Research - Pelagic Plastic - Gyre Voyage 2005

Crew Accounts: 2005 Central Pacific Research Voyage

MARCUS ERIKSEN

PhD - AMRI Education Specialist

ORV Alguita Crew member 2005

"Is there really six times more plastic than zooplankton in the North Pacific Gyre?" students ask in disbelief. My answer will forever change from "That's what the research says,” to "I've seen it myself."

As an educator with the Algalita Marine Research Institute, I will soon travel to 50 high schools across California to engage students in the science of watershed conservation through school assemblies and classroom activities. The 2005 Gyre Expedition gives me credible first hand experience to share. Thanks to Captain Charles Moore, I was able to trawl the ocean myself for marine debris, and collect large pieces of plastic debris like fishing nets, large floats and soda bottles, which 1000's of students across California will soon see.

The tools of an educator are not only objects for display, but necessarily include teacher knowledge and passion for the subject. My visit to the gyre allowed me to experience the ocean in a way that is inaccessible to most people. Night diving in a bioluminescent world with strange organisms swirling around, sitting quiet in a dingy 800 miles from land while a Black-footed Albatross soars 10 feet overhead, and having a harbor seal pop out of the water less than 2 feet from my face, were just a few of the intimate experiences that brought be closer to the living ocean. Only a few hours ago, on our ride into the Santa Barbara Channel at 2 am, I stood on the bow of the Alguita watching a dozen dolphin race forward from the boat, leaving bioluminescent trails, like fireworks rocketing into the sky. "How can we pollute something so beautiful?" I thought.

We performed over 40 research trawls in the gyre and collected over 100 pieces of large marine debris. Plastic is everywhere. We newly discovered high concentrations of plastic debris within 400 nm of the coast when the ocean surface is calm. Plastic debris litters our beaches and accumulates in huge piles on uninhabited Pacific islands. Plastic debris clogs our storm drains and accumulates by the tons in our rivers and streams. Plastic debris is on grocery shelves, in our school cafeterias, and in our homes. Our work to bring awareness and responsibility begins now. With the 2005 Gyre Expedition in my pocket I'm armed and ready.

Posted: 8/17/05

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