Algalita Marine Research Blog

Meet the Crew!

Posted by: Katie Allen

Leg 1
May 1 – 21 Studying the “Western Pacific Garbage Patch”-  Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands to Tokyo

Marcus Eriksen – Research Expedition Leader
Marcus Eriksen received his Ph.D. in Science Education from University of Southern California in 2003, months before embarking on a 2000-mile, 5-month journey down the Mississippi River on a homemade raft.  His experience on the river led to a career studying the ecological impacts of plastic marine pollution, which has included expeditions sailing 25,000 miles through all 5 subtropical gyres to discover new garbage patches of plastic pollution in the Southern Hemisphere.  Though still rafting, his most recent adventure sent him and a colleague across the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii on JUNK, a homemade raft floating on 15,000 plastic bottles and a Cessina airplane fuselage as a cabin (  The journey, 2,600 miles in 88 days, brought attention to the work of the 5 Gyres Institute, the organization he co-founded with his wife Anna Cummins.  Together, they co-direct 5 Gyres, which is committed to marine conservation through continued research, education and adventure, studying and lecturing about the plague of plastic waste in our watersheds and in the sea.  Formerly Director of Project Development for Algalita, he has served as Research Expedition Leader for investigation of the plastic marine pollution issue in all five major gyres of the world over the past couple of years, most recently, last summer on the Algalita 2011 Expedition from Honolulu to Vancouver, B.C.His first book, titled “My River Home” (Beacon Press, 2007) chronicled his Mississippi River experience paralleled with his tour as a Marine in the 1991 Gulf War.  In 2007 he joined board of the Mehadi Foundation and contributes his time to help the foundation assist US veterans and provide clean water to schools in Iraq.  He also hosts “Commando Weather,” a series of public service announcements about the science of weather and survival, for the Weather Channel.  When not rafting, he enjoys time with Anna and is awaiting the birth of their daughter.

Rodrigo Olson – Skipper
Born in Mexico, Rodrigo has spent his life sailing the oceans of the world in search of some of the planet’s most elusive whale species. He has a degree in Oceanography and was Captain of the famous research vessel ‘Odyssey’ which spent five years studying marine mammals around the globe. He has covered almost 300,000 nautical miles on sailing boats. A highly experienced diver, his ability to free-dive to great depths has resulted in some fantastic footage of his interaction with many species.

Jesse Horton – First Mate
Jesse is an artist, videographer, boat captain and submarine pilot, hailing from Colorado to Costa Rica. He specializes in documenting “hard to reach issues,” like pollution at the bottom of the ocean and wildlife in inaccessible areas. He’s recently documented shark-finning in Asia and Central America and worked to help reduce plastic consumption in the South Pacific islands.
He’s filmed Great Whites without a cage in South Africa; chased poachers from marine parks in Central America; regularly holds his breath for up to five minutes while making free dives; and has survived a brain tumor. In his “downtime”, he competes in 24 hour endurance/adventure races with a best finish in “only” 4th place.

Carolynn Box – Deck Hand
Carolynn lives and works in San Francisco as a Coastal Manager for the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. Activism work with the Surfrider Foundation San Francisco Chapter to protect local beaches introduced Carolynn to the issues related to plastic pollution. Ultimately, her passion for adventure and a healthier ocean resulted in her being part of the 5 Gyres Institute research voyage across the South Atlantic Ocean in January 2011, and across the North Pacific in the Summer of 2011. Now, heading out on another voyage, Carolynn is most excited about comparing trawl results between gyres, being surrounded by a passionate crew, and seeing the sunset every night.

Kristal Ambrose
Kristal is a student from New Providence, The Bahamas. She has an AA in Fisheries Management and Aquaculture Science and has some sailing and research experience. It is her desire to learn more about plastic pollution and to develop a research project within The Bahamas studying plastic pollution/marine debris.

Bob Atwater
Bob grew up on the Maine coast working on a lobster boat.  He is a US Marine Corps Vietnam veteran; Life Fellow of the Explorers Club; Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; Retired Federal Homeland Security Agent; Life Fellow of the World Scout Foundation and Life Member of the National Eagle Scout Association.  He has led expeditions to Belize, Cuba, the Yucatan, and the Sahara Desert, is a SCUBA diver and World Traveler, rides motorcycles, was the security advisor for adventurer Steve Fossett, has had personal audiences with HRH Queen Elizabeth; HRH King Carl Gustaf and other royal families. Bob enjoys volunteer work on several fronts.  He serves, or has served, on the Board of Directors for Boy Scout Councils in Washington, DC and Ogden, Utah; the Archaeological Institute of America; The Institute of Nautical Archaeology; the Las Vegas International Scout Museum; as INS Agency President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and Vice President of MIA Charities.

