PUBLISHED: 6:15 PM on Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Making waves in ocean conservation
Ocean Celebration concert to help raise awareness about plastics in ocean
JUNEAU - Single-use plastic bags have been around fewer than 30 years but they'll still be in landfills 1,000 years from now - and in the world's oceans. The world uses an estimated 1 million plastic bags every minute, and these bags never biodegrade.

Plastic bags and bottles break down into smaller and smaller toxic pieces, which can be easily ingested by marine organisms and enter the food chain. Marine researchers are discovering that plastic bits are much more prevalent than plankton in many parts of the ocean.

Morgan Cavanaugh photo
  The Junk as it sails to Hawaii. Dr. Marcus Eriksen (left) and Joel Paschal sailed the raft. Its pontoons are full of 15,000 plastic bottles from California to Hawaii. The Junk is sailing to raise awareness about the effects of plastics and debris in the world's oceans. Eriksen will be in Juneau for the Ocean Celebration Sept. 21.
To raise awareness of the effects of plastics on the ocean and marine life, the Juneau grassroots group Turning the Tides is sponsoring an "Ocean Celebration" concert Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. at Centennial Hall. Pamyua, an Anchorage-based "tribal roots" group, will headline and the Tlingit rap group Northkut Wolfpack of Juneau will also perform. Speakers at the event include rising Hollywood star Q'orianka Kilcher and Dr. Marcus Eriksen, who recently sailed from California to Hawaii on a boat made of salvaged plastic.

The concert follows the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Clean-up Day on Sept. 20. The annual event grew out of Texas beach cleanup in 1986 in which 124 tons of trash were collected. Last year, 478,000 volunteers worldwide collected six million pounds of trash.

Open ocean

Dr. Marcus Eriksen, director of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in California, worked with Turning the Tides last year. He is returning to Juneau to share his research and experience on the effects of debris in the ocean.

Eriksen and Joel Paschal set sail this summer on the "Junk," a raft made from 300 plastic bags, 15,000 plastic bottles and salvaged masts and airplane parts.

Along their 2,600-mile voyage from Long Beach, California to Hawaii, they saw the extent of the "confetti of plastic" in the Pacific.

  Q'orianka Kilcher
"You go to the least likely part of the world to find plastic, you find plastic," Eriksen said.

One of his most striking discoveries was a lantern fish, which humans eat, with bits of plastic in its stomach. This is hard evidence that plastics are entering the human food chain.

"There's a potential for plastics to be a vector for many toxins to enter the food webs through ingestion by marine organisms," Eriksen said.

While in Juneau, Eriksen will visit a number of schools to talk to students about the problems of plastics in the world's oceans and what they can do.

"Get away from the disposable culture," he said. "I advocate that people do what their grandmother's did: Bring their own."

He encourages people to bring their own bags to the grocery store and their own cups to coffee shops. Ultimately, he hopes to see less plastic produced, period.

"The thing to do is to ban plastics that are designed to be waste," Eriksen said. "Disposable plastics are designed to be disposable (but) it never goes away. You get very, very low rates of (recycling) on disposable plastic."

Plastic bottles that are recycled may be made into downsized plastics, but there is no economic way to make them into plastic bottles again, Eriksen said.

His next awareness-raising journey will be on a bike trip from Vancouver to Tijuana, sharing samples of the ocean's "plastic soup" with schools and the public.

"It's the chance to add to the growing public awareness of ... why plastics have to go," he said.

Taking responsibility

The oceans have found a new advocate in actress Q'orianka Kilcher, who gained fame for her role as Pocahontas in the 2005 film "The New World" with Colin Farrell. Kilcher has campaigned for women and indigenous rights and has worked extensively against oil contamination of the Amazon River Basin.

She was inspired to raise awareness about human impact on the world's oceans after meeting Dixie Belcher, Turning the Tides founder and president, whom Kilcher calls "an everyday hero."

"Before I went to Juneau for Celebration this year, I was kind of in the dark about what was happening to our oceans," Kilcher said. "(Belcher) shared some of the shocking information she had gathered (and) I started doing my own research. This problem is not confined within borders. It's pretty alarming what's happening to our ocean.

"(Plastic) is starting to be found in everything and it's even starting to go into breast milk. It's a pretty big problem. It runs pretty deep."

Kilcher has extended family in Alaska, where her mother was born, and is the cousin of the singer Jewel. Although she lives in Los Angeles and is described as a "rising Hollywood star," she tries to avoid getting wrapped up in a materialistic lifestyle.

"I think it's really important to realize that environmental issues are not confined to borders," Kilcher said. "You can get so wrapped up in your life you can forget about what's important. We are really forgetting that we can't we can't drink or breathe money or profit.

She is excited about getting young people involved in working to protect the oceans.

"It is up to us, it's our responsibility to step up and take what comes ahead," Kilcher said. "Be actively involved in the decisions you make. We all have the power of a grain of sand in the tipping scale and if we all do our part we can make a difference.

"Some things don't have a price, they have value. There should never be a price for the ocean."

The Ocean Celebration will take place Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. at Centennial Hall. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for students and seniors and can be purchased at Hearthside Books.

For more information on the effects of plastic and debris on the world's oceans, visit or