheese and our second to last can of mixed veggies. Who knows, we might just have some beef jerky on the side. It’s party time!

Anonymous – You asked “How do you post videos?” Joel and I have video cameras on board, which we download scenes to my computer. I edit 30-45 second videos and compress them to under .5mb. Using my satellite phone and an external antennae, I email the file to Anna Cummins, our blog writer. At a minute per second it takes a while. Anna then uploads the file to YouTube.

Lai, Prasoon, and Russki – Thank you for your good wishes. We’ve got roughly three weeks to go, as long as the raft holds up – and our food.

Pherehormonal – Thanks for the squid facts, and catching that they use both water jets and fins to move. I forgot to mention the water jets. After I sent that photo to Anna, our blog writer, Joel caught a beautiful cuttlefish. We let it go, too difficult not to anthropomorphize the black eyes and raised brow. Really beautiful animal. BUT, if we could harness them to the boat to make us go faster, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to lasso as many as I could.
Read more!

Monday, August 4, 2008

JUNK in the GYRE: the toilet bowl that never flushes

August 3rd

We’re in the Gyre, or at least the southeastern edge of it. And there’s trash. We’ve got our marine debris trawl deployed to collect it. Remember, the North Pacific Gyre is a clockwise rotating mass of water roughly twice the size of the U.S. where currents and winds slow down. It’s like a toilet bowl that never flushes. JUNK is currently floating at 24N latitude and 139W longitude.

Take a look at the 20-year study done by Jim Ingraham tracking a couple dozen buoys around the Pacific Ocean.

In the photo, the red dots are buoys released from Japan, and the blue squares are buoys released from North America. They floated in circles around the Pacific Ocean for two decades until settling in the middle of the gyre (and are probably still there.) But plastic debris is not confined to these zones.

In February 2008, Joel, Anna and I were half the crew aboard the ORV Alguita with Captain Charles Moore traveling 4000 miles from Hawaii to the center of the Pacific Ocean and returning to Long Beach California. We discovered that plastic debris exists everywhere in the North Pacific Gyre. In 1999 Captain Moore first discovered the oceanic landfill, or “seafill” with a concentration of .002grams per square meter. Then in 2005 the density jumped to .004, doubling in only 6 years. Now in 2008 we have yet to process the latest samples, but we can confidently say it’s gotten worse.

Even the American Chemistry Council, a trade organization representing the major U.S. plastic industries, conducted their own study of plastic marine debris. They replicated our study, but chose a location in the Pacific Ocean where you wouldn’t expect to find any plastic at all, the Bering on for more details:

The Bering Sea sits under a low-pressure system that kicks debris out, whereas the North Pacific Gyre is a constant high-pressure system sucking debris in. The Bering Sea is also adjacent to a sparsely populated coastline. You wouldn’t expect to find plastic there at all. Yet, there it was. The ACC confirmed that wherever you go in the Pacific Ocean you are bound to find plastic. It’s everywhere.

JUNK is skirting the edge of the gyre, riding the rim of the toilet bowl. We are using a marine debris trawl with a one-millimeter mesh, and an opening the size of a shoebox. It skims the surface for floating trash. We kept it out all night to see what we would find. Earlier in the day I spotted a few bits of trash: 1inch diameter plastic washer, short length of rope, and a tangled mass of green fishing line or frayed rope as big as my fist. We deployed the marine debris trawl and in the morning were not surprised by what we found.

At night zooplankton migrate from the depths to the surface to feed. It’s the largest migration of wildlife in the world, and it happens every day. Tiny jellies, salps and myctophid fish with light-emitting photophores on their stomachs give off green flashes of light as JUNK sails through the darkness. These creatures swim to the surface to feed, unfortunately on a diet that includes more and more plastic particles. Our trawl captured dozens of visible white, blue, green, grey and black fragments of plastic.

There was a piece of a plastic bag, a possible milk crate, fishing line, a pre-production plastic pellet, and a flexible, green, triangular fragment perhaps once a piece of a flip-flop. Interestingly, the red, orange and tan pieces are gone. Once again, everywhere you go in the Pacific Ocean there is plastic trash.

Today we will deploy our marine debris trawl again. We will likely sample every day until we arrive in Honolulu, which should be in about 4 weeks.

Read more!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

JUNK PSA 5: A Plastic Diet

Beyond simply a disagreeable eyesore, plastic debris has far more dangerous impacts on marine wildlife that commonly mistake plastic for a snack. Heres JUNK to tell you more, straight from the North Pacific Gyre:
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Friday, August 1, 2008

JUNK - the 411

The last few posts have focused on fish, squid, sail speeds, and general sanity. Bringing it back to the mission:

Here's a reminder of why JUNK - why two men cast themselves to the wild seas on a pile of junk, enduring fish and granola for breakfast, and only one another's company for several months:

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Squid Parts

Apparently intrigued by what it saw, this inquisitive squid launched itself onto JUNK for a closer look, a costly move for little Mr. Calamari. Finding him on deck the next morning, Marcus checks him out, and finds that squid have some pretty interesting features...

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

JUNK flying along, launch revisited

As of 9:30 tonight, JUNK was forging ahead at top speeds (relative, of course), possibly making today another record mileage day. Last night, she hit record speeds - 3.2 knots - a 58 mile day.

I asked Marcus how JUNK performs at high speed. Other than some new and strange bottle crunching noises, she apparently does just fine!

With the half-way mark now passed, heres a great reminder of why we're doing this, put together by our amazing friend and media savior Randy Olson.

And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Hit the halfway mark!!

July 28, 2008

We’ve crossed the 1300 mile mark, and the midway point of the trip in terms of miles traveled and miles to go. On top of that, we traveled a record 56 miles in 24 hours! If we keep this up we’ll be home before you can say, “I’m dying for something to eat besides fish and granola.”

Our spirits are up, knowing that we’ve got 3-4 weeks to go, provided all goes as anticipated. Right now our main objective is maintenance. The raft is suffering a bit, as all boats do. Last night the eyebolt holding the mainsail gave way, but was caught by the chain we installed a few days earlier. The galvanized wire holding up the mast is beginning to fray in places. We’ve got tons of rope to replace them if needed. Bottles and netting are holding up fine at this point. Today we will drop the mainsail and do a little maintenance for a couple of hours. This is just a fact of all boats.

What has impressed us is the durability of everything in light of the few small failures. Joel has kept the batteries tapped, constantly chasing short circuits. I’m still making mini-pontoons, sewing netting as I find weak spots, and tightening lashings between the deck and pontoons.

To mark the milestones in our trip, we decided to celebrate. Tonight we’ll whip up two boxes of macaroni and cheese, and share a pack of beef jerky. Wild times!

P.S. Check out Ecousable to find alternatives to the disposable plastic bottle.
And here is the rest of it.

(Clearly this isn't a photo from JUNK (our sailors looking clean shaven and, well, clean) but as there was no image for todays blog: this was a celebratory moment on our 2008 Gyre Voyage with Algalita, when we committed to take JUNK on. I imagine they'd trade a lot of jerky right now for a pina colada....)

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Monday, July 28, 2008

How JUNK communicates from sea

Here's how Marcus and Joel are able to communicate with the world, floating in the middle of the Pacific - the longest uninterrupted expanse of ocean in the world. We are tremendously grateful to our communication sponsors. This makes the sheer isolation bearable for our two sailors.....who are always eager for news from home. So keep the comments coming!

How people did this back in the day, before satellite phones and GPS, is truly astounding.
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Joel Sails JUNK

Watch Joel's facial hair morph as he discusses techniques for sailing JUNK. They use 4 sails to take full advantage of the varying weather conditions - including FRANKENSAIL, a key sail Joel Macgyvered at sea. Those keen on navigation nitty gritty:
The sailors out there will relate: navigation begins with knowing your boat's strengths and weaknesses.

Junk is fastest when running downwind, but can make progress with the wind on her beam. The rhumb line bearing from our current location to Honolulu is 254.8 degrees.

The bearing is the direction, North=0 or 360, East=90, South=180 and West= 270. So 254.8 is West Southwest. Since the ideal wind for Junk comes from straight behind, we want wind coming from our reciprocal bearing. To calculate the reciprocal of 254.8 degrees, subtract 180--gives us 74.8 degrees or East Northeast. Since Junk can sail 90 degree off the wind, we can add 90 degrees to 74.8, and subtract 90 degrees from 74.8, to get 164.8 degrees and 347.8 degrees.

Is anyone's head spinning yet?

So....we need winds between approx 75 degrees and 350 degrees, roughly 3/4 of the compass! Only in Southwest, or zero winds are we slowed, during which time we drift, read, cook, work on boat projects, blog, and rest...

Next key: knowing where the favorable winds are. At times, we may even reroute our course to seek better winds and better time.

One of the best ways of forecasting the winds within a month is to use a pilot chart:

This here was for the month of June. The circles with radiating arms are wind roses. The wind frequency from any direction is proportional to the arm's length, while widths indicate the frequency of wind speeds blowing in that direction. Do you see the small blue dot on this chart? I drew this next to the closest wind rose. Shows mostly North, Northwest and West winds, with speeds between 4 and 6 on the Beaufort scale.

We're hoping for stronger winds -- tricky to make an efficient beam reach with light winds.

The next step is to look at the wind roses nearby, to see which where the favorable winds are coming from. South Southwest has a very long North Northwest arm with a wind frequency range of 4-6 on the Beaufort scale. From there, a North Northwest wind will allow us to sail Southwest into the even more consistent easterly, or "trade winds", used by ship’s in the 1700’s to sail west across Atlantic and Pacific trade routes.

The blue arrows, representing current direction, point in a westerly direction. The more solid the line, the greater consistency in the current direction. The arrow's tail indicates speed.

We also use the chart plotter/GPS to navigate - essentially an electronic version of the paper chart.

The GPS interfaces with the chart plotter and indicates Junk’s position, as a black triangular shape on the screen. We use the chart to avoid hazards - islands, rocks or shoals with breaking waves. As the saying goes “The ocean is not that dangerous, it’s the hard parts around the edges that will get ya”.

The chart plotter shows our Latitude and longitude, our Course Over Ground (COG), and our Speed Over Ground (SOG). While sailing, we can experiment with different sail trimming configurations, comparing COG and SOG to monitor improvements.

The charter plotter also allows us to pick a waypoint to assess our bearing and remaining distance, and acts as the screen for our AIS system.

In short, extremely helpful tools.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Zen and the art of JUNK maintenance

*Photo of Joel atop mast taken during JUNK construction, pre-launch. Here for kicks.*

July 25th

The sails hang still, like the edge of an oversized tablecloth reaching lazily to the floor. There is no wind again today. We were becalmed 10 days ago, then a gentle breeze brought 500 miles of west. Becalmed again, I step outside to find Mahi Mahi under our raft. Hopefully they will grace our menu. I walk around the deck conducting my ritualistic inspection of bottles, netting, integrity of lashings and welded parts, wear on lines, exposed wires on stays, and a general look and keen listen for things that are different than before.

We noticed a problem - the top of the mast was cracking. I spotted two three-inch cracks coming down from the masthead. And the eyebolt holding the mainsail secure to the masthead was bent open. We’re lucky it didn’t fail under way. What to do? Fortunately, we had two pieces of chain we used to create a bridge between the stays to support the failing eyebolt. A couple of large hose clamps tightened around the top of the mast stopped the crack from lengthening.

As we’ve said before, boats require maintenance, especially when underway, as the stress of sailing makes everything move, rub, grind, and abrade. I also discovered that where the aluminum airplane fuselage touches the aluminum masts, grooves begin to form. Where netting rubs netting, there are eventual holes. The movements are slow and seemingly innocuous, yet in time change is inevitable. Only with careful inspection can we anticipate these, and stay ahead of the game.

Read on for responses to blog questions about plastics, chemicals, childrens autism, and BPA in canned foods.

To Dawn P's question about chemicals in plastic and rises in childhood autism:
Thank you for a great question. We know that many synthetic compounds found in plastic, which give it properties such as elasticity, color, UV and flame resistance, are also linked to ailments found in humans. We know that synthetic compounds like styrene, bisphenol A, phthalates and nonylphenol are pre-production chemicals found in plastic, and linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, insulin inhibition, and other effects. Then there are the post-production pollutants that adhere to plastic marine debris that hundreds of species have been documented to ingest. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation has discovered significant amounts of DDT, PCBs and PAHs absorbed into plastic. We are finding that these pollutants on plastic, when ingested, migrate into the tissues and organs of some organisms. Those compounds are well known to have adverse effects of wildlife and humans.

I urge you to review the work of Frederick vom Saal, Earl Gray and Ana Soto. I know vom Saal has his published papers available on line. Earl Gray and Ana Soto have done extensive work on endocrine disrupting toxins and their effect on human development and wildlife.

I would be elated to see what research you find. Especially anything published in the last few months, since I've been away for a while.


And to the question about BPA in canned foods:

Yes, bisphenol A, the building block of polycarbonate plastic, is all over. It’s that plastic film in cans, dental fillings, polycarbonate water bottles and babyfood bottles. When you touch a new CD or DVD it's on your hands. The argument that it only leaches into food and beverages when heated is false. Scientists have found, that at room temperature, polycarbonate buckets and bowls leach bisphenol A into water (Howdeshell et al., 2003 Environmental Health Perspectives).

Other studies show an alarming relationship between very low doses of bisphenol A and cancer, endocrine disruption and insulin resistance. Bisphenol A is an estrogen mimic, resulting in the growth of cancer cells in the mammary glands and prostate gland in studies of mice. One lab study found that with a dosage of 10µg/kg/day, 100% of the rats developed prostate cancer (Ho et al., 2006, Cancer Research). Another study found bisphenol A, at the same low dose of 10 µg / kg/ day, stimulates abnormal development of basal cells in mouse fetuses. (Timms et al. 2005, PNAS 102:7014). In other studies, the same low dose given to lab rats found at first it stimulates insulin secretion and subsequently causes insulin resistance (Alonso-Magdalena et al. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2006). In humans, researchers found blood levels of BPA were linked to obesity in women (Takeuchi et al. Endo J. 2004). Also, elevated levels of BPA in blood was associated with recurrent miscarriage in women (Takeuchi et al. Endo J. 2004).

