Environmentalist Marcus Eriksen piloted a 14-foot-long boat of recycled materials to 11 Southern California harbor communities to communicate his concerns about plastic marine debris.
A nonprofit environmental organization and a group of high school students built the vessel, known as the Fluke, with, in part, 800 2-liter plastic bottles for flotation, 1,000 plastic bags braided into rope and 50 polyester shirts for the sail. Eriksen is now seeking a permanent home for the craft.
The Algalita Marine Research Foundation of Long Beach, Calif., collaborated with the inner city Environmental Charter High School of Lawndale, Calif., on the project. The California Coastal Commission's Whale Tail Grant Program provided funding of $26,060.
AMRF and the school had worked together previously, on a 2005 study of plastic debris on local beaches, and were looking for a new educational project.
Eriksen, AMRF's education adviser, had built and sailed a raft of plastic bottles down the Mississippi River in 2003, as part of an educational video series and outreach program called Mission: Science.
``I suggested building another plastic raft,'' to raise awareness about marine debris, Eriksen said.
For Fluke, Eriksen welded an aluminum frame with aluminum bars and old road signs to make the deck. Capt. Charles Moore, AMRF's founder, provided fishing nets that he found abandoned in the North Pacific Ocean's subtropical gyre, a swirling vortex of currents. The nets held the bottles in the boat's pontoons.
ECHS students in Amy Frame's 11th-grade U.S. history and geography course helped in the construction.
``About 60 students worked on it through February and March during class time and after school,'' Frame said.
Although still in need of many plastic bottles, the boat was halfway done by the time the Watershed Expo arrived, Eriksen said. AMRF sponsored the environmental exposition, held March 24-25 in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Eventually, Gardena Recycling Center Inc. of Gardena, Calif., donated the last 400 bottles required.
``We finally finished building Fluke on May 10,'' he said. That was in time for a California Academy of Sciences conference, where Eriksen and Frame talked about the project.
The southward coastal journey began May 13 in Santa Barbara and ended June 27 in San Diego with stops of three to seven days in each of the 11 harbors. The Fluke traveled about 249 miles.
Eriksen used the sail as much as possible but relied on the outboard motor about one-half of the time, largely because of headwinds coming from the south. In the marinas he rowed Fluke, ``except for the time I ran out of gas and wind a quarter mile outside of Marina Del Rey,'' he said.
Several radio and television stations broadcast stories and seven newspapers carried articles on the event. Eriksen said he met several thousand people during his trip, which included displaying Fluke in two maritime museums and two aquariums, and visiting 15 schools.
``The next step is to find a permanent home for Fluke,'' Eriksen said. ``Any public institution interested in exhibiting Fluke and bringing awareness to the plastic plague in our ocean is welcome to have it.''