Whole Life Magazine

April / May 2015

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Swell Cause A Gold medal winner F ive-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Aaron Peir- sol didn't have to be in the water to notice pollution along the Southern California coastline. It was about eight years ago, just a er a training session in Texas, he remembers, and, "I was taking a run on the beach in Newport. It was a rainy day. Not terribly cold, but overcast and wet enough. is was the fi rst rain of the season, so I was expecting a closed beach due to a likely red tide. As I ran along the water, it was easy to see what the rain had washed out of the Santa Ana River… a brown, debris-fi lled surf-line" that appeared to be giving off an ominous warning to stay out of the ocean. But Peirsol didn't get to be a winner by avoiding risks. " ere was a swell and it looked really fun," he says. I hadn't been to the beach in a long time, and was in need of a reunion of sorts with Mother Ocean." e swell was washing all kinds of things up onto the beach, from kelp to trash, and when he came upon a discarded McDonald's dinner tray, "I thought it was too big to simply run by. I picked it up and started heading for the trash can, but the tray was perfect for a lit- tle hand plane of sorts, for bodysurfi ng." Peirsol braved the brown tide and used the dinner tray to help propel him down the wave. "I had to at least smile that I was making the best of the situation," he says. Peirsol's passion for the ocean goes leagues beyond repurposing trash to catch a wave. A southern California native who retired from competitive swimming in 2011, he was struck by the mag- nitude of the pollution problems, as well as other issues directly related to the health of the California coast, and has dedicated much of his post-swimming career to ocean conservation. He's worked as an ambassador with the Global Water Foundation and the Surfrider Foundation, and been a spokesman for Oceana. e Expanding Plastic Problem Few issues are more concerning than the growth of plastic marine pollution. Surprisingly little is actu- ally known about it, or its impact. Why? Research did not begin until the late 1990s, and the science behind it is still emerging. Because we don't live in the ocean, most people don't really see the extent of the problem. "It's a hard thing for people to wrap their heads around. It's out of sight, out of mind for a lot of people," says Peirsol. In 1999, Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, was the fi rst to study surface samples of the Great Garbage Patch with- in the North Pacifi c Gyre, located roughly midway between Hawaii and San Fran- cisco. On his most recent expedition in 2014, Captain Moore found clear evi- dence that the density of plastic par- ticles within the Great Garbage Patch has risen signifi cantly since 2009. e problem? Plastics act like a sponge, soaking up chemicals that are ingested by fi sh, and in turn ei- ther killing the fi sh or harming their predators—humans. Globally, 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic already exist in the ocean. A new study published in Science Magazine suggests that the volume of plastic that will enter the world's oceans will double by 2025. ese are alarming numbers, off ering more evidence that Aaron Peirsol Photo: Drew Schneier/Surfrider 26 wholelifetimesmagazine.com

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