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Anna Cummins
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Drowning in a sea of plastic

Anna Cummins has over 10 years of experience in environmental non-profit work, education, writing, and campaign development. She has worked in marine conservation, coastal watershed management, sustainabilty education, and high school ecology instruction. Anna received her undergraduate in History from Stanford University, and her Masters in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute for International Studies.

Anna Cummins is a self proclaimed green lifestylist. Originally from LA, Anna has lived many places - Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and is now back in Santa Monica. She has taught organic cooking/gardening, ecology, green living practices, marine conservation (in Spanish), and is an avid bicycling supporter. In 2002, Anna heard Captain Charles Moore give a talk that forever changed her life. His research expeditions to the North Pacific Ocean had found oceanic regions full of plastic detritus, washed into the ocean. Stunned to learn that consumerism here on land could really disrupt ecosystems in such a massive area, she vowed to get involved, and began volunteering with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

In 2007 Anna received an invitation to Captain Moore's 60th birthday in Long Beach where she met Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Algalita's Director of Research and Education. She had heard a lot about his education work, and his inclination to build boats out of plastic trash. Their personal passions quickly brought them together, and 6 months later they found themselves in the middle of the North Pacfic Gyre on Captain Moore's research boat. Anna was the lone female sailor in the crew of 6, sailing from Hawaii to Los Angeles to collect ocean surface samples. When Marcus proposed, 2,000 miles from land, 6 months after they had begun dating, she didn't hesitate to say yes.

What they found on this voyage however alarmed them - twice what Moore had found less than 10 years ago. The entire Pacific Ocean, from California to Japan, is turning into a plastic soup. Most of the trash is small, broken down pieces of plastic, spread out over an area twice the size of the United States. And most of it is coming from all of us - right here on land. So they decided to do something crazy to get the world's attention, and luckily met just the man to take it on. Joel Paschal, one of the 6 sailors on board and a marine debris expert, agreed to help them build a raft from 15,000 plastic bottles, and sail with Marcus to Hawaii. A 2,600 mile journey on a vessel made from JUNK.

They no sooner landed in LA when they began hustling to raise money and collect materials. 15,000 plastic bottles, an airplane fuselage, a bunch of old sailboat masts, some solar panels, and many willing volunteers. 2 1/2 months later, JUNKraft was ready to set sail! The plan was that Marcus and Joel would sail to Hawaii in 6 weeks, while Anna stayed on line and managed communications/PR. After they landed, Marcus and Anna would hop on their bikes and ride from Vancouver to Mexico, giving dozens of presentations about plastics in our oceans, and what can be done about it.

12 weeks later, JUNK was still at sea! Marcus and Joel weathered a few storms, narrowly missed 4 hurricanes, run out of food, and had a miraculous encounter with a woman rowing across the Pacific. In total, the journey took twice as long as planned, and though Anna was able to talk to Marcus daily by Satellite phone, it was a rather nerve wracking time.

But it worked. JUNK laded in Honolulu on August 26th, to a crowd of cheering fans, reporters, and photographers. The eco-adventure had captured the hearts of a wide audience, including Martha Stewart, intrigued to hear why two men would risk their lives to deliver a message. "It makes no sense", Marcus will often explain, "that we use this material plastic, designed to last forever, to make products that we then throw away. It's simply irresponsible". We're finding our plastic in the stomachs of marine mammals, seabirds, turtles - and even the fish you and I eat. We've got to stop the problem at its source.

After JUNKraft landed, they finished up this project with JUNKride - bicycling 2,000 miles from Vancouver to Canada, to give 40 presentations on plastic marine pollution, and give away gyres samples full of plastic and plankton to legislators and educators. Along the way Marcus and Anna were married.

A major project called "5 Gyres" will expand their research on plastic pollution to the 4 other major gyres. The word is getting out more about plastic in the North Pacific - the infamous "garbage patch', but few realize there are actually 5 major oceanic gyres in the world. In January they will cross the North Atlantic Gyre, and in August, the South Atlantic, in partnership with both the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and Pangaea Explorations. Then sail on Pangaea's 72 foot steel hulled sailing vessel collecting surface samples to study plastic pollution, and fish to study plastic ingestion. Their goal is to bring this issue to a global audience, and mobilize communities to take action - as this problem affects us all.

Following their research, they'll take the message on the road with a big communications project, "The Last Straw", another cycling/outreach tour on the East Coast, visiting Universities, schools, and organizations. Next to build a plastic boat called STRAW in Paris out of several million discarded straws, to raft the Seine River and cross the English Channel, spreading their message along the way.

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Anna Cummins Interview Video

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