Marcus Eriksen holds up plastic found in a bird's stomach (left) and a jar of plastic debris from the Pacific gyer (right). (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — A 10-ounce bottle containing a cloudy mixture of plankton, water and colorful bits of plastic sits on Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins’ living room table, reminding the soon-to-be married couple why they will spend the next two months biking across the country.

Laying next to the jar is a short line of rope tying together a few miscellaneous items that Eriksen found in a bird’s carcass during a field trip to Midway in 2001, trash that includes a toothbrush, cigarette lighter, shotgun shell and action figure leg.

Both pieces will accompany the Santa Monica residents as they ride 2,000 miles from Vancouver to Tijuana starting Saturday in a two-month journey dubbed “Junk Ride 2009,” a trek in which the marine biology experts with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation will visit 15 cities, giving presentations and talking about what they call the “plastic soup” cooking in the ocean.

“This issue has been the ultimate case of out of sight, out of mind,” said Cummins, a Santa Monica native whose father founded Crossroads School. “We’re going to literally bring it to people by bringing in hundreds of jar samples.”

Their objective for the speaking tour, which is scheduled to conclude in late June, is to meet with legislators and advocate for a ban on disposable plastic and encourage consumers to change their lifestyle.

Several cities across the state are weighing a ban on plastic bags, including Santa Monica. City Hall is expected to begin an environmental impact evaluation on the proposed ban before presenting an ordinance to the City Council later this year.

State Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, has also presented a bill that would impose a 25 cent fee on disposable paper and plastic bags at grocery stores.

Cummins and Eriksen met in 2007 at a birthday party for Algalita founder Capt. Charles Moore and began dating and collaborating on projects later that year.

Eriksen, 41, formerly a science teacher, became involved in marine advocacy after his trip to Midway where he took about 14 students from the Mirman School in Brentwood, shocked by the presence of dead birds whose stomachs were crammed with plastic trash.

He joined Algalita, which is based in Long Beach, several years after that fateful field trip and today serves as the organization’s director of research and education.

Cummins, 35, was always interested in marine life issues and joined Algalita as a volunteer in 2004 after meeting Moore in Santa Cruz. Today she is the education adviser for the foundation where she makes reusable produce bags out of old T-shirts purchased at places like Goodwill.

The couple’s apartment today shows a life in transition, filled with boxes and bags that will accompany them when they depart for Vancouver on Wednesday. Two large Cannondale-brand boxes containing their bikes sit off to the side.

“We’re partying tonight with a bunch of friends to say good-bye,” Eriksen said last Friday.

The marine advocates said they will stay with friends scattered throughout their route, though they don’t have accommodations at some stops yet. They are expected to arrive in Los Angeles on June 17, spending a few days before departing on the June 20. Cyclists are invited to join them on the remaining leg of their trip.

Many of the speaking engagements will take place at various Surfrider Foundation chapters and universities where they will hand out bottles containing the liquid mixture similar to the one sitting on their living room table.

The samples were collected during numerous trips to the North Pacific Gyre, located about 200 miles off the coast of Japan.

Eriksen has visited the gyre about six times in the past decade.

“This jar represents three football fields of area,” Eriksen said.

Cummins said concerns go beyond marine animal life to humans, who consume seafood that could be contaminated by plastic chemicals. She pointed to a photo taken of a dissected Lantern fish, found with bits of plastic sitting in its stomach. The Lantern fish is a common meal for predators that end up on plates for humans, Cummins said.

“These chemicals accumulate up the food chain,” Cummins said.

The couple smiles and laughs when asked about the training regime for the trip, admitting that aside from the rides to speaking engagements in the Los Angeles area, they haven’t had much time to physically prepare the past few months because their time has been occupied by work-related travel outside the region.

They remain optimistic and enthusiastic about the challenge they face in their trip, during which time they will get married. The couple plans to have a celebration with friends and family later this year.

“It will be somewhat spontaneous,” Cummins said. “We want it to be part of our story.”

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