Research - North Pacific Gyre Plankton Sample Analysis ‘07-‘08

Samples are currently being analyzed from Algalita’s latest gyre expedition. Wondering what a research expedition into the North Pacific Gyre is like? Then check out the crew blog from the the 2007 and 2008 research voyages. The blog is packed with educational material and first hand accounts of the plastic in the Pacific. You can also check out a summary presentation from FLYP from Media.


Surface samples were collected using a manta trawl while sub-surface samples were collected using a bongo net at depths of 10, 30, 50, and 100 meters. The analysis of these samples is an involved process; it can take our researchers anywhere from 20-80 hours to analyze just one sample! The samples are being worked up in collaboration with three different lab facilities:

Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP)
During the Hawaii to California leg of the 07-08 voyage, the crew returned to the original 1999 sample to collect samples for a replicate study. These samples are being analyzed at the SCCWRP facilities in Coast Mesa. Once the final data is obtained we will be able to compare the initial plastic/plankton ratio of 6-1 observed in 1999 to the new 2008 ratio. This will allow Algalita to gauge the trend of plastic accumulation in the North Pacific Gyre. Preliminary results are showing there has been a significant increase in the ratio of plastic to plankton since 1999.

Redondo S.E.A LAB and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium (CMA)
The Algalita research team is working up the general samples from both legs of the 07-08 gyre trip at the S.E.A Lab and CMA lab facilities. In addition to samples taken from within the North Pacific Gyre, samples were gathered from the California coast and from near shore waters of Hawaii during the voyage. These samples are also being reviewed at the S.E.A Lab and CMA facilities.
University of the Pacific
In addition to the quantification studies taking place at the other labs, Algalita is evaluating the North Pacific Gyre samples for the presence of contaminants in conjunction with the University of the Pacific. Researchers are looking for the presence of POPs on plastic particles. The water itself, not just the plastic, will also be tested for POPs in order to try and determine the relationship between ambient POP levels in the water and POP levels on the corresponding plastic.

In addition to the samples analysis, Algalita researchers are looking at different methods to describe the amount of plastic pollution found in the North Pacific Gyre:

Image J
Algalita is now looking at a different method of quantifying plastics in the gyre: two-dimensional surface area. Using the samples obtained from the 07-08 voyage and Image J software, Algalita researchers have begun to determine the two dimensional surface area of the two largest size classes of plastic particles (>4.75 mm and 2.80-2.749 mm).

Map-making is another means of analyzing the marine debris impact on local and global environments. Algalita’s GIS capabilities are improving at a steady rate thanks to the training from representatives of ESRI (Environmental Science Research Institute). The addition of dynamic maps to the AMRI database will serve to enhance our analysis capabilities.

Updated: 12/19/08