BERMUDA — While the setting may be perfect for a stress-free honeymoon, Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen aren’t going to be relaxing by the beach here, working on the perfect tan.
The Santa Monica couple, who were married in June, will set sail today in the 72-foot sloop Sea Dragon on a voyage across the Sargasso Sea region of the North Atlantic to study and document the damaging effects of plastic on marine life, and, ultimately, the food chain.
Last year, the researchers with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation rode bicycles 2,000 miles from Vancouver to Tijuana, visiting 15 cities, giving presentations and talking about what they called the “plastic soup” cooking in the ocean.
This time around they want to focus on the North Atlantic Gyre to help raise awareness about the plastic problem and plan to study the effects of plastics on all five major gyres. A gyre is any large system of rotating ocean currents that can trap man-made debris, creating enormous garbage patches.
“Many people don’t realize that this is a global issue because so much media attention has been focused on the North Pacific Gyre,” Cummins, 36, said during a phone interview from Bermuda, where she and Eriksen, 42, were preparing for their trip. “Every ocean has a gyre and we want to reach a larger audience.”
Cummins and Eriksen will be skimming the ocean’s surface with a plankton net to collect plastic and fish that surface at night to forage for food. Past expeditions have found fish with plastic in their stomachs. Plastics act as magnets for toxic chemicals like PCB. Smaller fish consume plastics. Larger fish like tuna and mahi-mahi then eat those smaller fish, ingesting the toxins, which could ultimately harm humans.
“We want to see if there are large concentrations of these chemicals in our food chain, ending up on our dinner plates,” she said.
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, Brazil and Cape Town, South Africa.
The effort is a collaboration of three nonprofit environmental organizations led by Long Beach-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation (to learn more go to 5gyres.org).
Next year, the couple is 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 couple will sail the Seine River, then cross the English Channel.
Eriksen, Cummins and a fellow researcher once sailed to Hawaii on a raft made from 1,500 plastic bottles.
“It will be a honeymoon of sorts,” Cummins said. “We got married recently in the middle of a garbage patch so it seemed fitting to make this our honeymoon.”