Belinda Braithwaite
Belinda is a great adventurer and aged 21 rode her horse solo 1,700 miles from the south of Spain to Paris and subsequently wrote a bestselling book about her travels. She’s also ridden across America.  Her adventurous life led her into film-making, and when Rodrigo Olson introduced her to diving, it was immediately obvious that her affinity with animals allows her to approach and film some notoriously shy marine mammals.  An experienced scuba diver, it is her free-diving ability and affinity with animals which allows her to approach and film some notoriously shy marine mammals.

Michael Brown
Michael has 20 years experience in domestic and international business development, providing the leadership to take a number of visionary business concepts from planning to successful execution. His current company, Packaging 2.0, provides front-end design services, manufacturing and delivery of sustainable packaging products. He graduated from School One in Providence and attended Franconia College and is a true believer in experiential learning. He has served on the board of the Sloop Providence, the American Sail Training Association and the Jamestown Conservation Commission.

Hank Carson
Hank is a post-doctoral researcher in marine debris science at University of Hawaii, Hilo.  He has a PhD in Marine Ecology and 3 years post-doctoral research experience.  His interests include marine debris research, population connectivity, larval biology, invertebrate biology, and population biology. Hank’s goals for the expedition are to characterize the macro- and micro-communities of organisms attached to plastic along a transect across the North Pacific Gyre, to relate transitions in that community to physical gradients along the transect, to collect additional samples of gyre plastic for graduate students and collaborators for a variety of purposes, and of course…to have fun.

Valerie Lecoeur
Valerie was born and raised just outside Paris, France. After stints in New York and Chicago, today she enjoys dual citizenship living in North Carolina with her husband and three children. She is the founder of Zoë b Organic, which makes and sells sustainable, eco-friendly products for babies and kids. The company recently launched the world’s first biodegradable beach toys, made from corn. (If left behind and washed out to sea, her Fantastic Anti-Plastic Beach Toys will fully biodegrade in 2-3 years—as opposed to 500+ years for conventional plastic.) Valerie is proud to be a “green” mom and thrilled to be part of Leg 1 of the expedition. Both personally and professionally, she’s dedicated to her company’s motto: “It’s time to mother nature.”

Shanley McEntee
Shanley was born and raised in San Diego, CA and lived there until completing her college career at Western Washington University. She graduated with a BA in Environmental Policy and a minor in Environmental Science. Having grown up by the sea, she holds a deep passion for Mother Ocean and our ever-growing need for protection and awareness of the problems our environment is facing. She enjoys anything having to do with the sea, from surfing to scuba diving to sailing. She is PADI Rescue Diver certified and an IYT MOY 200 Ton Offshore Captain.

Cynthia Matzke

Cynthia is a marine biologist and Director of Trilogy’s Blue’aina Campaign on the Island of Maui.  She has witnessed the devastating effects on wildlife and has dealt with the issue of ocean debris for the last two decades. This has involved cleaning up beaches and reefs, cleaning up oiled sea birds and assisting with turtle and whale stranding networks. She also is an educator, scientist, documentarian, event planner, sailor and fund raiser. Following the symposium in Japan, she will have an opportunity to present her findings in Seoul, South Korea – one of the world’s largest plastic producers.

Tyler Mifflin
Tyler is a skilled cinematographer and emerging director. He graduated from the University of British Columbia with a major in film production. Tyler got his start in film and television industry at a young age when he shot and starred in an episode of the YTV reality show Road Scholars, for which he traveled all over France, Italy and Switzerland, exploring many cultural wonders and doing extreme sports such as snowboarding, wakeboarding, mountain biking and rock climbing. Tyler has filmed projects in Cambodia, Laos, Belize, Mexico the U.A.E, and all over Canada, from the rough mountaintops of the Rockies to the urban streets of Toronto and Vancouver. Tyler recently completed a course in 3D filmmaking presented by the Canadian Society of Cinematographers. Tyler’s hobbies include any sport that involves a board, scuba diving, rock climbing, reading, playing music (harmonica, drums) and video games, and spending time at his family cottage on Georgian Bay.

Alex Mifflin
The idea to embark on The Water Brothers project first arose when Alex started working alongside his brother at SK Films in 2009 conducting research for IMAX® films in development. After receiving a degree in International Development and Environmental Studies from Dalhousie University and the University of King’s College earlier that year, the decision to join the family business and then begin The Water Brothers project were easy since they both allowed him to combine his interests in science and the environment and use film to explore how humans can harmonize our relationship with water and the natural world. When he isn’t hosting television shows, reading, enjoying music or thinking about the worlds biggest social and environmental dilemmas, Alex likes to spend his time playing sports, watching sports, taking scuba diving trips, and hanging out with friends surrounded by nature at the family’s Georgian Bay island cottage.

