Marcus Eriksen’s journey to being half of a dynamic duo fighting plastic pollution had its genesis when he was a marine serving in Kuwait during the first Gulf War in 1991.
“I remember sitting in a foxhole in the sand, right under all the burning oil wells, and just thinking, this isn’t right. This isn’t what we should be doing,” says Eriksen. “I also resolved that if I survived, I would raft down the Mississippi River.”
Thirteen years later, he made good on that trip, rafting the length of one of America’s great rivers in 2003 and soon found himself swept up in what has become one of the major environmental crises, plastic pollution in the oceans.
He worked for Capt. Charles Morgan, who is credited with discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And during a research trip with Morgan, Eriksen met his future wife, Anna Cummins, a plastic pollution researcher.
As a married team, Eriksen and Cummins helped raise awareness that the plastic pollution problem, which comes in the form of rice-sized bits of “microplastics,” isn’t limited to the Pacific.
In 2008, they made a raft out of 15,000 recovered plastic bottles, bound in old fishing nets and an old plane fuselage. With Cummins serving as mission control, Eriksen and sailor friend Joel Paschal sailed from California to Hawaii in an effort to raise awareness of the problem.
Shortly thereafter, Eriksen and Cummins founded the 5 Gyres Institute to continue their mission of research, awareness and to offer solutions.
Last year, Eriksen wrote a book on the adventure, “Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage & Rise of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution.” More recently, a 27-minute film was completed on it.
The launch of the film will be at 6:30 p.m. April 29 at the Charleston Music Hall, followed by a panel discussion with Eriksen, Cummins and filmmaker Chris Jones.
The film is concluding a full weekend of activities involving Eriksen and Cummins.
On Thursday and Friday, April 26-27, the couple will visit local schools and companies. From 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, they are collaborating with Charleston GOOD for a public discussion of social and environmental justice at 2 Canal St.
On Saturday morning, they will participate in a beach sweep on the Isle of Palms. On Saturday evening, the South Carolina Aquarium will honor Eriksen with its Environmental Stewardship Award at its annual, black-tie Conservation Gala.
Also being honored is William A. Fenn, who will receive the James L. Ferguson Legacy Award. Fenn is chairman of the board of AstenJohnson, a manufacturing company that is the largest recycler of single-use plastic water bottles, which are used to create long-lasting fabric products used in motor vehicles.
Maggie Roudsari, the aquarium’s assistant director of advancement, called Eriksen “one of the most influential researchers and advocates for the global plastic pollution movement, which has gained significant momentum over the last several years.”
She noted his work on helping convince the federal government to ban microbeads, as a result of his research on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.