What is alarming is that these effects happen in extremely low doses, below human exposure. Bisphenol A is all around us. Even a polycarbonate baby food bottle give your infant a dose of 5 µg/kg/day. The Environmental Protection Agency oral reference dose is 50ug/kg/day, 5 times the dosage found to cause harm in lab studies.

Why does the Environmental Protection Agency permit humans to be in contact with bisphenol A in high doses? To influence regulation, scientists and policymakers work together to draft new policy. Weight of evidence influences that policy. Vom Saal and Hughes reviewed the 161 animal studies with bisphenol A conducted between 1997-2006. They correlated results with funding source.

Chemical corporations fund studies that give desired results. They publish those in trade journals, and reference those when lobbying lawmakers. This creates doubt. Creating doubt is a game industry plays to influence policy. It has been effective to postpone regulation that would hurt their industry, despite the consequences for human health.

It is imperative that the public be involved in the political process. Get to know your political representatives. By contacting them, you can insist that junk science be abandoned. I’m glad one visitor to our blog brought up SB1713, a senate bill to curb the use of bisphenol A in products we come in contact with. Also, contact your local representative to lend your support to California AB 2058. If signed into law, this bill would require large grocery chains and pharmacies statewide to charge a 25 cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags if a 70% reduction in plastic bag usage is not achieved by the end of 2010.

Best regards,
Read more!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

JUNK PSA #4: Toxic Chemistry

As JUNK roars towards the half way mark, another reminder of what this voyage is all about: drawing public attention to some of the ecological and human health impacts associated with plastic. Like Bisphenol A in baby bottles and toys

Heres Marcus chatting about BPA from the middle of the Pacific Ocean:

Continued thanks to our generous communications sponsors - Long Beach Marine Electronics, OCENS Inc., and Explorer Satellite for making these videos possible.

In April, Canada became the first country to ban baby bottles containing BPA. Will the US follow suit?

Read more!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Debate with a skeptic Part II

A while back, we posted some comments from Dr. Williscroft, who questioned our claims that the plastic marine debris issue is a significant one, and warrants immediate action.

An interesting addendum to the story: I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Williscroft at a presentation I gave last week to the Los Angeles Adventurers club. To my surprise, he was extremely amiable, and interested in our research, he simply wanted to see quantitative data to illustrate our claims. Fair enough.

The response from Marcus generated further debate on both ends. For those who have followed this lively dialogue, heres part deux:

"I appreciate your reasoned response, but I still see little quantitative information to sink my teeth into. First, while the story of the train wreck is interesting, it misses the point. This was an example of an urgent problem that was NOT being addressed. I suspect you are addressing a no-urgent problem with unwarranted urgency. You state: “…the density of pelagic plastic has doubled since 2005.” This is the kind of statement that is widely used to camouflage fuzzy data. Mind you, I’m NOT saying you are doing this, but this isn’t substantive information. If there was one acre of trash in 2005 and not there is two acres (a doubling), it’s a non problem. If there were twenty thousand acres in 2005, and that has doubled – that strikes me as more noteworthy. But when compared to the vast expanse of the world’s oceans, is even that a “problem” with urgent considerations?"

And now, a response from Marcus:

Dear Robert G. Williscroft, PhD

It seems you misunderstood my point about the urgency to address the plastic marine debris issue. If you “do not see quantitative information to sink your teeth into,” as you state, may I request again that you visit our website for references to the work of our scientists and others. Or browse any university library and scroll through the Marine Pollution Bulletin, or search the index catalog for names like C. Moore, A. Andrady, H. Takada, or R. Thompson. You will find substantial quantitative evidence to document all of our scientific claims. If your sincere interest is a scientific argument, then I strongly suggest you start there. At the end of this response, I have included a list of publications for your review.

From your response, I gather that scientific articles may not be sufficient. To this I have no response. The peer review process in scientific journals is the best available means to share data around the world, other than dragging every scientist into your lab to see physical phenomena with their own eyes. In the peer review process a proposed scientific study is anonymously criticized by other leading scientists in that field. Almost always, the first task is to point out errors in statistical measures or significance. You appear to doubt the statistical significance of our data, therefore, since you live in Southern California, I invite you to visit our lab in Redondo Beach. You will be given a personal tour so that you can see the physical phenomena with your own eyes.

