Ocean lovers Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen are the co-founders of 5 Gyres, a research organisation that uses “science and adventure” to raise awareness and improve the quality of debate about ocean plastic pollution.
Their organisation travels the world’s oceans, producing reports and partnering with other organisations to provide critical data on microplastic pathways, and a list of the world’s most dangerous plastics and viable alternatives currently on the market. They’ve been published in over 25 peer-reviewed scientific journals, papers and studies.
Through 19 research expeditions, they’ve explored 50,000 nautical miles — finding not just garbage patches, but a “smog of broken up pieces of plastic, never degrading, just getting smaller and smaller.” They also work with a network of over 1,400 volunteer ambassadors in the effort to create zero-waste and plastic-free communities.
“Gyres are natural rotations in the open ocean,” Marcus says in one video, adding that although there are 11 in the world, there are only five in subtropical areas, which is where garbage accumulates.
Cummins has more than 20 years experience in environmental work, including marine conservation, coastal watershed management, community relations and “bilingual and sustainability education.” She has a Tedx talk, “Synthetic Sea, Synthetic Me,” and studied at Stanford University and the Middlebury Institute for International Studies.
Eriksen is a former Marine and has led expeditions around the world to research plastic marine pollution. He co-published “the first global estimate and the discovery of plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes,” which led to the US Microbead-free Waters Act of 2015. 5 Gyres claims this has diverted 16 billion microbeads from the ocean. He has a PhD from USC, and is currently working on the Leap Lab Institute, a network of future ecology centres to create “thriving, resilient communities” through “good science and self-reliance.”
The two met on a sailing expedition to research pollution in the North Pacific Gyre in 2008. “As we sailed from Hawaii to Los Angeles, we collected samples of broken down plastics tragically mixed with marine life.
“But at night, we saw something even more alarming. Small fish that surfaced nocturnally to feed were mistaking contaminated plastic waste for food. As these fish were consumed by larger predators, the toxins were working their way up the food chain and onto our plates.”
The couple stresses that they vowed to dedicate their lives to solving the problem. Their ring was pulled from a discarding fishing line and they got engaged “amongst a smog of plastic.” After this, Marcus set on on a three-month trip on “JUNK RAFT,” a boat help up by 15,000 recycled plastic water bottles. The idea was to raise awareness about plastic pollution, which inspired the launch of the 5 Gyres Institute.
5 Gyres is focused on tackling myths about plastic, and is quick to debunk ideas that there is a plastic island “about the size of Texas” in the North Pacific Gyre. They say this myth actually perpetuates the plastic pollution problem, by “positioning it as something that we can sweep up and “away,” while continuing to use plastic without consequence.
They oppose burning plastics, and do not agree that cleanups are the best way to rid the ocean of plastic. “While cleanups are a great way to show the magnitude of the plastic pollution problem, it is not the best way to rid the ocean of plastic,” the organisation writes on its website.
“Unfortunately, a cleanup only cleans up the mess and doesn’t prevent the mess from happening in the first place. As a society, we must use less plastic to begin with in order to tackle the waste already being created.”Tags: 5 Gyres, Climate crisis, plastic pollution, research