Dr. Marcus Eriksen has led expeditions around the world to research plastic marine
pollution. Just after receiving his Ph.D from USC, he experienced first-hand the North
Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a massive current-fueled vortex that sweeps plastic from land
and out of sight, shredding and concentrating it in the middle of the ocean. On that
voyage, he also met Anna Cummins, with whom he would go on to found The 5 Gyres
Their goal was to put plastic pollution on the international agenda. To draw attention to
the problem, Eriksen rode the currents 2,600 miles for 88 days from California to
Hawaii on the Junk Raft, a vessel built from 15,000 plastic bottles. One year later, he and
Cummins set off on a bicycle-powered speaking tour from Vancouver to Mexico—
stopping in Big Sur to marry wearing recycled plastic attire.
Since then, Eriksen has devoted his life to the problem. Beginning in 2010, 5 Gyres
spearheaded a series of scientific firsts by researching plastic in all five subtropical
gyres, as well as the Great Lakes and Antarctica—sailing a total of 50,000 miles in the
process. In 2014, under Eriksen’s direction, 5 Gyres convened eight scientists around
the world to publish the first global estimate of plastic pollution in our ocean: 5.25
trillion particles weighing in at 269,000 tons of “plastic smog” worldwide.
Eriksen’s co-authored paper on plastic microbead pollution in the Great Lakes inspired
a two-year collaborative campaign that culminated in a federal ban on microbeads,
which President Obama signed into law in 2015. In August 2016, Eriksen led 5 Gyres’
17th expedition—this time to research microplastics and nanoplastics above the Arctic
While Eriksen’s peer-reviewed studies have been published in scientific journals,
stories of his expeditions have appeared in Men’s Journal, National Geographic, and
Newsweek, among others. He hosted the Weather Channel’s series, “Commando
Weather,” once chasing a plastic bottle through Los Angeles sewers to the sea. He also
created “Mississippi River Quest,” a 35-day river adventure, for the National Geographic
Channel, then appeared as an expert on “CNN” and “CBS News,” as well as on the TEDx
A Gulf War veteran, Marcus wrote about in the experience book My River Home (Beacon
2008). Next year, his second book Junk Raft: An ocean voyage and a rising tide of
activism to fight plastic pollution (Beacon 2017), will hit shelves.
More information is at www.5gyres.org.