City Lights: Plastics don't belong in our oceans

January 12, 2011|By Michael Miller
  • Tom Jones

There's a clever and little-seen comedy called "Twenty Bucks" that follows the path of a $20 bill as it passes from one person to another — a newlywed, a gangster, a struggling author and so on. The idea of the film is that the same object, in different circumstances, can have any number of impacts on any number of people.

One could make a much more sobering film with the same basic premise, substituting a piece of plastic for a $20 bill. Seriously, the last time you threw a plastic bag or bottle cap into the trash (or on the ground), did you imagine where it would go next?

The journey of a plastic scrap can start on the sidewalk and move through the park, into the storm drain, onto the beach and finally into one of the massive gyres of plastic at the bottom of the ocean, where it breaks into particles and begins a new journey into the mouths of fishes and onto the plates of meat-eaters.


At least, it makes that journey unless someone intervenes. And that someone may be Tom Jones, a Huntington Beach resident who launched a new project this year to halt plastic before it turns into dolphins' dinner.

Maybe you remember Jones from his world-record paddleboard trek last year, when he traveled 1,507 miles from Florida to New York. Jones, who runs the nonprofit Plastic Free Ocean, made the trip to raise awareness about plastic in the water — and sometimes to fish it out himself. The day after New Year's Day, the seven-time kickboxing champion started a new initiative called the Paddler Pickup Project, in which volunteers mount kayaks and paddleboards and venture into Huntington Harbour to remove trash.

Plastic Free Ocean coordinated cleanups worldwide Jan. 2, with groups taking off from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Florida and elsewhere. In Huntington Beach, the rain reduced the group to fewer than a dozen people, but according to Jones, they still reclaimed 50 pounds of trash in an hour.

A few days before the cleanup, Jones invited me to kayak out with him and see the condition of the water. Andrew Mencinksy, the executive director of the Surfers' Environmental Alliance, accompanied us, while Andrew Allen, the owner of OEX Sunset Beach, provided the kayak and boards.

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