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Miraculous Meeting in a Sea of Junk

// By Stuart H. Coleman // Originally published in Sierra Magazine //

On their three-month journey from Long Beach to Honolulu aboard the recycled Junk, Marcus Eriksen and Joel Paschal found plastic in the stomachs of fish caught in the mid-Pacific. “Plastic is forever,” Eriksen blogged, “and it’s everywhere.”

On June 1, 2008, two men on a strange raft called Junk set sail from Long Beach, California, on a 2,600-mile voyage to Honolulu, Hawaii. The pontoons of their aptly named craft were made of 15,000 plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets; the deck, of old sailboat masts; and the cabin, from the fuselage of a Cessna.

Marcus Eriksen and Joel Paschal had hoped their voyage on Junk would raise awareness about the vast expanse of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean. “We were two crazy guys with a crazy idea,” Paschal says, laughing. The eco-mariners met at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation while researching the plastic pollution swirling around in the North Pacific Gyre. “It’s like a toilet bowl that never flushes,” Eriksen wrote on the duo’s blog,

Before launching his expedition, Eriksen spoke with British adventurer Roz Savage, who was planning her own voyage to raise awareness about plastic marine debris in conjunction with the Blue Frontier Campaign. Having already rowed across the Atlantic several years before, she hoped to become the first woman to row across the Pacific. Savage and Eriksen talked about coordinating their efforts, but she left San Francisco before they could connect again.

More than two months into their respective journeys, the boats came within 100 miles of each other. Paschal’s mother had been reading Savage’s blog and heard that her water desalinator was broken. She called her son via satellite phone, and Junk was able to make radio contact with Savage and locate her on radar.

Savage had plenty of food and no water, and the other boat had lots of water but very little food. “Fortunately, when I met up with the guys on the Junk in mid-ocean, we were able to do a trade,” Savage says. After a fine dinner of freshly speared mahimahi, she says, “we cut through all the small talk and got down to discussing the environment and how we could collaborate.”

After three hours, Savage rowed into the sunset. Two weeks later, the three activists reunited in Honolulu to highlight the environmental dangers and health risks of plastic marine debris. Standing with Eriksen and Paschal in front of their vessels, Savage summed it up: “If we have sick oceans, we’re going to end up with a sick planet and sick people.”

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