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Santa Monica couple to study effects of plastic particles in Sargasso Sea

January 4, 2010 |  5:48 pm

Raft1

On Thursday, Santa Monica researchers Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins plan to set sail in the 72-foot sloop Sea Dragon on a voyage across the Sargasso Sea region of the North Atlantic to investigate the prevalence of micro-plastic marine debris.

The couple, who were married in June, will collect samples of the ocean's surface, seafloor sediment and the contents of fish stomachs to better understand the effects of one of the fastest growing segments of civilization's toxic waste stream.

"Plastic debris -- fishing tackle, nets, plastic bags and bottles -- are broken down at sea by ultraviolet light and wave action into tiny fragments we call plastic soup," Eriksen said.

"There are many unanswered questions about the fate of these tiny plastic fragments," he said. "Are they being absorbed into the tissues of fish, and then making their way into the food chain? If so, how much of it is winding up on our dinner plates?"

Their journey will involve several voyages. The first will launch from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and take them across the Sargasso Sea -- an elongated region in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean roughly 700 miles by 2,000 miles -- to the Azores.

The final expedition in August will cross a similar gyre between Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, South Africa.

The effort is a collaboration of three nonprofit environmental organizations led by Long Beach-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Eriksen, 42, and Cummins, 36, celebrated their marriage with a 2,000-mile bike ride to raise awareness of plastic marine pollution.

Next year, they are planning a public awareness campaign that will begin with a 2,000-mile East Coast cycling-lecture tour and conclude with construction in Paris of a boat from 250,000 plastic straws. In that vessel, the TLS, the couple will sail the Seine River, then cross the English Channel.

--Louis Sahagun

Photo: Researchers Marcus Eriksen, left, Anna Cummins and associate Joel Pascal in 2008 aboard a raft built out of 15,000 plastic water bottles. Credit: Peter Bennett.

    

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