'Electric surfing safari' focuses on pollution

Two Orange County surfers have taken their passion for water activities and transformed it into a passion for the water's health.

Mark Ward, 46, from Laguna Beach, and Billy Dutton, 51, from Newport Beach, returned from a 13-day, 350-mile "electric surfing safari" Saturday.

During their trip, they traveled in a 22-foot solar-powered electric Duffy boat and surveyed the amount of plastic along the California coast, aiming to spread awareness about pollution in the ocean and the effects it can have.

After using a trawl and pool skimmer to collect water samples that contain tiny particles of plastic, Ward and Dutton, who are members of the Riding Currents surf team, sent the samples to 5 Gyres, an advocacy group for healthy waters that tested them to determine their plastic-to-water ratio.

Dutton said that the top plastic items they found were water bottles, single-use bags and drinking straws.

While searching in the Alamitos Bay Marina, they found a plastic water jug that was covered in so much unidentifiable marine growth that it "looked like it was covered by an afro."

"This bottle, which had this absolutely big growth that took some time to grow wasn't floating out in the ocean," Dutton said. "It was in a marina. It wasn't hidden underneath a dock somewhere. It was just floating. We picked it up. How many people saw this and didn't do anything about it?"

People should be aware of what goes into the ocean because of the food chain, Dutton said. When the plastic deteriorates into smaller pieces, for example, fish can mistake those pieces for food, and those fish may later be consumed by humans.

Ward said that plastic is photodegradable, which means the sun breaks it down into small particles that don't degrade.

Plastics are toxic and attract other toxins, like polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, which causes cancer and damages the immune and reproductive systems, he said.

People can make a change, Dutton said, by replacing plastic items with alternatives, like using paper straws instead of plastic ones at restaurants.

Although they are more expensive, paper straws are biodegradable and therefore better for the environment, he said.

Dutton also said that people should not overfill trash cans, because the trash can spill out and the winds can blow the waste into sewage drains that lead to the ocean.

Throughout their trip, Dutton and Ward shared their ideas at several speaking events, which also included guests like Olympic medal-winning swimmer Gary Hall Jr. in Santa Barbara, and Marcus Eriksen, a renowned advocate for a cleaner ocean.

"If we don't do anything to change our habits," Dutton said, "we're leading the way for a very toxic world for future generations."

For more information about Dutton and Ward's cause, visit RidingCurrents.com.


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