For Dr. Marcus Eriksen, a former marine, the moments of rest during the first Gulf War cultivated images of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Stationed in Kuwait City, Kuwait, following the conflict, Eriksen observed what he calls the “environmental degradation” of the war. The New Orleans resident and another soldier laughed about constructing a boat of recycled materials to sail down the Mississippi River like Mark Twain's fictional characters and promote environmental awareness.
This year, Eriksen, now an education specialist with the Long Beach, Calif.-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization, sailed along the California coast in a boat constructed of reusable materials to promote the importance of proper waste disposal.
Eriksen estimates that 80 percent of the plastic found in the ocean comes from land, such as cigarette lighters, plastic bottles, milk crates and bottle caps. “We found on average that the weight of plastic on the ocean surface outweighs all marine life on the ocean surface six to one,” Eriksen says. The staggering figures urged him to take his message to consumers, traveling aboard a vessel made of plastic materials.
At the start of the year, planning and construction of the “recycled” boat — the Fluke — began. Working with students from the Environmental Charter High School, a partnership made possible by a grant from the California Coastal Commission, Eriksen saw an opportunity to spread his recycling message to California residents.
The Fluke was constructed of 800 plastic two-and-a-half-liter bottles, rope made from 1,000 plastic bags, a sail of 50 polyester shirts and a single seat from an old car. While Eriksen was responsible for constructing and welding the boat's aluminum frame, the students analyzed the ocean current and determined potential marina stops and the amount of weight the plastic bottles could hold. Students also collected and cleaned the bottles and made rope from the plastic bags.
Beginning on May 13, 2006, Eriksen, followed by a support boat, began his voyage in Santa Barbara, Calif., one of 11 stops he would make on the 300-mile, six-week journey to San Diego. Along the way, Eriksen found an abundance of plastic trash, including bags, bottles and mylar balloons, which was collected and stored in milk crates onboard the vessel. Eriksen also made stops at various marinas along the coast, taking the Fluke to schools, museums, aquariums and science centers to illustrate consumers' environmental impact.
In the future, Eriksen plans to construct another recycled boat, this time a kayak made of plastic bottles, and urge others to support products that will lessen the harmful effects on aquatic life. “[We need to] just be aware of what we're consuming and think of where it goes next once it leaves your hand,” Eriksen says.