The occurrence of plastic marine debris throughout the North Pacific Ocean is well documented, as are the hundreds of species found with plastic marine debris in or around their bodies. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation has found significant concentrations of DDT, PCBs and PAHs sorbed onto plastic marine debris. Other studies show that the compounds migrate from ingested plastic into the bodies of some organisms. In other research it is well documented that these man-made synthetic chemicals are carcinogenic, endocrine disruptors, and can be attributed to other ailments found in wildlife and humans. There is also wide evidence that man-made synthetic chemicals are bioaccumulating and biomagnifying up the food chain. As I said in my earlier response, the current scientific question is, “Are persistent organic pollutants consumed by marine organisms bioaccumulating up the food chain and into the fisheries that we harvest?”

Admittedly, the causal links from plastic trash in our storm drains, to marine debris, to wildlife contamination and human health concerns, is a difficult chain to connect. Yet, this logical circle is fearfully coming to fruition. Add to this the exponential growth of plastic trash accumulating in the world’s oceans. The plastics industry reported U.S. production of 120 billion pounds of plastic annually, representing a 100% increase in 15 years. This parallels the growth of plastic trash found in the North Pacific Gyre. In 2003 the California Integrated Waste Management Board reported that 25% of plastic produced could not be accounted for through recycling programs, durable goods, or landfills. We are seeing that missing plastic waste accumulating in our oceans. A burgeoning sense of urgency is the meeting of these two roads: our throwaway society, and long-term human health. But, this is not a scientific argument. It is a moral one.

To say that you need to see the effect before you address the cause is unwise considering the global impact of plastic marine debris, especially when all the causal links are illuminating long-term human health concerns. If prosperity, longevity and security of human populations worldwide are tantamount, then employ the precautionary principle.

“There is evidence for adverse health effects in animals, significant human exposure, and safer alternatives are readily available, therefore, until proven otherwise, plastic marine debris and the associated sorbed toxins and pre-production plasticers should be assumed to impact human health. Scientific certainty is not required prior to taking regulatory action.”

If your fear is economics, as you eluded to in your initial reply, then I suggest alternatives to petroleum-based plastics and our throwaway society that are healthy for the environment, our bodies and the marketplace. While much of the developed world embraces a cultural shift to the Sustainable Century, the United States resists departing the Synthetic Century. I would rather see our nation lead rather than lag behind. Markets in alternatives to disposable plastics, like stainless steel water bottles and coffee mugs, and cloth grocery bags, are soaring. To show good faith, when I return to Los Angeles I’ll send you a reusable water bottle. In fact, you can have one of the 100 stainless steel ones we have on JUNK as a souvenir.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of references.

Robards, M. D.; Gould, P. J.; Piatt, J. F. The highest global concentrations and increased abundance of oceanic plastic debris in the North Pacific: Evidence from seabirds. In Marine Debris; Coe, J. M.; Rogers, D. B., Eds.; Springer: Berlin, 1997.
Reddy, M. S.; Basha, S.; Adimurthy, S.; Ramachandraiah, G. Description of the plastics fragments in marine sediments along the Alang-Sosiya ship-breaking yard, India. Estuarine, Coastal Shelf Sci. 2006, 68, 656-660.
Carpenter, E. J.; Anderson, S. J.; Harvey, G. R.; Miklas, H. P.; Peck, B. B. Polystyrene spherules in coastal water. Science (Washington, DC, U.S.) 1972, 178, 749-750.
Ng, K. L.; Obbard, J. P. Prevalence of microplastics in Singapore’s coastal marine environment. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 2006, 52, 761- 767.
Gregory, M. R. Plastic “scrubbers” in hand cleansers: A further (and minor) source for marine pollution identified. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 1996, 32, 867-871.
George, G. A. Weathering of polymers. Mater. Forum 1995, 19, 145-161.
Wurl, O.; Obbard, J. P. A review of pollutants in the sea-surface microlayer (SML): A unique habitat for marine microorganisms. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 2004, 48, 1016-1030.

Thompson, R. C., Teuten, E., Rowland, S. J., Galloway, T. Potential for Plastics to Transport Hydrophobic Contaminants. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2007, 41, 7759-7764.
Rios, L. M.; Moore, C.; Jones, P. R. Persistent organic pollutants carried by synthetic polymers in the ocean environment. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 2007, 54, 1230-1237.
Mato, Y.; Isobe, T.; Takada, H.; Kanehiro, H.; Ohtake, C.; Kaminuma, T. Plastic resin pellets as a transport medium for toxic chemicals in the marine environment. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2001, 35, 308-324.
Ye, S.; Andrady, A. L. Fouling of floating plastic debris under Biscayne Bay exposure conditions. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 1991, 22, 608-613.
Brunauer, S.; Emmett, P. H.; Teller, E. Adsorption of gases in multimolecular layers. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1938, 60, 309-319.
Hardy, J. T.; Crecelius, E. A.; Antrim, L. D.; Keiesser, S. L.; Broadhurst, V. L.; Boehm, P. D.; Steinhauer, W. G.; Coogan, T. H. Aquatic surface microlayer contamination in Chesapeake Bay. Mar. Chem. 1990, 28, 333-351.
Pascall, M. A.; Zabik, M. A.; Zabik, M. J.; Hernandez, R. J. Uptake of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from an aqueous medium by polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, and polystyrene films. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2005, 53, 164-169.

