2009 North Pacific Gyre Expedition
During this voyage the ORV Alguita research crew sailed west from California past the Northern Hawaiian Islands as far as the International Date Line (180 degrees longitude) to sample areas of the Pacific Ocean previously un-sampled for plastic marine debris. They collected samples of plastic debris, plankton and fish to analyze back in the laboratory to better understand not only the quantity of plastic debris pollution in remote areas of the ocean, but also the impacts the plastic is having as it is consumed by marine animals.
The most logical expansion of the monitoring and quantification being done in the NPSG is west of Hawaii encircling the NWHI, including Midway and Kure. We intend to travel Northwest from California turning around after passing the International Data Line at approximately 35N Lat and returning to Hawaii on the northern side of the NWHI chain. The total trip duration will be approximately 6 weeks. This will provide both water samples from trawls and fish tissue samples for analysis back on land. Based on remote sensing data, models, and NOAA monitoring efforts within the NWHI monument, there are two major reasons for choosing this as the next expansion of our study area.
NOAA estimates, from a 2001-2005 study; that the annual accumulation of debris within the national monument is 52 metric tons. A significant amount of material is small plastics and yet there is no study of the impacts or a mitigation plan for small particle plastic pollutants in this area. We believe, based on NOAA scientists’ model simulation (OSCURS, DELI I) that a significant amount of the plastic pollution currently cycling around the North Pacific passes around or through the NWHI at some point on its journey. It is likely that most of the debris does not become ensnared by the islands or reefs, making the area a suspect for high concentration of small particle as well as large ghost net pollution.
Another important reason for wanting to conduct a study at this site is that it represents one of the most pristine coral reef habitat left on the planet with one of its most endangered marine mammals, the Hawaiian Monk seal, as well as critical turtle and bird nesting areas. The importance of these islands for a myriad of species means that a full understanding of how these animals and their environment are interacting with plastic pollution is needed.
Spreading the Word: 2nd leg, August, 2009
In early August approximately two weeks after arrival in Hawaii we plan to have the vessel depart Honolulu as a part of a major media initiative to help bring awareness to the issue of ocean plastic pollution. Since mitigation seems unlikely, especially for the small micro-plastics, education is the best tool to fight this issue. The people of the world have to become more educated about the final destination of a wide range of disposable goods, and at the same time the plastic and disposable good industries need to provide innovative alternatives that will appeal to the general public.
Peligro Pictures in conjunction with Billabong and ScubaDrew Video will be taking part in a two week giant loop approximately 1000 miles NE of Hawaii into the NPSG, which will include not only the Alguita, but the Billabong Seaplane and another long range vessel as well. The combination will provide a platform for celebrity guests to come out and witness the problem first hand, while providing their thoughts and commentary on the issue.
Resample of the NPSG: 3rd leg, September, 2009
The trip home from Hawaii back to California will include a resample of the original 1999 summertime gyre crossing. This 10-year time span will allow for much stronger statements to be made about the rate of growth and about the seasonal changes in plastic density. The data from the 1999 trip will be significantly strengthened by a summer sampling of the same transects and beyond during this ten year anniversary of our first trip to the garbage patch. The levels of plastic can then be compared to the levels found ten years ago, and related to our model predictions, allowing for a determination of growth during that period.
This trip will also be comparing the amount of fish caught in the manta trawl, with a particular interest in the family Myctophidae (lantern fish), to levels caught during the winter transect run in February 2008, and for the first time assessing the load of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) in their tissues.