Boat Made of Plastic Bottles to Sail the Pacific

How do you raise awareness about plastic debris floating in the Pacific? You sail a boat made out of 15,000 plastic bottles from California to Hawaii. Marine scientists Joel Paschal and Marcus Erikson discuss their voyage with host Madeleine Brand.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with Day to Day. Somewhere off the coast of California, two men are sailing to Hawaii on a boat made of plastic bottles.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Plastic bottles?

BRAND: Not only plastic bottles, but recycled old plastic bottles, 15,000 of them. Marine scientists Joel Paschal and Marcus Erikson, they built a boat, really it's kind of like a raft, entirely out of these plastic bottles and other junk. The purpose of their voyage is to call attention of the growing mass of plastic that's polluting the oceans. I went out to meet them at the Long Beach Harbor just before they set sail on a voyage that will take at least six weeks.

BRAND: Are you good friends?

Mr. JOEL PASCHAL (Marine Scientist): We will be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PASCHAL: We were hoping to rebuild the friendship.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: These two scientists say in their marine work they witnessed a huge floating mass of plastic that collects in a sort of eddy in the Pacific. Here's Marcus Erikson.

Dr. MARCUS ERIKSON (Marine Scientist): The vortex is called the North Pacific gyre. It extends from 500 miles off the coast of California to 200 miles off the coast of Japan. It's actually entire North Pacific Ocean is a swirling mass of water called a gyre, and it's full of plastic from end to end.

BRAND: Where does it come from, this plastic?

Dr. ERIKSON: Eighty percent comes from land. Twenty percent comes from the fishing industry, maritime industry. Most of it's from us. We have very quick, in the last two decades, become a throwaway society. Plastic bags, plastic bottles, bottle caps, cups and straws, coffee cup lids. All this junk that didn't exist really 25 years ago is now commonplace everywhere. And the idea you throw something away, well, where is away? There is no away. And we're finding it in the middle of the ocean.

BRAND: Marcus and Joel were so shocked, well, disgusted really by the sight of all this plastic, they decided to pull off a kind of stunt, something that would bring attention to the problem. And so they built this raft from junk, they even named this raft "Junk." Floating on plastic bottles, the base of the raft is made of old sailing masts, they're lashed together. And the cabin, it's a fuselage from an old Cessna prop plane.

Dr. ERIKSON: So you have the airplane sitting on top of sail boat masts sitting on top of 15,000 plastic bottles held together with old fishing nets.

BRAND: The raft is maybe 12 feet wide, 20 feet long. It doesn't look all that seaworthy, but Marcus' partner Joel assures me it is.

BRAND: You're hoping to stop the addition of more plastic into the ocean right, because...

Mr. PASCHAL: It's the only fix I can see right now.

BRAND: You can't do anything about the plastic that's already there?

Mr. PASCHAL: We get lot's of people call every day that are really eager to come up with some technological fix, to take a bunch of huge boats up there and seine out the whole ocean. Of course, you'd scoop up all the life in it in the process and burn up all the rest of the oil left on earth doing a lawnmower pattern across the whole Pacific Ocean. It's not practical. People really want - people really crave this technological fix and really it's a behavioral fix. When Paul is here, a legislative fix. So, we just have to stop using plastic the way we do right now. It takes we think about five years for plastic trash that's floating in this harbor here to work it's way out to the middle of the Pacific gyre. So there's still a large amount of momentum in this system. If we stopped right now, it's going to increase over the next five years.

BRAND: Joel Paschal along with Marcus Erikson. They're sailing a plastic bottle raft to Hawaii, and they hope to reach Oahu some time in mid July.

CHADWICK: Madeleine, did you actually get on this boat?

BRAND: I did and there were these pretty large gaps in between the various lashed together sailing masts and bottles and I thought gosh, you know at night, one false step, you're in trouble.

CHADWICK: Well, let's call them when they get to Hawaii.

BRAND: Boy, I hope they get there safely.

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