Algalita Marine Research Blog

Heathwood Hall Student Visit and Video

Posted by: Kim De Wolff

Earlier this month Algalita was the happy host of ten students and two teachers from the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in South Carolina. The group traveled all the way to Redondo Beach to spend a week learning about plastic pollution in the ocean. They made an amazing video sharing the experience:

On Tuesday afternoon we collected samples on the Alguita. While a gale force wind warning kept the excursion to the Long Beach harbor, we still found plenty of marine life, and unfortunately, plastic. Two short manta trawls brought up all kinds of ‘treasures’ including shreds of food wrappers, preproduction plastic pellets, a rainbow of unrecognizable fragments, and even a whole plastic cup.

This was also my first experience with the otter trawl, a funnel shape net weighted to catch all kinds of things on the sea floor. I was pretty surprised to see so many bottom dwellers in such close proximity to the Port of Long Beach: halibut, white croaker, spiny rays, and huge spider crabs. These creatures and the seals, sea lions and dolphins that also made appearances throughout the afternoon are all reminders of why it’s so important to keep plastics out of the ocean. That we saw so many animals (and plastic pieces) in the shadows of giant container ships heavy with new consumer goods, is an especially good lesson on the sometimes-uneasy relationships between humans and other forms of life: while the economic wellbeing depends on the ocean for transport and resources, we have to find ways to live without jeopardizing the health of the ocean’s diverse inhabitants.

The students spent the next two mornings processing the samples in the lab, sorting, sifting, weighing and counting even the tiniest bits. Everyone had a chance to experience the hard work that continues after expeditions, helping to transform the samples we collected into data that can be used for monitoring plastic pollution. The students also worked hard to make the video (above) sharing what they learned about how samples are collected at sea and analyzed at the lab. We’re all super impressed with the results!

Thanks to all the lab staff, students and volunteers that helped make for a fun and successful visit.

Date Posted: March 27, 2012 @ 9:01 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Major Organizations Endorse 2012 Expedition

Posted by: Katie Allen

2012 Asia Pacific Exploration Update
Western Pacific Garbage Patch and Tsunami Debris Field Research Expedition
May 1, 2012 through June 28, 2012

Greetings from the Algalita/5 Gyres/Pangaea Exploration Team!

We thought it was time to give you an update on the research expedition through the Western Pacific Garbage Patch and the Tsunami Debris Field, May 1, 2012 through June 28, 2012.  Almost all of the 18 available spots have been sold!  While none of us really have a clear understanding of the current content, size and distribution of the debris field from the 2011 tsunami, it is incumbent on those who have the ability and expertise to journey through and investigate it.  The knowledge we gain will be invaluable to scientists; government agencies and educators across the globe.  This is a time critical expedition, due to the dispersion phenomenon of debris at sea.

As we move across the North Pacific Gyre through the projected debris field, our main goals will be collecting samples and studying the effects of plastic pollution and marine debris relative to:
- providing habitat for marine life and its ability to transport invasive species from one continent to another;
-  rates of decomposition of debris;
-  colonization of marine life on, and into, different materials;
-  educating students through the Algalita Ship 2 Shore blog; and
-  spatial distribution of debris along the entire voyage transect.


Date Posted: March 26, 2012 @ 6:41 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

2012 Voyage Update from the Expedition Team

Posted by: Katie Allen

Hi, Bill Francis here for the entire Expedition Team…

March 11, 2012 will mark the anniversary of the catastrophic Japanese earthquake and tsunami.  It is appropriate that we take pause to remember the thousands who lost everything in one of the most devastating natural disasters of our time.   As human beings, we can only try to fathom the depths to which the Japanese were taken and continue to admire their spirit as they rise with dignity and resolve to forge ahead to the future.

Algalita and 5 Gyres have a long documented history in exploring the Pacific Ocean Gyres for plastic pollution.  This event created an unprecedented opportunity to expand our field of investigation to new dimensions.  It offers a specific timeline for making measurements that previously would not have been possible.   As dedicated researchers, it is therefore incumbent upon us to engage in this broader scope of study.  It is with respect for the people of Japan that we continue our research on the impact of plastic pollution in the marine environment, inclusive of the effects this historic tragedy may be having on the health of our oceans….we will conduct this with the utmost respect at all times.

Leg 1 departure is just around the corner. Leaving from the Marshall Islands on May 1, it is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo approximately May 23.  Leg 2 departs Tokyo on June 1, and is scheduled to arrive on Maui approximately June 28.    Limited space is still available on each Leg.  Donation to the project for this coveted journey is $9,500 for Leg 1 and $15,500 for Leg 2, per person, respectively.  This does not include cost of land lodging or travel to and from points of departure or ports of call.  You will be participating in activities with a unique group of scientists, journalists, environmentalists and industry members who have signed on from all parts of the world, so we welcome you to join us on board .

We are in frequent contact with the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Drs. Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner have some of the best predicted paths modeling of the tsunami debris and have worked with Dr. Eriksen and Bill Francis, providing information on where to guide the Sea Dragon on Leg 2.

