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From the Stacks: A journey toward a cleaner ocean

From the Stacks: A journey toward a cleaner ocean

July 7th, 2019 by Brian D. Bray, For the News Tribune in Life & Entertainment

Statistics show us, plastic production during World War II was zero.

By 1972, plastic production rose to 40 million tons, and it is estimated by 2050 the production will reach 1 billion tons.

The United States recycles only 9.2 percent of the country's plastic. The non-recyclable plastics are exported to countries that do not have strict environmental regulations or health regulations for the workers who process the plastic. China and India take these plastics and return them back to United States in some form of a product.

Most people are not interested in these staggering statistics, but what's more daunting is many of these plastics are dumped into the ocean where they break down into micro-plastics or nanoplastics. It is estimated 35 percent of the fish in the ocean have plastic in their stomachs. By 2050, 99 percent of all seabirds will have ingested plastics.

Marcus Eriksen, a Gulf War veteran, thought the problem was so important that he and Joel Paschal constructed a raft out of junk, a story told in "Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and A Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution." Their goal was to leave Los Angeles and finish in Hawaii; on their way, they would study how pollution is affecting the ocean.

The raft was constructed out of 15,000 plastic bottles and a Cessina airplane fuselage to act as a cabin. The journey is 2,600 miles and it took them 88 days to complete. The trip to Hawaii was not an easy one, as they had to confront cyclones, slow currents and not much seafood in the ocean, which they had planned to eat when their food ran low.

The amount of plastics and trash found in the middle of the ocean was even more than Eriksen expected. This "plastic smog" is changing the ecosystem. Eriksen isn't alone, as there is hundreds of volunteers working to clean up the disaster.

The story sounds depressing but the book is encouraging and entertaining as Eriksen and Paschal talk about their adventure in the Pacific. Eriksen is very positive on the future of the plastic industry changing their course of action and the human population making changes, too.

Marcus and his wife, Ann, founded 5 Gyres Institute as a commitment to marine conservation and, with the work of the volunteers, the ocean has a chance to survive.

I enjoyed the book and I learned many new things about pollution and how it affects everyone. I felt like I was on the raft and encountered all the difficulties he did. I highly recommend this book.

Brian D. Bray is the IT trainer at the Missouri River Regional Library.