ANACORTES — Nearing the end of a five-week, 150-mile journey along the state’s shorelines, Ken Campbell paddled into Bowman Bay at Deception Pass State Park in his handmade kayak.
It’s no ordinary craft and one that’s intended to raise some questions.
Campbell built the boat out of a wood frame, 450 recycled plastic bottles and the best glue he could find for the job. He named it Hyas yiem, a Chinook term meaning “telling a tale.”
Along his journey from Olympia to Bellingham, he hopes to spread awareness to other Washingtonians about the impacts single-use plastic materials can have on the ocean.
“You can’t look at this and not think about single-use plastic,” he said, pointing to the beached boat after completing repairs at Bowman Bay.
His efforts seem to be working. When he came into the bay last week, about 20 kayakers met him with curiosity, he said.
The journey, which he is completing in three- to four-day stretches around weekends, is also part of a larger effort called the Ikkatsu Project.
How it started
Campbell and Steve Weileman formed the Tacoma-based project in 2012, initially in pursuit of marine debris washing up on the Pacific coast from the tsunami that struck Japan 2011. Ikkatsu is a Japanese word that means “united as one,” which they say the ocean demonstrates with its movement of garbage between shorelines around the globe.
During their first expedition, they found marine trash was a bigger problem.
“There is definitely something going on in the ocean,” Campbell said. “We don’t really think about Puget Sound as the ocean, but it is, and there’s a lot of things we don’t know about what we’re doing to the ocean.”
He pointed to the challenge international officials have faced in identifying debris from the Malaysian flight that went missing in early March as an example. It’s difficult to find, he said, because there is so much other debris in the water.
“That should set off some bells — it does for me,” Campbell said. “I want people to know what’s going on.”
Last year the team set out again, on an evolved marine debris expedition on south-central Alaska’s volcanic island of Augustine.
“The ocean is important to me. It’s been a part of my life for my whole life,” said Campbell, who was born in Santa Barbara, California, grew up in Canada and has lived in Washington for more than a quarter-century. “I’ve never lived anywhere inland. I grew up surfing, swimming, boating … I’m kind of a marine mammal.”
Campbell is the project organizer. Weileman is the camera man who produced documentary films about the first two ventures and will help Campbell develop a third, shorter film out of the plastics-in-Puget Sound journey.
Along the way, Campbell is collecting data for two different research purposes.
For the third year in a row, he is documenting marine debris that appears to be remnants of the Japanese tsunami across the Pacific.
“There are some pretty interesting things,” Campbell said of the objects he spots.
He is also collecting water samples for microplastic research. The project gathered water samples for that reason on its Alaska trip last year and is continuing to contribute to the Maine-based Marine Environment Research Institute’s worldwide survey.
“Nobody’s ever done it all the way up Puget Sound,” Campbell said. “There’s very little data.”
He plans to collect a sample every five miles along his journey and send them to Maine and back home to two groups of Tacoma students researching the issue.
The Maine institute’s microplastics research started as a local pilot project in 2012. It has since evolved with water sample submissions from remote areas around the world through a partnership with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation in Montana, said Marine Environment Research Institute coastal monitoring and outreach coordinator Abigail Barrows.
Adventurers connected Ikkatsu with the institute last year.
The institute is studying plastics in water samples because of their movement through the marine — and eventually human — food chain.
“It affects everyone, even if they’re not aware of it in their immediate day-to-day lives, having an ocean that is full of plastic affects the marine animals, and the marine species are ingesting this plastic. It’s affecting the behavior and health of those species, and ultimately human health,” Barrows said. “… They make their way through the food chain and we eat those things.”
Through the research, Barrows also hopes to establish a platform for understanding the distribution of plastics in the ocean and raise awareness of the scope of the problem.
“Having access to some of these remote waters … it really gives us a snapshot of what’s happening,” Barrows said.
In Alaska, the Ikkatsu project collected 7 liters of water for the study. The institute found 127 pieces of plastic in the sample set; an average of 18 pieces per liter.
“That’s pretty crazy for this remote area off of Alaska,” Barrows said.
So far, the results have shown different types of plastic dominate the waters on the east and west coasts.
The samples Ikkatsu is collecting along Washington’s coast this year may help researchers figure out why and point them toward the sources.
Paddling Puget Sound
Campbell set out April 12 on this voyage from one end of Puget Sound to the other.
Along the way, he has joined local beach cleanup efforts and given presentations about environmental issues in the region’s marine waters.
The goal of this journey is to raise awareness about the impact plastics have, and the importance and fragility of Puget Sound.
“Eighty percent of plastic in the ocean originated on land, and a lot of it is single-use bottles. Our shoreline here is just choked with single-use bottles,” Campbell said.
Today Campbell is paddling from Deception Pass to Padilla Bay, where the public is invited to hear his story at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
At 6:30 p.m., Campbell will start a presentation discussing past Ikkatsu trips, his current venture and alternatives to plastic bags and bottles.
“There’s only two ways you can clean up the ocean: You can clean up the beach, or you can stop putting stuff in it,” he said.
He will spend the last leg of the journey paddling from Padilla Bay to Bellingham next weekend.