Derraik, J. G. B. The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: A review. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 2002, 44, 842-852.
Laist, D. W. Impacts of marine debris: Entanglement of marine life in debris including a comprehensive list of species with entanglement and ingestion records. In Marine Debris; Coe, J. M.; Rogers, D. B., Eds.; Springer: Berlin, 1997.
Fry, D. M.; Fefer, S. I.; Sileo, L. Ingestion of plastic by laysan albatrosses and wedge-tailed shearwaters in the Hawaiian Islands. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 1987, 18, 339-343.
Eriksson, C.; Burton, H. Origins and biological accumulation of small plastic particles in fur seals from Macquire Island. Ambio 2003 32, 380-384.

Ryan, P. G.; Connell, A. D.; Gardener, B. D. Plastic ingestion and PCBs in seabirds: Is there a relationship? Mar. Pollut. Bull. 1988, 19, 174-176.
Thompson, R. C.; Olsen, Y.; Mitchell, R. P.; Davis, A.; Rowland, S. J.; John, A. W. G.; McGonigle, D.; Russell, A. Lost at sea: Where is all the plastic? Science (Washington, DC, U.S.) 2004, 304, 838.
Voparil, I. M.; Mayer, L. A. Dissolution of sedimentary polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the lugworm’s (Arenicola marina) digestive fluids. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2000, 34, 1221-1228.
Voparil, I. M.; Mayer, L. A. Commercially available chemicals that mimic a deposit feeder’s (Arenicola marina) digestive solubilization of lipids. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2004, 38, 4334- 4339.
Lu, X.; Reible, D. D.; Fleeger, J. W. Relative importance of ingested sediment versus pore water as uptake routes for PAHs to the deposit-feeding oligochaete Ilyodrilus templetoni. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 2004, 47, 207-214.
Weston, D. P.; Penry, D. L.; Gulmann, L. K. The role of ingestion as a route of contaminant bioaccumulation in a deposit-feeding polychaete. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 2000, 38, 446- 454.
Timmermann, K.; Anderson, O. Bioavailability of pyrene to the deposit-feeding polychaete Arenicola marina: Importance of sediment versus water uptake routes. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 2003, 246, 163-172.
Lamoureux, E. M.; Brownawell, B. J. Chemical and biological availability of sediment-sorbed hydrophobic organic contaminants. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 1999, 18, 1733-1741.

Finally, a response from Tamara Adkins, Doctoral Candidate from Antioch University:

I appreciate the attention Dr. Robert G. Williscroft has given to the voyage of the Junk. I was curious to know more about him, and scanned his resume and list of publications online. His impressive credentials include supervising the National Science Foundation Atmospheric Research Program at the South Pole, Given his expertise, I would expect an evidence-based rebuttal to the messages to which Dr Eriksen is bringing our attnetion. If he is aware of studies that would lead to us believe that plastic debris is not increasing in the ocean, or that it is not a threat to wildlife, I would be interested in seeing it.

As an endocrine disruption researcher, the weight of evidence certainly supports the toxicity of even very low doses of many of the monomers and additives found in common plastics (such as phthalates, bisphenol-A, styrene, vinyl chloride, organotin, lead, etc.). Adding these contaminants to the marine food chain does not seem wise. However, I subscribe to the precautionary principle -- the idea that if the risk of catastrophic harm is highly likely but not proven, it would make sense to delay action until further research results are compiled. (This, of course, assumes that not taking action is an option, and that it does not carry its own risks). I suspect, based on the reviews, of Dr Williscroft's book "Chicken Little,", that he does not subscribe to the precautionary principle. In his book, he "debunks" global warming and the hole in the ozone layer, as well as addressing unfounded fears about "terrorists, illegal immigrants, the Bird Flu, fuel dependency, food toxicity, antibiotic resistant bacteria". Mixing politics with science is familiar territory for Dr. Williscroft.

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Monday, July 21, 2008


A few posts back, we heard about Marcus and Joel patiently stalking - and then stocking - some fresh Mahi Mahi. After eating their fill, they decorated JUNK with strings of Mahi Jerky, using every available's Marcus to tell you all about it.

And now, a few responses from Marcus and Joel to some recent blog comments:

Don Geagan and everyone,

Thanks you and everyone for your well wishes as we make our way across the Pacific. Everyday is a challenge. The first thing we do each morning is to make sure nothing is falling apart. This morning we patched a hole in one of the pontoons that had been sawing against a mast all night long. No bottles lost.
What makes all of this easier to deal with is the feedback from home. It would be a much different voyage without your support. We recognize that this project is a huge team effort. We've had amazing sponsorship from business and private donors. A steady stream of volunteers helped every day to construct the raft. Anna Cummins, our blogwriter, keeps us in the loop and maintains an awesome blog site. Captain Charles Moore, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, keeps us informed of storms and predicts our progress using current models. We just get to be the lucky sailors on the raft.
Thank you for your kind support. It means everything to us.

Marcus and Joel


Sorry your wind generator is giving you trouble. Tell Jody to smear 3M-5200 over the wires, then drop it in the ocean, tangle some fishing line in it while it's spinning, then let a couple more wires catch fire in the cockpit. That ought to fix everything. It worked for us.


Leah B.

We're landing in Alawai Harbor at the public dock if the winds and waves allow us to stay north of the 21st parallel. Please stay in touch with our blog. We'll have more details when we get closer.

Thanks for getting in touch.
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Guido and Van Buren make CNN

Thanks to Glenn, Pam, and Josh, a wonderful JUNK clip on CNN. Experimental hair stages and all.....

Craving a departure from the daily routine, Marcus and Joel have fun with the razor. Meet Guido and Van Buren.

JUNK is currently zipping along, making 50 miles a day for the last few day. If there is such a thing as "at this rate", JUNK will make her mid-late August arrival in Honolulu. Read more!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cyclone sailing

July 18
The East trade winds are consistently blowing 15-20 knots, pushing us 40-45 miles per day. We’ve got the JUNK square sail flying for the first time. Hopefully it’s downwind all the way. There are still 30 degrees of longitude left to cross - 1800 miles. If we can maintain 300 miles a week, we’ll get there by the end of August. To put it into perspective, that’s driving from Los Angeles to New Orleans at two miles per hour for the next six weeks. Martigras anyone?

We’re getting some wind from the cyclones down below. A plus for us: were in the cold water, where cyclones die. We’re riding the 23rd parallel, where the water is around 65 degrees. Down south, below 20 degrees latitude, temperatures rise to 80, perfect bath water for a cyclone.

Right now the seas are 6-8 feet, with sporadic white caps that spill over the deck of JUNK. All of our fish jerky is hanging in the cabin to dry above Joel’s head. We’re both only pages away from finishing Don Quixote. When we get bored we pump the watermaker, adjust the sails, grab a few almonds for a snack, and gaze at the coming waves. Read more!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Go fish, come wind!

July 15th

For 5 weeks we’ve clawed our way from the coastal wind and currents of North America, to find ourselves completely becalmed. For three days we made a figure 8 track within a 10 x 10 mile box northwest of 23N lattitude and 123W longitude. Go figure. No.. go fish! Here's a clip of our recent Mahi adventures, esp. for those inquiring about our nutrition situation:

We hadn't seen any fish for two weeks, but sit still for a few days and somethings bound to show up. Each day we saw a Mahi Mahi appear, and each day we caught and ate it. Sashimi, broiled fillet, coconut curry, and with the 3rd and final catch, I made jerky. We’ve got enough fish jerky hanging in the cabin to feed us for two months, and it’s rather aromatic too.

But fortunately those becalmed days are gone. Two days ago Joel was swimming across the mirror-like surface of the water. Suddenly a puff of wind blew across the deck. “Hey Joel,” I yelled. “Looks like we got some wind.” Quickly the mizzen sail spun around and the ocean surface grew ripples. “I guess I ought to come back,” Joel replied. We raised the spinnaker and headed due west. We haven’t stopped. In 48 hours we’ve traveled more than 90 miles. We’re in the East Tradewinds! Only 1850 miles to Hawaii. Stay with us. Read more!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Synthetic Sea: a reminder of why were doing this

JUNK is currently gliding west, stocked with fresh Mahi Mahi, deck covered with fish jerky drying in the briny breeze, riding high on a few newly fashioned pontoon-ettes.

While we wait for a detailed update, heres an excellent reminder of why we are doing this. Watch this short version of "Synthetic Sea", Algalita's signature documentary on plastics pollution in our ocean. This is the film that first put Algalita's research on the map.

Seeing this film in 2002 lead to my own lifelong fascination with plastics pollution, and ensuing involvement with Algalita. It would be difficult to watch this and NOT feel that this is an issue that warrants more attention, understanding, and action. Read more!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Are we starving? Hell no!

And we're finally catching some fish!

Seeing the recent posts about running out of cabbage and cheese, and dwindling canned veggies, some have expressed concern about JUNK's food situation. FEAR NOT! Our sailors have been rationing their remaining perishables, but haven't begun to touch their dried goods - a good 2 months worth, thanks to generous sponsorships from Whole Foods Market and Kashi. The full breakdown follows for those interested - this doesn't include the emergency MRE's Marcus stashed in the pontoons, nor the fish that they are beginning to catch, like last nights Mahi Mahi! Here's the story of Joel's determined mission to land some sashimi...

The morning sun brought another day of calm seas and less than 5 knots of wind. Breakfast consisted of 8 slices of salami followed by a chunk of cheddar cheese. We’re consuming perishables first. For lunch we turned this around and actually ate the cheddar cheese first, followed by salami.

“Hey Joel. How’s the cabbage doin?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’ve got to peel a few leaves today,” he replied.

Throughout the day we occupy our time independently on various personal projects. Joel worked the Frankensail a bit more. I tied a couple 2x4s under a spot where the deck was tearing into one of the pontoons. By the time 5pm rolls around one of us, usually me, asks, “So, what are we eating today?”
Cabbage. Dinner will be cabbage with pesto sauce. We could of course delve into our rations in buckets, but we’re not sure how much longer we’ll be here. We originally considered this to be a six-week voyage. It’s not the sixth week and there are at least six more to go. We’ve agreed that it’s better to be disciplined now rather than hungry later.
Joel whipped up a mean cabbage salad with pesto and a little bleu cheese. I settled into the cockpit with my bowl. Joel was still outside stalking.
Hours ago he spied a fish. It was our first fish sighting in two weeks. Interestingly, we had just called Don McFarland moments earlier. Don and three others rafted to Hawaii in 1958. This was our first call to him while at sea.

“You guys seeing any fish?” Don asked.
“Not a single one,” I replied.
“That’s strange. We had fish almost every day. How about barnacles?” He was referring to the Gooseneck Barnacle that attaches to marine debris. “You can pull those off and suck the juice out of them.” We had done that months ago when we joined Captain Charles Moore studying plastic in the North Pacific Gyre. Charlie made a barnacle rice dish with the broth. It wasn’t half bad.
“No Don, no barnacle eating yet,” I replied. An hour later Joel was dancing across the deck.

“MAHI MAHI,” he yelled. For the next few hours he stalked the fish around the deck, fishing lure in one hand, spear gun in the other. Mahi Mahi are curious fish and will chase anything bouncing across the surface. After hours of trying, Joel took a seat in the cockpit and began slicing cabbage.
I was eating my bowl of cabbage when Joel exclaimed, “You’ve got to see this.” The fish was almost stationary under the starboard bow, with only his head out of view. It was as if the fish was thinking, “If I can’t see them, they can’t see me.” But in this case, half its body was exposed less than two feet below the surface.
I ran back for my camera. Joel cocked the spear gun. “Swoosh!” the spear penetrated the fish, sending it wriggling across the surface.
“We’ve got to get it in,” I yelled, as I yanked the fish onto the bow netting. Joel, cautious of the spear from the gun, lunged onto the fish, grabbing the end of the spear to hold it down. I ran back for my makeshift spear, the one made from a piece of aluminum boat railing, and ended the ordeal.
“I wanna eat it,” Joel said with determination.
“Sashimi or steak?” I asked.
While I cleaned the fish, chef Joel sautéed a bit of garlic, ginger and lemon with two tablespoons of butter. It took half an hour for me to fully clean the fish, stripping skin from meat, meat from bone. I hung 10 pieces for jerky. The pot was overflowing with fresh fish. The skeleton was also hung from the railing of the raft. We’ll pick on that later once it dries.
By 9:00 pm we were enjoying our first taste of fish in weeks. We will eat like kings for a couple of days. What we can’t eat will be dried in the sun. What we couldn’t pull off the bones will be used as bait. Nothing is wasted. This gift from the sea is a blessing.
Thank you Don for wishing us fish.

And now a rough inventory of our supplies:
Perishables: 4 lbs cheddar cheese, 10 lemons and limes, three cabbages, 2 bags of salami and pesto sauce, and bleu cheese.
Dried goods: 23 bags of Kashi cereal, 10 lbs. rice, 4 lbs. nuts, 4 boxes granola, 2 boxes granola bars, 30 protein bars, 8 jars Peanut butter, 5 packs beef jerky (and fish jerky in the making), 4 boxes red beans and rice, 1 bag cookies, 10 boxes mac and cheese, 11 assorted dehydrated entrees, 27 Tasty Bite dinners, 3 lbs dried beans, large bags of dried apples and pineapples, 5 lbs dried soup, 5 jars pwd. Milk.
Other: 3 jars honey, 1 large jar strawberry jam, 10 cans veggies, 1 bucket of M+Ms, large bottle olive oil, and 7 MREs.

And more fish we hope.
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