Research and Analysis

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Why study plastic pollution?

Contamination of the world's oceans by plastic pollution is a growing problem. Plastics, like diamonds, are forever! Because plastics do NOT biodegrade, no naturally occurring organisms can break these polymers down. Instead, plastic goes through a process called photodegradation, where sunlight breaks down plastic into smaller and smaller pieces. Most plastic floats near the sea surface where it is often mistaken for food by birds and fishes. When plastic debris meets the sea its persistence wreak untold havoc in the ecosystems. Other marine debris can injure coral reefs and bottom dwelling species and entangle or drown ocean wildlife. Some species ingest plastic, potentially causing choking or starvation.
TED Talk: Captain Charles Moore on the seas of plastic >>


Our scientific research objective is to understand the scope and impact of plastic debris in the global marine ecosystem and potential effects on human health. We conduct research voyages to collect samples from around the world. Back in the lab, we study the distribution and fate of plastic debris in the marine environment, and are working to understand its impact on marine mammals, seabirds, and fish. We are further concerned about the possible transference of toxic contaminants from plastic to marine life, and what, short - and long-term implications there are for human health.

Unfortunately, very little can be done to directly fix micro-plastic pollution. For example, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the United States extends 200 miles in all directions from every US coastline, including the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). This line marks the jurisdiction of US federal environmental management agencies. However, outside of this area they are not mandated to mitigate negative environmental impacts to protected species and to the environmental wealth of the country. This means that the open ocean waters of the world are a difficult place to justify government spending on research or cleanup efforts.

For this reason, direct sampling of the central ocean gyres of the world has to come from nonprofit groups like Algalita Marine Research Institute, at least until the issue is present enough in the consciousness of the general public to bring about change in what has become a true "tragedy of the commons" for a global generation.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Plastic Pollution and the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre

Find the answers to some of the most common questions about plastic pollution and the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Read our FAQs page >>.


WebsitesVideosBlogsBooksScientific Papers

Websites - Government Agencies and Publications
UNEP - United Nations Environment Programme
UNEP Year Book 2011 - Plastic Debris in the Ocean
GESAMP - Microplastic Report
SCCWRP - Southern California Coastal Water Research Project
NOAA - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Article: Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress

Websites - Stewardship and Monitoring
Plastic Debris Rivers to Sea
5 Gyres Institute

International Pellet Watch

JEAN - Japan Environmental Action Network

Videos -
TED Talk: Captain Charles Moore on the seas of plastic
Captain Charles Moore - Plastic Ocean
Lecture
Laysan Albatross necropsy - Kure Atoll Seabird Sanctuary, 2007

Brydes whale found with six square metres of plastic in its stomach - Cairns Beach, 2009

Blogs -
My Plastic-free Life
- Chronicles the daily adventures of a woman learning how to rid everday life of plastic.

Boogie Green
- Research and writings by Dr. Sarah "Steve" Mosko about the issues of pollutants of the Plastic Age

Books -