We are also establishing a scholarship, funded through donations and discounted by 5Gyres and Algalita, for a deserving student to go on Leg 1.  If you would like to donate specifically to this element, contact Bill Francis or Marcus Eriksen directly.

Bill Francis, President of the Board of Directors, Algalita, 562.598.4889

Dr. Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyres and Research Expedition Leader, 310.395.1843


We will conduct a scientific Symposium at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology.  Coordinating and hosting the event is Dr. Hideshige Takada, well known in our view,  for his “International Pellet Watch” Program studying nurdles and the toxins accumulating on them.

Captain Moore has given the Expedition his full endorsement.  He is hopeful to take time from his “Plastic Ocean” landmark book signing tour to join us in Tokyo for the Symposium


The island of Maui is developing a cultural event to greet the vessel and it’s crew on arrival , on or about June 28.  The Maui Ocean Center and Algalita Marine Research Foundation (Institute) are co-hosting an art contest for students focusing on marine pollution.  Titled “Debris from the Sea”,  the students will create artwork that will be judged and placed in the Maui Ocean Center display window prior to the  arrival of the Sea Dragon and for a period of time following


The Ocean Conservancy has given the project its full endorsement and is placing a scientist on Leg 2.

  • Earth Echo’s – Philippe Cousteau
  • Maui Ocean Center
  • Surfrider Foundation
  • Surfrider Japan
  • The International Pacific Research Center

We are looking forward to the Pacific Whale Foundation, Safe Planet, and many others to join our growing roster of supporters.

Media’s increased whirlwind focus on the debris path through the Pacific is creating great interest in our research project.  As the only known expedition to take this extensive path through the debris field, we are receiving questions on a daily basis and the expectation is this will only increase..   FOX NEWS National Television just completed an interview with Dr. Eriksen and Bill Francis, focusing on the overall scope of the tsunami debris issue, and how our expedition ties in with that scope.  The program is expected to air on or about March 9th.

Our office staff,  Board Members, researchers and volunteers are all working tirelessly to ensure the success of this expedition.  There is a great outpouring of energy and creativity by all those at Algalita, 5Gyres, and Pangaea.  We want to thank our friends and those on Maui who wholeheartedly support us, recognizing we are trying to help preserve their precious island resources.

Discussions with major sponsors continue, but with limited successful outcomes.  Perhaps they fail to see the big picture, or the economic blight is still very impactful among companies worldwide and they continue to be very judicious with their expenditures.  In any event, we are hopeful to receive more participation…all it will take is one or two to help us tremendously.

The fact remains that an expedition covering more than 7000 miles through the open ocean, no matter how well planned, and how much we all sacrifice, will be a major expense for Algalita.  This is particularly true since once we return home, we will have enough samples to keep our lab busy for months.  This is crucial work, integral to our mission and goals.  At a cost estimated from $40,000 to $60,000, or more, depending on the number of samples collected, we are committed to getting it done.  BUT WE NEED HELP.

The good news is that we expect our members and friends to continue their support in order for us to share accurate information  with everyone when the research analyses are complete.  There are also some very creative folks out there who have been doing their own fundraising on our behalf and are contributing in many wonderful ways utilizing their time and talents to support this expedition.  We also know that some people will read this blog today, reach into their pocket, and send us what they can afford, because they see the importance of our work and that is what they do.

For more information regarding this incredible opportunity to join a high seas scientific expedition, please contact:

Jeanne Gallagher, Algalita Voyage Crew Coordinator, 562.598.4889

Message from Captain Moore:

I’d like to share with you my excitement about the upcoming Algalita Marine Research Foundation’s 2012 May and June ocean expeditions.  Algalita has partnered with the 5 Gyres Institute and Pangaea Exploration for the 2012 Asia Pacific Exploration.  They will conduct consecutive voyages totaling 7000 miles through the Western Pacific garbage patch and the Northern Pacific subtropical gyre near Midway Island, through the projected drift path of the debris from the March 2011 Japan tsunami.  After Leg 1, a symposium will be held in Tokyo to answer questions about plastic pollution in our oceans.

This rare opportunity to study plastic pollution and other marine debris is in concert with my  own efforts over the last 15 years to understand the consequences of polluting  our oceans with plastic.  If you act quickly, you may be able to join the expedition.  Space is still available on each leg, but filling up fast.  Leg 1 leaves Majuro in the Marshall Islands on May 1, arriving in Tokyo on May 23.  Leg 2 leaves Tokyo on June 1, arriving in Maui on or about June 28.  If you cannot go yourself, consider sponsoring a student or students, or other scientists, advisors, or people like you can study the impact of plastic and other debris on our oceans.

Leg 1 is $9,500.  Leg 2 is $15,500.  This is a true bargain, considering the uniqueness of what you may see on either Leg..  Tsunami debris has been found and identified south and west of the tsunami location, indicating drift southward through the convergence zone to be studied in Leg 1.  Leg 2 will pass through the drift area projected to have the highest concentration of debris.

Date Posted: March 4, 2012 @ 10:26 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut