CHE-Alaska hosted a discussion with long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte, biological oceanographer Dr. Linda Amaral-Zettler, and Alaska State Rep. Andy Josephson about the environmental impact of plastic pollution, how contaminants in plastic debris are concentrating in the food chain, and actions we can take to address the problem. Long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte will swim from Tokyo to San Francisco this fall to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the ocean. The 5,500-mile mission will take him along the edge of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre where some of the highest microplastics concentrations have been measured. During his five-month swim across the Pacific, Lecomte is likely to encounter confetti-sized microplastics and even smaller plastic microbeads (used as exfoliating agents in personal care products). Microplastics are a growing environmental health concern because they attract and concentrate persistent organic pollutants, including PCBs. Scientists are concerned that fish could easily confuse these polluted, plastic beads for food that could endanger both the wildlife and the people who eat seafood.
Ben Lecomte was the first man to swim across the Atlantic Ocean (a 3,716-mile journey) without a kick board in 1998. The goal of his swim was to raise money and awareness for cancer research as a tribute to his father. His plan for his upcoming 5,500-mile swim across the Pacific is to swim eight hours a day—using flippers and a snorkel but no flotation device—then rest for 16 hours on his support boat. His primary goal is to draw attention to how our consumption of plastics is harming the environment, to inspire people to make a difference by changing their daily habits, and to leave the world a better place for the next generation.
Dr. Linda Amaral-Zettler with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is a microbial ecologist and a biological oceanographer whose lab investigates the relationships between microbes and the environment. With collaborators she is probing the diversity, function and fate of microbes inhabiting the plastic marine debris in the open ocean, a community known as the “Plastisphere.”
Representative Andy Josephson (D), represents District 17 in Anchorage and has been a member of the Alaska House of Representatives since 2012. Rep. Josephson has advocated for bills that support education, worker rights, human rights, health, and wildlife preservation and conservation. In January 2015, Rep. Josephson sponsored legislation to ban the sale of products containing microbeads in Alaska.