Date Posted: April 26, 2012 @ 6:28 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Sneak peek into the Algalita Debris From Our Sea Art Contest and Exhibit

Posted by: Katie Allen

Algalita recently hosted the first annual “Debris From Our Sea” Art Contest for students who live within the County of Maui School District.  The contest combined art, Hawaiian culture, and education based on the ever-increasing issue of plastic pollution in our oceans and on our shores.  Maui students were encouraged to visually depict the effects of plastic pollution on their community through any artistic medium.  We encouraged participants to collect debris from their local beaches in order to exhibit the different types of marine pollution that surrounds their home.  Overall, we had over 30 entries, ranging from sculptures to songs and music videos!

To add more excitement, Algalita just confirmed that the marine wildlife artist, Wyland, will be a part of our judging team!  Later this week, he and a handful of others will select three winning pieces to be featured on  These participants will also win passes to the Maui Ocean Center for their entire family!  The beauty of this contest is the fact that ALL ENTRIES will be showcased in the Maui Ocean Center Display window from mid May to the end of July 2012.

Although winners have not been announced, we felt compelled to give everyone a little sneak peak into Debris From Our Sea.

Sandy Patterson and her students from Lanai Elementary School, organized a trip to clean up all the sea debris at Mauna Lei Beach.  They collected SEVEN TRUCK LOADS of tires, batteries, plastic bottles, and other debris.  Some of it they saved and made into art.  A fourth grade student, Brooke Belista, was inspired to write a song about cleaning up the earth, and Mr. Matt Glickstein, a very talented teacher’s aide, composed the music, recorded the kids singing, and made a video of their beach clean up.  Enjoy!

The Hawaiian Archipelago shorelines are usually considered to be one of the most picturesque places on Earth.  We envision white sand beaches, clear waters and an array of healthy marine life.  Although this tiny area of the Pacific has been a popular location for holidays and honeymoons, overtime…it has also become a popular meeting place for the world’s trash.  A unique aspect to the debris found on Hawaiian shores is the fact that it may have traveled from any given country that touches the edge of the North Pacific.  The debris, mostly plastic, was delivered to these islands by wind and waves, not by choice or control.

“Debris From Our Sea” has given Maui students the chance to show the world the living legacy that is washing up on their doorstep.  Although their home has become a filter for marine debris, the students have expressed an incredible amount of optimism and hope for change.  Understanding the processes responsible for transporting debris plays an essential role in finding solutions.  We will be opening our interactive Ship-2-Shore Online Education Program during our upcoming research voyage through the Western Pacific to put students of all ages in contact with our research crew while our team is at sea.

Click here to learn more about our upcoming 2012 Asia Pacific Expedition.


Date Posted: April 10, 2012 @ 10:49 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Ship-2-Shore Education Program – Registration OPEN for Students and Teachers

Posted by: Katie Allen

We would like to invite any teachers or students to join our Ship-2-Shore Online Education Program during our upcoming research voyage through the Western Pacific.
Departing on May 1, 2012, the goal of this two-month voyage is to study plastic pollution in the Western Pacific Ocean both in the region known as the “Western Pacific Garbage Patch” and in the wake of last year’s devastating Tsunami. We will once again be opening our interactive Ship-2-Shore webspace to put students of all ages in contact with our research crew while our team is at sea. Students are welcome to sign up individually or teachers can register full classes.

This opportunity is provided at no cost to the participants and the only requirements are that participants be either teachers or students and that they have access to a computer with an internet connection. Please read below for more information about about this opportunity and feel welcome to share the information with any teachers or students that you feel would benefit. If you have any questions please contact me at

Thank you,
Holly Gray
Ship-2-Shore Project Coordinator
Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Ship-2-Shore Online- Western Pacific Voyage
Program Dates and Information

Western Pacific Voyage:
Kwajalein Atoll - Tokyo via the “Western Pacific Garbage Patch” May 1 – 23
Tokyo – Maui via the projected tsunami debris field
May 30 – July 1

We will be partnering with 5 Gyres aboard Pangaea Exploration’s Sea Dragon for this exciting research voyage in the Western Pacific.  Join the voyage online to participate in this effort to study plastic pollution in remote regions of the world’s oceans. The online education program is free and participants will be able to send questions to our research crew and share ideas with other students from around the world. Our research team will also be available to provide guidance for any students interested in developing stewardship projects to address the issue of plastic pollution. Participants will have the opportunity to earn certificates at the end of the voyage.

Registration Now Open!
(There is no fee for registration or participation in this program thanks to funding from Disney Friends for Change, SIMA, Pacific Life, Employees Community Fund of Boeing, Carl and Kent H. Landsberg Foundation, New Belgium Brewing Company, and Norris Foundation.)

Date Posted: April 7, 2012 @ 4:00 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut