Shifting Baselines

How bad is the situation with plastics in the ocean? Bad enough that the staff of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation are building “Junkraft,” a raft made of 20,000 discarded plastic bottles for sailing the 2100 miles from California to Hawaii to call attention to it. I stopped by to check out the construction this morning on the front lawn of the Long Beach Aquarium. Good friend and long time Shifting Baselines supporter Anna Cummins is working with her boyfriend Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Joel Paschal and a group of volunteers, stuffing mesh bags full of the plastic bottles. Patagonia donated a few thousand nalgene water bottles that they are now getting rid of due to recent concerns over contaminants in plastics. Marcus and Joel plan to set sail in about a month. It should take about six weeks from Los Angeles harbor to the Big Island of Hawaii. We’ll keep you posted on the project here, or you can follow the updates on their blog. It’s sure to be a big adventure.

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Anna, Marcus and Joel sitting on one of the plastic bottle-filled pontoons. The raft will be supported by six of these pontoons which Marcus says will draw only about 8 inches of water.

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This is the beginnings of the raft frame. The pontoons will be lashed beneath it. The airplane fuselage will serve as the cabin. Stay tuned for updates on the construction.


  1. #1 Barn Owl
    April 28, 2008

    Cool! It’s Coke-tiki!

    If they need to replace any of the pontoon plastic, I suppose they could pick up bits and pieces in the Pacific Garbage Patch. ๐Ÿ™

  2. #2 doug l
    April 28, 2008

    Shades of Waterworld!

  3. #3 Randy Olson
    April 28, 2008

    whoever Barn Owl is I’m sitting here crying with laughter at “Coke-tiki”


  4. #4 Barn Owl
    April 28, 2008

    Of course, the captain of the polymeran is the infamous and controversial Dr. Thor Bisphenol….

    I’ll stop now, I promise!

  5. #5 Anna Cummins
    April 29, 2008

    Barn Owl,
    Don’t stop now!!! I sense you’re just warming up….

    Coke-tiki is brilliant – wish we’d thought of that sooner! Wanna join this project as our clever slogan-meister?

    And yes, this raft will be headed right through the gyre. Which isn’t really a patch so much as a massive plastic soup….

    Keep checking in, and passing on your wicked wordplay. Marcus will love Thor Bisphenol….

  6. #6 Barn Owl
    May 1, 2008

    I look forward to reading updates on the journey, Anna!

    I shouldn’t poke fun at ol’ Dr. Heyerdahl, maybe-I know his ideas were controversial, but it was his books Kon-tiki and The Ra Expeditions, along with several of Jacques Cousteau’s books, that sparked my interests in ocean travel and marine biology as a kid.

    As a South Texan, I find it ironic that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is frequently measured (in news reports, at least) in units of “Texas”. With all the plastic that blows around the landscape here, we have our own terrestrial Garbage Patch. ๐Ÿ™

  7. #7 e.ann
    May 4, 2008

    While I believe that what Algalita is doing is a really positive thing, I have some concerns. Algalita’s mission is research. They are focused on “showing convincing evidence” that the issue of plastics in the ocean exists, and they work hard to communicate their messages to the public, from school children to city councils. It is obvious that they are passionate about the issue and while they have talented people working for them, their background is not firmly rooted in science. I feel that the research carried out by Algalita should be more rigorous.

    Recently I had a chance to see a presentation by an Algalita representative. It was obvious at the presentation that researchers in attendance had some concerns about Algalita’s techniques and data. The data presented regarding the plastic to plankton ratio were aggressive and it seemed that those data were not backed by solid methods. This is concerning, because Algalita has a voice and this information is being shared publicly. All of Algalita’s hard work could inadvertently have a negative effect if the holes in the data are used by plastic companies and law makers as evidence for lack of scientific certainty that plastic in the ocean is a serious issue. We want the public to trust scientists and so it is important that the science presented to the public is rigorous and supported by the scientific community at large.

    I am glad that Algalita had a chance to present to what was a primarily scientific audience. It provided an opportunity for Algalita to see weaknesses in their research and for the scientists to see that there are people out there who are passionate and concerned. At a minimum it highlighted the serious need for more research in this area.

    From a personal standpoint, I believe that plastic in the ocean is a serious issue and I hope that there could be partnerships in the future between groups such as Algalita and the scientific community because there would be strength in that. Overall, the education side is great – the science is what concerns me.

  8. #8 Johny
    October 21, 2008

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  9. #9 panic attack relief
    September 19, 2009

    You know what you could do… you could gather all that plastic bottles and make a fake island of them. One guy did exactly that and now has his own small island.

  10. #10 sรถve
    September 21, 2009

    Thank you very much for this information.

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    September 8, 2010

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