Paddling against plastic

Sharks don’t scare Tom Jones much. He’s paddled around great whites before. And he can put up with stormy weather, even if it means making an emergency landing.

But there’s something in the water that truly frightens the extreme athlete from Huntington Beach.

That would be plastic, which he considers the greatest modern threat to humans and the environment — and which he’s embarking on a quest this month to eliminate.

Jones, a seven-time Muay Thai kickboxing champion and marathon runner, paddled 1,250 miles from Oregon to Mexico in 2007 to raise awareness about plastic pollution.

On Sunday, he plans to take off on the Wyndham Worldwide Paddle 2010 from Key West, Fla., and paddle 1,500 miles to New York City in hopes of raising $500,000 to clean plastic from the ocean.

A harrowing journey? Jones imagines it will be. But as the starting day approaches, he prefers to look on the bright side.

“I like to think of myself as the good news guy,” Jones said. “I believe this problem is 100% correctable, and that is darn good news.”

Jones, a retired Marine and father of three, expects to row for about six hours — 18 to 20 miles — every day en route to New York.

While he makes his way up the coast, a team of assistants will prepare his meals, give massages and drive the 34-foot motor home where he spends the night.

Another assistant will shadow Jones on jet skis, chasing away sharks if they get too close and giving him a ride back to the shore if the sea gets too rocky.

Proceeds from the trip will benefit Plastic Free Ocean, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Tom Jones Foundation that funds ocean cleaning and educates consumers and companies about ecologically sensitive practices.

Among his corporate sponsors on the trip are Wyndham Worldwide, Google Earth, Metabolix and Ark Paddleboards.

“I’m like the Red Cross for the ocean,” Jones said.

Another group giving Jones a thumbs-up, if not a monetary one, is Orange County Coastkeeper, a nonprofit that hosts beach cleanups around the Southland.

“I think what he’s doing is fantastic,” said Associate Director Ray Hiemstra. “Anything that brings greater awareness of this issue to the public is terrific. The public really needs to pay attention to this, and this is a great way to get this back on their minds.”

The effect of plastic on the ecosystem, Hiemstra added, is an often-overlooked problem.

“It’s one of the major inputs of toxins to the ocean,” he said. “Plastic, for one thing, takes a very long time to break down.

“It’s made of materials that are toxic to organisms, and when it does start to break down, it breaks into tiny pieces that fish and birds end up eating.

“There are organisms that have been found starved to death because their stomachs are so full of plastic.”

How To Help

To donate to Plastic Free Ocean, visit or send checks to 16458 Bolsa Chica St., Suite 141, Huntington Beach, CA 92649.

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