Environmentalism needs what Dr. Marcus Eriksen is embarking upon this Sunday.
When I first saw the photo of their raft, I balked. I thought to myself “Doesn’t that look a little risky?” and “What if the raft should be lost at sea?” So I sat down with him and asked ten simple questions addressing my concerns. What I concluded is that this project is about what’s most essential to the success of environmentalism, which is “the human spirit.”
You can organize all the workshops, conferences, protests, get togethers and beach walks you want, but to truly motivate people, you have to have an additional human element. And that comes from brave people doing brave things like this. I have no doubt that David Brower, Edward Abbey, and all the other firebrands throughout the history of environmentalism would take enormous joy and satisfaction in the way that Marcus is going about calling attention to this difficult-to-publicize, faraway issue of plastics in the oceans. Here are my ten questions for him concerning the risk and safety of their journey.
TEN QUESTIONS WITH DR. MARCUS ERIKSEN ABOUT HIS UPCOMING EXPEDITION, SAILING FROM LONG BEACH TO HAWAII ON A RAFT BUILT UPON 15,000 PLASTIC BOTTLES
Q1: What’s the worst case scenario?
M.E.: Besides falling in or getting run over, the worst case scenario is that plastic trash continues to fill our oceans.
Q2: I was expecting you to say, “we end up lost at sea.” Isn’t that the worst case scenario?
M.E.: We’ve filed that scenario right next to, “killed in a car crash on the way to the launch,” which is about equal probability.
Q3: What makes you so confident in the seaworthiness of the raft?
M.E.: One word … “redundancy.”
Q4: Which means …?
M.E.: That everything is backed up at least once. It’s the key to safety on a journey like this. We have three GPS units, 2 satellite phones, 2 VHF radios, IPERB Coast Guard Beacon, and 3 months worth of food and water. And when it comes to flotation, we have more than just two — we actually have 12 pontoons, so if one were to rupture we can easily stay afloat on the other 11 while we fix it.
Q5: Is this the most dangerous crossing anyone has ever attempted from California to Hawaii?
M.E.: Well, I’m not the first to raft this passage. In 1958 4 men drifted on a 20 ton wooden platform without even any sails from Hermosa Beach to Hawaii! They didn’t have any of the incredible technology we’ll have – no GPS, satellite telephone, or the five gallon bucket of Hershey’s kisses I’ve packed away. We anticipate it will take 6 weeks for 1.5 tons of JUNK to sail the same distance.
Q6: Are you worried about getting caught in a hurricane?
M.E.: We’re going at the best time of the year for weather – May/June. It’s when most people try to schedule this journey. There’s always a risk of severe weather at sea, but the hurricanes generally tend to form off Baja and move north if the water is warm. To our advantage, this year the water has remained unusually cold off California which greatly reduces the likelihood of a hurricane moving up. But if one hits, our only choice is to hold on till it blows over.
Q7: Do you have enough experience for this journey?
M.E.: Yes, we both do. Joel Paschal, my sailing partner, and I met in Hawaii earlier this year as crew aboard the ORV Alguita. We traveled with Captain Charles Moore 4000 miles across the North Pacific Ocean to quantify the accumulation of plastic trash.
It was on that expedition that Joel, Anna Cummins and I talked about the project “Message in a Bottle”. We designed our raft and planned our journey under the watchful eye of Captain Moore, an experienced sailor having crossed to Hawaii and back over 10 times.
Q8: What’s the risk of getting run over by an ocean liner?
M.E.: The risk is slim, but not impossible. We will be crossing through shipping lanes. Our redundant radio equipment and AIS, which allows ships to identify each other, will keep us and other ships in communication. Also, our 20 sailboat masts used for the deck, and aluminum airplane fuselage for a cabin, creates an enormous radar signature. We have a better chance of being seen by big ships than typical fiberglass sailboats do.
Q9: Don’t you think if the raft were to be lost at sea people like Jay Leno would have a lot of fun with it – to say that two guys went out to draw attention to the problem of plastics in the sea and ended up adding another 15,000 plastic bottles to the problem?
M.E.: Well, as I’ve said, the risks of the raft not making it are the same as any other sailboat. But more importantly, let’s look at the facts. Over 10,000 pounds of plastic trash enter the oceans every day from just the city of Los Angeles. Our raft has a total of about 350 pounds – a drop in the bucket. If adding that relatively small amount more of plastics to the oceans is enough to get the issue talked about on national television its absolutely worth it, because right now, virtually no one is giving this issue much thought. It has to start somewhere.
Q10: But still, in the end, anyone venturing out into the open ocean is risking their lives. Why are you doing this?
M.E.: Yes, we are risking our lives, but the issue of petroleum-based plastic and our national dependence on petroleum, warrant urgent action. My quality of life, the future of our nation’s economy, environmental quality, and human health, are at stake. I remember 17 years ago, as a young Marine in the Gulf War, standing in Kuwait City covered with drops of oil from the burning wells, saying to myself, “Why have we done this?” James Baker, former Secretary of State, the man that sent me to war, said recently, “We had a written policy that we would go to war to defend secure access to the energy reserves of the Persian Gulf.” THIS IS NOT WHY I CHOSE TO SERVE MY COUNTRY!
This expedition aims to alert my nation to the plastic marine debris issue, the legislation that will cure this plague, and the corrosive national policy toward energy that fails us all.