Review: Junk Raft

June 29, 2017

book review

Junk Raft
An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution
By Marcus Eriksen
Beacon Press
July 2017
216 pages

At the outset, author Marcus Eriksen exposes the truth behind the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, supposedly floating between California and Hawaii that is twice the size of Texas. In 1997, Captain Charles Moore’s actual discovery was billions upon billions of tiny, colored plastic particles — from micro to macro — floating on the flat sea surface and encompassing an area about twice the size of Texas. But the floating garbage island meme was a better sell with the media and focused public attention on plastics and other pollutants in our oceans.

Eriksen is a veteran and environmental researcher and activist. Prior to establishing the 5 Gyres Institute (dedicated to fighting plastic pollution) with his wife Anna, Eriksen sailed across the Pacific on “Junk Raft,” constructed with plastic bottles, plus 30 old sailboat masts for a deck and a Cessna 310 airplane as a cabin. Eriksen and his comrade in environmental advocacy Joel Pachal (an accomplished sailor) embarked on June 1, 2008, on a course set to imitate the route that trash follows when dumped into the ocean. What they observed was neither a garbage patch nor a trail of plastics. Instead they found micro and macro plastic particles so pervasive in the ocean environment they had become part of the food chain, ingested by and in most cases killing all species of marine life. In one instance the fish they caught for dinner were so polluted with microplastics they were inedible.

Their journey was not without incident and harrowing close encounters with death, as well as days on end of boredom adrift on the flat sea. The most astonishing event was a meet-up in the middle of nowhere for a food and water swap with ocean rower Roz Savage. Eriksen infuses his Robinson Crusoe narrative with an exposition of the ongoing battle to fight plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways. Though Eriksen supports public awareness campaigns, better waste management, and bag bans, he places the ultimate responsibility at the feet of the plastics producers to produce less, recycle more, and foot the bill for reclaiming the tsunami of toxic junk that saturates our environment. You will never look at plastic the same way. Junk Raft is an unforgettable expedition through the sea of microplastics that charts our course out of this morass.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Peggy Tibbetts

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