Water, plastics and the law converge at environmental summit

February 20, 2014 10:00 AM

Linda P. Campbell

Marcus Eriksen

Marcus Eriksen, keynote speaker Feb. 21 at Tulane Law School’s Summit on Environmental Law & Policy, displays the silhouette of Mary that he fashioned from wrought-iron Katrina debris. (Photo by Linda P. Campbell)

It was while rafting down the Mississippi River — five months from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to Venice, La. — that Marcus Eriksen recognized the enormous problem of trash littering waterways. Ericksen subsequently founded the 5Gyres Institute with his wife to study the oceans and the problem of marine pollution, with the goal of reducing it through research and public education.

Eriksen, who grew up in Metairie, La., but now lives in California, was back in New Orleans to discuss his work on plastic pollution as the keynote address at Tulane Law School’s 19th Annual Summit on Environmental Law & Policy

Eriksen is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m. on Friday (Feb. 21) in the Wendell H. Gauthier Appellate Moot Court Room 110 on the Tulane uptown campus.

The summit, which is organized and run by student members of Tulane Law School’s Environmental & Energy Law Society, spotlights water, with 19 sessions covering issues that impact the world and legal practice, including fracking, whooping cranes, mining, urban water planning, shark finning and Gulf Coast restoration.

The event is open to the public and each year attracts hundreds of attorneys, academics, students and representatives from government, industry and nonprofit groups.

Eriksen visited Tulane Law School on Tuesday (Feb. 18), bringing a silhouette of the Virgin Mary that he had just finished building from wrought-iron fence posts collected from homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The sculpture also bears a faded American flag that Eriksen said he found in Slidell while helping his brother clean up after the storm.

Eriksen also planned to display his Mississippi River raft.

His research has included expeditions to survey large garbage patches that get stuck in the ocean and study plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes. He said a major source of plastic pollution is the single-use, throwaway approach, which leads to trillions of fragments the size of rice grains.

“It’s not plastic itself that’s bad; it’s how we misuse it that’s damaging our oceans,” he said.

The Saturday (Feb. 22) keynote speaker is Sylvia Earle, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of the world’s most notable ocean scientists. She is scheduled to speak at 5:30 p.m., also in Room 110.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu