Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Research voyage across the South Atlantic - sign up now!

We are currently running the Ship-2-Shore Education Program on a different web site. To access the program you must first register (registration is free for all students and teachers.) Registration information is below or follow this link; registration form

Voyage departs Nov. 8, 2010
Join along with our upcoming voyage to study plastic pollution across the South Atlantic Ocean. This research voyage from Brazil to South Africa departs Nov. 7th. During this voyage you will also have the opportunity to work directly with our research team to develop stewardship projects to address the issue of plastic pollution. Here is a link to the registration form to sign up!! For more information visit our program website here;
If you are already registered and have received your password information, enter the new Ship-2-Shore Program site here;

If you are not a student or a teacher and you simply want to follow the voyage on a public blog check here;

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Nearshore Sampling in the Pacific Aboard ORV Alguita

May 15, 2010

A warm, overcast sky burns into a gentle breeze and sunshine making for a pleasant day of nearshore sampling aboard ORV Alguita. Our work and enjoyment of the ocean scene along the Long Beach coast is, as usual, too often interrupted with balloons. We follow a bundle of silver hearts and an inflated #1 as it drifts out of reach over the water. Facundo skillfully hooks the bundle just after it settles on the ocean surface. Closer inspection reveals this pollution was generated in celebration of a little girls first birthday. Another colorful bundle of balloons reads "Caring with a personal touch".
Thankfully our first otter trawl yields more fish than plastic (on the left Captain Moore pours the tub of specimens into a tank for further inspection). Later in the lab we will see if these fish have been including plastic in their diet. Above research crew member, Christiana, holds up a bit of plastic she untangled from the net along with these fish.
Above, our second otter trawl yields a familiar reminder of the confusion marine organisms can have when deciphering between plastic and prey (the infamous visual similarity between sea jellies and clear plastic).
We draw a second, less common comparison between a fragment of a moon snail egg collar (on the left above) and the fragment of plastic.

We also sampled the surface water just inside the break wall of the Long Beach Harbor using a manta trawl (above). On the left, Christiana and Emily are rinsing the sample from the cod end of the net into a bowl. Unfortunately, even a quick inspection of this sample reveals that it is largely composed of plastic. Christiana points out some of the smaller fragments floating in the collection bowl beside a plastic bag.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

We've arrived in Mauritius!

April 4, 2010

We've arrived in Mauritius! The mountain top jets out of the horizon like the spine on top of a trigger fish. The last three weeks have been amazing. We accomplished many things. First, we documented plastic pollution in the middle of the Indian Ocean Gyre. We also successfully developed a high-speed trawl for future excursions. We were able to trawl at 8-10 knots, and found plenty of plastic in every trawl.

Now we will return to Los Angeles to plan for our next expedition to the South Atlantic Gyre in November 2010. Check back here for more photos and/or videos soon, to read our summary of this expedition in a few weeks, and to learn more about what's ahead!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 2: Unidentified Swimming Objects

Latitude: 20 33 South, Longitude: 63 58 East

"What on EARTH is that??"

Yesterday, we found perhaps the strangest organism we've ever seen in a trawl. Wrapped around a broken plastic coffee scoop was a silvery, eel-like fish as long as a pencil, with tiny, spines lining its sinewy body. Its body shape suggested it swam vertically.

No one has any idea what it is, not even the marine scientists on board. Our resident naturalist/author Redmond O Hanlin has a very fun hypothesis, but we won't bias you with his guess yet. Can anyone out there ID this fascinating creature?

2 days from Mauritius, and we're undoubtedly seeing an increase in plastic. This morning's trawl was full of trash - a broken cup, piece of a bowl, loads of broken down plastic film, and dozens of fragments, along with 6 small triggerfish, 5 pterapods, a few pelagic crabs, a strange, broccoli-like sea plant, several halobates (marine water skeeters), and another tiny, unidentified fish, possibly related to the Sargassum fish.
By the next blog entry, we will have either spotted land or landed. An incredible voyage coming to a close - and a third oceanic gyre now explored for plastic pollution. Though our research here will end tomorrow, the Beagle crew has agreed to continue gathering samples en route to Cape Town, hopefully coming closer to the center of the gyre. We will eagerly await their findings.

Click here to send a comment or question to the crew!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 1: Pufferfish & Java

21°15S, 71°10E

After weeks of tweaking, refining, head scratching, and testing again, the high-speed trawl finally works like a charm. One of the crewmembers, Johann the Bosun, took a special interest in the design and added several key modifications – some wooden skies, a few metal fins, and a longer bridle. And now, with 4 days to go before reaching Mauritius, we have a super Macguyvered trawl fashioned from scrap material that can be towed continuously at high speeds. We call it the “Flying Dutchman”.

Yesterday, we tried our first 24-hour trawl from the side of the boat. No sooner did we toss it in, the ship’s hotel manager Martin, a 6’8 boyish blonde with twinkling blue eyes, approached us apologetically. “I’m terribly sorry, but I forgot about the trawl, and threw coffee grounds over the side of the boat!”

Sure enough, the trawl was full of grounds, with something else....a thick ring of plastic packaging, a few nurdles, dozens of plastic fragments, and a pufferfish! In its final moments, the poor puffer was likely the most caffeinated fish in the Indian Ocean. The entire crew gathered around for a look at this beautiful little creature, inflated like a miniature porcupine.

Thanks to the Flying Dutchman, Johann and his team will be able to continue collecting samples for us, between Mauritius and Cape Town. Wind permitting, they will be able to venture deeper into the gyre, And with some additional samples, we should be able to publish our findings – a first exploration of plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean.

Q: Hey how did you guys know where the gyre is? Lawndale high school;
California and lawndale; im in the 10th grade; Toan;

A: Please visit and click on the "Research" section. You'll see a computer animation of where the 5 large subtropical gyres are. The animation was done by Nikolas Maximenko. His research paper is on the website as well. Basically, oceanographers release drift buoys into oceans with GPS technology on them so they can track their movements. This data allows us to see where the circular currents are, and where buoys drift to. When they get to the center of the gyres, they get stuck, just like plastic debris.

Q: Hello, Lawndale High, Hawthorne California, 10th grade. My questions
are 'Are you collecting the trash, if so what are you planning to do
with it?'

A: The small amounts we collect in our nets will be analyzed for total weight, size, color and type. We'll write a research paper about these findings. We'll describe where we found plastic debris, how much we found, and what kind of debris it was. After that's done, then we'll store the samples in case any other scientist would like to see it. In science, it's always important that you keep your samples in case someone doesn't believe what you've said.

Q: It appears, the choice is in mankinds hand but some people are simply
aiding the numerous amounts of debris we already have in the Gyre. How
would you truely feel if your home was simply a center of waste? ~Eric
T. a Sophmore at Lawndale High School located in Lawndale California

A: I'm not sure if I would call my home a "Center of Waste", but I cannot deny that we consume and throw away plenty of stuff. Waste is not a problem, as long as it's used by someone or something else as a resource. Think of nature, everything makes waste, but some other living thing eats it. In nature waste is food. In our society we make things out of products that are difficult to recycle, and when lost to the environment they do not biodegrade. Throw away plastic products are like this. So one way not to be a "Center of Waste" is not to have the things you consume be useless after you. One step would be to end the Age of Throw Away Plastic.

Q: Why did you and your reserach team choose to investigate the Indian
Ocean Gyre than any other Marine related issue, like the unbalance
equillibrium of marine ecosytems? ~ Lawndale High School,CA,USA,10th grade, Asanti

A: We each have personal reasons why we choose the field of science we work in. There is plenty of work to do to keep our oceans healthy. I choose to work on the issue of plastic waste. There are many other scientist working on sea level rise, ocean acidification, depleted fisheries, climate change and much more. When you speak of "Unbalance equilibrium of marine ecosystems" what do you mean specifically?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cheers to successful research!

With plastic in glasses, we toast to our 7 successful trawls we've conducted so far. In two weeks, and over 2000 miles, we have made a few simple observations. 1) There’s plastic in every trawl. 2) There’s more plastic waste as we near the center of the Indian Ocean Gyre. 3) There’s no practical way to clean up the ocean. Once you’ve been here you understand that all solutions begin on land. Cheers, Marcus

Answers to student Questions

Ahoy Ship2Shore mates, Anna here, with a few answers:

Heather from River Ridge High School, Florida wanted to know what we eat every day: unlike other voyages that we’ve been on, this boat has a full, equipped kitchen, and even a chef from Holland who prepares our meals! It’s an unusual luxury for us. Last night we had a big green salad, with tomatoes and goat cheese, alongside a fish fillet, and pork roast for the meat eaters. Having fresh produce 2 weeks into a sea voyage is incredible for us! By this time, were used to cabbage and onions being the only produce left.

We haven’t had much luck with fishing on this stretch – though we haven’t been trying hard. Sometimes we tow a line behind the boat, but no bites since before Perth. There just aren’t as many fish in our seas due to overfishing.

Another University High (Los Angeles, CA) student wanted to know how this plastic may affect fish: Algalita has found on past voyages that some foraging fish called “Myctophids” or “Lantern fish” are eating plastic along with the zooplankton they are used to eating. Lantern fish live in a deeper, dark region of the ocean called the “Mesopelagic” zone. At night, when they are safer from possible predators, they come up to the surface to find food. Unfortunately, they are finding more plastic near the surface as well. This is a relatively new discovery, so scientists aren’t yet sure how this affects them, or what the longer-term impacts on humans via the food chain are.

Kent (University High, CA), you asked how many fish die from plastic: again, we’re not sure how this plastic affects fish. We guess it can’t be good for them – if they eat too much plastic, they might feel full and not eat their regular food....or they might have problems swimming, with all this buoyant material in their stomachs. We have much to learn!
Anthony (University High, CA), we’re having a great time at sea. Life on the open ocean is very different from our busy, chaotic lives back in the city. We don’t have cell phones, TV, or internet. We’re surrounded by an endless view of blue water, which gives you an appreciation for the fact that our earth is mostly water. We do spend time at our computers – writing our blogs and working on other projects. Sometimes we help the crew with sailing – yesterday we climbed way up on the mast, inched out on the yard arm, and helped the crew tie up loose sails – a bit scary, but also fun. And when were not working on anything, we read, chat with other passengers, learn about other research on board, or just stare out to sea and think about how crazy and wonderful life can be.

Shardae and Uriel (University High, CA) wanted to know how to get rid of plastics and save sea animals: this is where we want you to do some thinking. You’ll see some past answers on our blog about how to reduce our use of disposable plastics, but we’d love to know your thoughts. How could you personally help – either in your everyday life, your family, or your school? Are there plastic products that you use and throw away often? What are some alternatives?

Marcus here, with a few more answers…

Q: “I also think that we should try to not throw plastic into the ocean because its very bad for the animals inn the ocean and they sometimes think its food do they end up eatying it and die :/ how does plastic affect the environment? university high school, united states, california 9th, Jennifer

A: How does plastic affect the environment? Plastic breaks apart into millions of small particles, like confetti. They float for decades and are eaten by fish. But before fish eat them, the plastic particles soak up other pollutants, like PCBs, DDT, DDE, and PAHs. These chemicals are called persistent organic pollutants. They come from pesticides, oil drops from cars, smog, and many different chemical industries. These pollutants do not mix with water, but stick to plastic floating in the sea. What happens when fish eat polluted plastic? This is what we want to learn later this year when we collect fish from the South Atlantic Ocean.

Q: “Its good to see that you have been cleaning up the oceans, But how did you guys find the fishes all dirty? University High School Gal United states California

A: We are actually not cleaning up the ocean. That is unfortunately a nearly impossible, and certainly impractical, task. To save the ocean from plastic we must act on land. That means we do everything we can to keep non-biodegradable plastic from being used for throwaway products, like plastic bags. You asked about fish. We collected 671 fish two years ago, looked in their stomachs and found plastic. 35% had plastic in their guts. This is alarming. I don’t want plastic in my sushi.

Q: “Seeing that you guys are on a ship and you are learning how to climb,are you out of shape? - Shabaka Johnson, 9th Grade, University High School, Los Angeles, CA, US”

A: We’re not out of shape, although we don’t get enough exercise here. We do climb a lot. This ship is amazing. It’s a Clipper ship, like the ones built 150 years ago. It has 29 sails. Yesterday we had to climb 75 feet in the air and stow a few sails away. You’re tied to the mast, but it’s still swaying back and forth, making you hold on tight. But with regard to exercise, I can’t wait to go jogging as soon as we arrive in Mauritius.
Q: “My question is why doesnt isnt there teams sent out to clean the ocean that would make more jobs and make the the ocean cleaner University High School U.S.A CA 9th grade Christopher

A: We can’t clean the ocean. Our planet is 70% ocean. Plastic is broken apart in to many billions of pieces as big as grains of sand. It’s nearly impossible, and certainly impractical, to clean the ocean. The ocean is simply too big, and you can’t take plastic out of the ocean without taking out the marine life that lives there. Also, the plastic is not all clumped together. Imagine trying to collect a hand full of sand spread over a football field of area.

What would you do… sweep it? Now imagine sweeping 9 million football fields in the North Pacific alone! Change MUST begin on land. If you want to clean the ocean, start in your neighborhood. Does your school use plastic forks, straws or Styrofoam trays? Get your school off the plastic habit. Use paper instead. Get rid of straws. Use metal utensils. Bring your own lunch. You are the change. What will you do?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two hurricanes in two months

March 24 Latitude: 22 13.3 South Longitude:91 20.9 East

With a name as beautiful as Imani, none of us quite believed we were really nearing a tropical cyclone. Nor were our weather reports conclusive – a weather fax from a Belgian crew stated “nothing to worry about”. And a wildly different report from a French ship warned of an impending hurricane.

Better safe than sorry is always the rule of thumb, so we detoured North, making a wide arc around the possible weather. The crew sprung into “batten down the hatches” mode, taking down sails, putting up the small storm sail, stowing away all loose gear, and stringing up a network of thick safety lines around the entire boat. The seas continue to build unmistakably.

“Lets go watch from the bow!” Marcus and I step outside. We’re immediately enveloped in a thick sauna of warm, wet air. Thankful for the safety lines, we grab ahold, clip our harnesses on, and slip slide our way to the front rails. Mountains of water, deep valleys, and howling winds replace yesterday’s gentle blue tapestry. The crew now wear their waterproof foul weather gear. Less prepared, we’re soaked in a matter of minutes.

Just the other month, we found ourselves sailing through hurricane conditions in the North Atlantic. Our second hurricane, in another gyre! No one is concerned, least of all our Captain. Our detour will put us far from danger, but we will be in for a ride.

Meanwhile, we’ve been having a series of intense brainstorming sessions about real solutions to plastic waste. We’ll share those in tomorrow’s blog – assuming satellite connections work. And will ask that you start thinking too.

Answers to Student Questions

Hey Students, sorry for the communication gap, we've had a tropical cyclone pass through. 2nd hurricane for us! Hopefully weather should be calm from here on out. Cheers, Anna

Q: Many of you (including Chris and Michael from Las Vegas, Nevada) have asked what we are most excited to see, what our goals are and what we hope to accomplish. Marcus answered this question in the last blog, here I will add to his answer;

A:I'm most excited to see what new marine creatures, people, and adventures we'll encounter in this voyage, and what new ideas we might have long the way about solutions. We have more students than ever - you all - following the journey. And as a result of this, we now have thousands of young people that will learn about this issue, and begin thinking about ways to solve this problem in their own communities. We hope that some of you will join us in Los Angeles next year, when we hold our first international conference for young people - the next generation. You are our next great hope for making this world a better place. -Anna-

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Doldrums of Debris

March 23, 2010 22°31.39S, 91°39.93E
“Hey, there’s a turtle stuck in a ball of net,” someone yelled from the top of the mast, the best place to be for a 360° view of the world for miles. From 150ft up in the air came a barrage of sightings: a shark, two turtles, random large fragments of plastic floating by and one enormous ball of tangled fishing nets and rope. We’re in the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch.

An oceanic garbage patch is an area of relatively dense accumulation of debris, not an island, but a thin soup that’s more concentrated in the 5 subtropical gyres than surrounding waters. Other than the behemoth net ball, or trails of random debris forming wind rows, you usually will see very little with the naked eye. You detect an oceanic garbage patch when you trawl.

We’ve conducted 6 trawls in the last 7 days, each one with plastic debris. Trawls 1-4 had a visible fragment or two floating about. Trawl 5 had a dozen, and trawl 6 had twice more than all others combined (see the photo above).
So if you hold the idea that the solution to the plastic pollution problem is to go to any of the 5 gyres and get it, you’re wasting your time and money. The plastic out here will likely photodegrade and break apart into smaller and smaller fragments. After cycling through untold numbers of marine organisms through filter-feeding or food mimicry, the particles will likely sink to the seafloor, either as fish poop or become encrusted by colonizing critters. They will take their polymer chains and absorbed pollutants to the sequestering grave of deep sea mud.

Solutions to plastic pollution begin on land. More to follow…Video: Entering the Gyre- Crew member, Anna Cummins, scouts for plastic pollution and monitors plastic debris sampling from high up on the mast. She shares observations of increasing quantities of plastic pollution as they enter the Indian Ocean Gyre.


Q: hello, we are the 6 year 7 students from Radford college, Canberra, Australia.our question for you is ' can you tell how long the rubbish has been siting there in the water? If so, how? Thanks and good luck!!!

A: It’s nearly impossible to tell exactly how long debris has been in the water. Sometimes you find a date on the object, like an expiration date on a plastic candy wrapper. Sometimes we assume that the amount of growth on an object, like a cluster of gooseneck barnacles, means it’s been in the ocean for awhile. But plenty of growth can happen in a few months. On our Junkraft expedition ( we observed mature barnacles growing under our raft after 88 days at sea. Sometimes we look at the amount of photodegradation by UV light to tell us that a plastic object ha s been in the sea for a long time. Overall, it’s really difficult to tell

Q: I'm thrilled to hear more about your adventure! Reading things like this makes me want to step outside my house and get straight to recycling. With Nikolai Maximenko's collected data from the 12,000 buoys, i'm curious about whether you plan on recollecting the buoys or leave them wherever they may be. Also, what are the buoys mainly made of? Toni - George Washington High School, Guam

A: The Maximenko Model is a computer simulation based on the data from other drift buoy release studies. Nikolai Maximenko didn’t release any real buoys. He used known drift buoy data, current and wind information to predict where the 5 gyres are. But what happened to the real buoys? Some of them disappear, likely sinking or washing up on shore. They are lost when the electronics inside begin to degrade, lose power or get wet. They are usually made of plastic on the outside, but 100 years ago they were made of wooden barrels or glass spheres. The science of oceanography has come a long way. Today’s buoys usually have information on how to contact the scientist that sent it, and sometimes there is a reward.

Q: Greetings! We are the fifth graders of Rutledge Hall in Lincolnwood, IL, just north of Chicago. We are wondering if you have heard about the green plastic breakthrough at Stanford ( and what yourthoughts are on it. Thanks!

A: Please send me the article and I will tell you what I know. We can’t check the internet from here in the Indian Ocean, only check email. What I do know about green plastics is that some bioplastics are marine degradable. PLA is the most common bioplastic used today. It’s made from corn. It’s not marine degradable, but PHA is. Search “PHA bioplastic” on the net and share with us what you come up with.

Also, there are some technologies creating PET from plant based organic compounds. This is one solution to keep from using fossil fuels to make plastic. At this moment roughly 4% of a barrel of oil becomes plastic, and 3-4% of that barrel is used to make the power consumed to make the plastic. That means 7-8% of a barrel of oil is required to make the plastic 6.5 billion people in the world consume. That’s plenty of oil. Plant-based PET would change that. But plant-based PET is not biodegradable, so it will still persist in the environment if lost.

Q: Im Matt from Faith Lutheran High, Las Vegas. Where are you planning on porting
throughout the trip?

A: Our next port of call will be the island of Mauritius, which is roughly 680 miles east of Madagascar. Can you do me a favor? I need information on the Yellow-nosed Albatross that live on that Island. I need to know where on the island they live. 10 years ago I saw plenty of Laysan Albatross on Midway Atoll, in the Pacific Ocean, full of plastic in their stomachs. Anna saw the same thing on Guadalupe Island, near the Pacific coast of Mexico. We want to find out if Yellow-nosed Albatross are eating plastic as well.

Q: Faith Lutheran High School, Las Vegas Nevada, Senior, Chris. I was wondering what each of you are most hoping to accomplish on this trip, what your most excited to see?

A: We have a couple of research goals in mind. We want to know if there is plastic in the Indian Ocean Gyre, how much there is, and what is it doing to the organisms that live there. We’re also looking at the Maximenko Model that predicts the relative concentrations of debris in the 5 gyres of the world. We are planning to have visited all 5 gyres by May 2011.

What am I most excited to see? I want to learn. I want to see the world outside of my home, city, country. I decided long ago that combining school with travel was the best way to learn about the world. I’m excited to know what I don’t yet know. This is the joy of discovery. Equally as exciting is that I get to share this journey with you.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

View the Indian Ocean Voyage in Google Maps

Click here to view Indian Ocean Voyage 2010 in a larger map directly in Google Maps!

Now you can view the route of the voyage and the blog in Google Maps. Each blue sailboat icon is placed at the noon location of the research vessel given by the research crew in the Ship-2-Shore Blog. Click on each icon to view the images and text posted to the blog that day. Note: answers to student questions are not included in the map so you will need to check the blog for these!


Lesson Extensions

Teachers- Here are is a link to our "Mapping Plastic Pollution Lessons" for grades 4-12, designed for use in Google Earth. With varying degrees of modification these lessons can also be used in Google Maps. We will be posting a .kml file of the Indian Ocean Voyage next week for use in conjunction with these lessons.

Mapping Plastic Pollution

Monday, March 22, 2010

Night Trawling

22 March 24°29.25S, 98°06.39E
I was dreaming that I was sitting at a board meeting for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation when suddenly someone walked into the dream-office and said “Do you want to trawl now?” Half asleep, I responded “What? Yes. Huh?” She asked again, “We can trawl now at night so you can maybe catch some fish.” It’s 4:30am and Anna and I are zombies on deck staggering about with the manta trawl. The crew of the 250ft. tall ship “Stad Amsterdam” are eager to see what we will find next. “We’re only going 3 knots, so we can trawl as long as you like,” Christiana says.

Anna’s got the trawl log in hand, jotting down the starting time and latitude/longitude. I’m wearing the harness and locked into the side of the ship as we open the side gate, hang overboard with the trawl, and throw it in.

“We are approaching 5 knots,” the officer on deck says. Moments before sunrise, we pull the trawl back onboard. The cod end (that’s the removable sock on the end of the net) has a dozen 4-8 centimeter-long fish, like flying fish and myctophids. We’re still far from the accumulation zone of the Indian Ocean Gyre, but there are plastic fragments here as well.
I’m reminded again that our connected oceans are a plastic soup with varying surface densities of plastic pollution. We expected to find very little here, yet here it is. There are many people with good intentions that want to solve the problem of plastic pollution by going first to the ocean. It is extremely impractical to start here. It must happen upstream, in the hands of those that create plastic, make plastic goods, and the customers that use them. We need better systems for collection and containment of waste, better products with less packaging and better materials, and plastic itself should no longer be used for throw-away products. Knowing that plastic is an environmental hazard, we must end the “Throw-Away” culture that created this mess in the first place.

Climbing Masts and Oceans

March 21, 2010 Noontime position: 24 25.510 S, 99 28.891 E

A few days ago we had our first climbing lesson, to learn to scale one of the tall ships vertigo-inducing masts. Meanwhile, our boat is also climbing - UP the ocean. In fact, on this trip so far, we’ve already descended around 30 feet, and are now beginning to climb again, another 100 to go before reaching Mauritius. How is that possible? I wondered - isn’t sea level a more or less constant height around the world – i.e. zero?

Meet Bert Vermeersen one of the chief scientists on board, taking extremely accurate, vertical GPS measurements on sea level height. Which is apparently quite difficult to do. Bert found Marcus and I on deck in the early morning, struggling to do some sit ups while the boat rocked and rolled about. We quickly abandoned this exercise in futility, and chatted with Bert instead.

“Believe it or not, sea level can actually vary by as much as 300 feet around the world” Bert explained, “depending on the relative depth of the ocean, the force of gravity, and differences in topography. The earth is a flattened elipse rather than a spherical globe – equator to equator the earth is 20 miles longer than at the poles. These differences in sea level height are measured with respect to the ellipsoid.”

And so, although the indigo blue expanse surrounding us looks perfectly flat, we are slowly, gradually inching our way up a marine mountain, at a pace so slow that only Bert’s high tech measurements will notice the change.

Climbing the mast on the other hand – this is a change noticeable enough to send my heart rate soaring! After a basic safety 101 from one of the deck hands, we donned our harnesses and scampered up the mast, as we’ve been watching the crew do enviously for days. The view from atop is breathtaking. This is now a daily must!

For the last few days, a group of around 10 eager men, lead by Marcus and Haico, have been wrenching, bolting, testing, and retesting a space age looking steel-torpedo device, rigged with an underwater camera and a long net. The idea was to create a high-speed trawl, with a camera that would capture footage along the way. The first try had the contraption bouncing and diving along the surface like a lovable robotic dolphin. The footage was mesmerizing – a crystalline underwater seascape – but the device still spins wildly. And so Marcus is back in the workshop, welding another prototype. We all wait anxiously.

Still, we’ve had a chance to trawl twice so far – both times yielding a trawl full of Portuguese Man O War (ouch!) and one or two plastic fragments. We’re still far from the accumulation zone.

Last night, Marcus and I gave the evening lecture, a daily routine. We all gather in the dining room for the Captain’s 7:00 address – he gives a brief talk on the next days wind and weather patterns, shows a slideshow of photos from the day, and then one of the guest scientists on board shares their research. We’ve heard presentations on core sample drilling in Antarctica and the Artic from paleoclimatologist Henk Brinkhuis (, seen a film tracing Darwin and Wallace’s parallel findings on natural selection, and last night, we were given the floor. We shared our research with Algalita and 5 Gyres on plastic in the world’s oceans, to a room of scientists who seemed genuinely intrigued by the issue. And in a few days, the evening program will be dedicated to plastic pollution solutions. We’re very interested to hear what comes out of the brainstorming session – full report to come.

More Answers to Student Questions!

Ahoy land loving lads and lasses,
Anna here – reporting to you from the middle of the Indian Ocean.
As always, there were many wonderful questions – so I was able to answer about half of them today. We hope to answer more soon!

In answer to Hayley and Jaqueline (from Las Vegas , Nevada) we’re 50 on board, including 25 crewmates, mainly from Holland. These young men and women have all learned to be accomplished sailors, and are in charge of sailing the boat, a 250-foot long Clipper called the Stad Amsterdam. Most of the crew have been on the boat for 7 months or more, sailing around the world! This is a new experience for Marcus and me – usually on research trips, we are also part of the crew – waking up at strange hours to take turns doing watches, as well as cooking, cleaning, and helping with general boat duties.

We did ask the crew to wake us up ANY time the boat slows to 3-4 knots, no matter what time it is, so we can trawl. So we’re now up, and 5:00 am, answering questions and drinking coffee while waiting to pull the trawl up. Its still pitch black outside, a warm breeze blows, and the sky is full of stars. These are some of the best moments.

In answer to the question Felipe and Antonella (Escuela Nº41, Uruguay)asked about food and water: there is TONS of food on board – and a wonderful chef on board who makes great meals every day. Last night, we had a special Dutch treat, since it was Sunday: Dutch pancakes and ice cream for dinner! There were apple cinnamon, banana, blueberry, and.....bacon pancakes. (I didn’t eat this one, but Marcus tried it - strange.) Everyone on board was really excited by this very unusual meal, and on a sugar high for hours. Normally we eat more balanced meals – for breakfast, homemade bread with cheeses and meats, yogurt and cereal, and fresh fruit, and for dinner, rice and vegetables, salads, soups, and pasta. And we have a few water makers on board that pump salt out of seawater, so we always have a fresh supply of drinking water.

Many of you have asked what we do for fun. After dinner every night, we all gather in the main dining room for some entertainment. A big movie screen pops down, and Captain Andy begins his daily report about the coming weather, with a slideshow of pictures from the days events. Then one of the young film students on board shows a short film they put together that day, the Ships Journal, called “Scheepsjournaal“ in Dutch. And then, we either hear a presentation from one of the scientists on board, watch a film put together by the crew, or watch one of the documentaries made by the Dutch Television crew VPRO. These films follow Darwin’s studies as a young man around the world, and look at how things have changed since his voyage. In answer to Meagan and Tyler (Las Vegas, Nevada): On this leg of the journey, the two films are on plastic, and coral reefs.

These films are incredibly well done – you may be able to see some of them on line, on the Beagle Expedition Website. The site is in Dutch, so it may be hard to navigate, but I’m sure you’re up to the challenge! And even if you find a film mostly in Dutch, it will give you some idea of what the trip is like.

Many of you asked about our goals on this voyage. Our main goal on this trip is to gather information on possible plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean. We know its out here, based on other reports, including one paper we found on plastic washed up on Islands in the Indian Ocean. See if you can find that paper on our 5 Gyres website, under “research”. After studying plastic in the North Pacific Gyre with Algalita, we decided to look at the other oceanic gyres, to see if they are all full of plastic. We’ve been to the North Atlantic, just last month, and found lots of plastic there. And next fall and spring, we’ll go to the South Atlantic and South Pacific. By then, we’ll have gathered data from all 5 oceans, and will share this with an international audience.

Allegra (Las Vegas, Nevada) wanted to know if there was a defining moment for us that compelled us to work on this issue. For me, it was hearing Captain Charles Moore speak about plastic in the Pacific Gyre, back in 2002, and then joining him on an expedition to Guadalupe Island, where we found plastic inside the stomachs of birds. For Marcus, it was rafting down the Mississippi River in a raft he made from plastic bottles, and seeing plastic trash during the entire 5-month journey. Marcus also went to Midway Island with a group of students, and saw dozens of Albatross skeletons filled with trash – lighters, bottlecaps, toys, and more.

We’ve both had a chance to see first hand how our trash, from our own cultures, is damaging the environment. We want to bring this to peoples attention, so we can find solutions more quickly.

To the question Christian (from Las Vegas, Nevada) asked about getting sucked into the whirlpools of the gyres: fear not lads and lasses. The gyre is a massive, slow rotating system, made up of oceanic currents and winds. There is no danger of getting “sucked in”. The bigger danger for sailors is getting stuck in the “doldrums”, the high-pressure system in the center of a gyre where the winds die down. We’re not worried about this here, as we’ll be following good winds on this route. And should we get “becalmed”, we do have a motor as a back up. We prefer not to use it.

Coleen (from Guam) wanted to know about what research has already been done on the Indian Ocean. As far as we know, there haven’t been any studies looking at plastic floating on the surface waters. We did find one paper on plastic that washes up on Islands in the Indian Ocean. What else can YOU find out about the Indian Ocean?

Finally, Chris (from Las Vegas, Nevada) asked what our favorite sea creature is. We all have many, but for today, I’ll say the Dolphin Fish, or Mahi-Mahi – just yesterday, I learned that they mate for life. Which makes me feel differently about eating them. Marcus says his is the hatchet fish, they have big eyes and fierce looking teeth, but they are tiny! Yara, a young woman on board, loves the Commodore Dolphins they saw in Patagonia. They are small, with black and white coloring like a killer whale, and very playful, leaping and dancing around the boat, and swimming with their bellies facing up, like they wanted someone to tickle them.

Answers to Student Questions

Hi Marcus here answering a few questions…

Q: What are you most excited about seeing on this trip or doing? Michael Las Vegas, NV Faith Lutheran

A: I’m having so much fun just sailing on a tall ship. There are three masts. The middle mast is 150ft tall. There are 29 sails! It’s an amazing opportunity to sail the way people did 150 years ago. When we get to Mauritius we’ll check out some roosting sites where albatross nest. We want to know if they eat plastic like the albatross do on Midway Atoll.

Q: Hi I'm Chase from Faith Lutheran in Las Vegas, Nevada. I know that the plastic has a large effect on the smaller marine life, but does it affect such larger animals as the beluga whale?

A: Yes, we find that Beluga whales are not only ingesting plastics and storing them in their stomachs, but their bodies develop deformities because of the chemicals they absorb from the ocean environment. Please do some research online to see some of these stories. It’s a really sad affair for these cetaceans and others. As you know, whales are at the top of the food chain, so they are eating all of the pollution that thousands of smaller animals have already consumed. It bioaccumulates in their tissues and organs. It happens to humans as well. Search on the internet for a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group called “Ten Americans”. You will be surprised.

Q: Howdy Yall, my name's John and I'm your favorite duputy. I am at 12thgrader from Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was just wondering, what do you guys do for fun, besides researching of the ocean?

A: We do have lot’s of fun studying the ocean. We’ve now traveled 3 of the world’s 5 subtropical gyres. For fun, and work, we’ve done a couple of things recently. We bicycled 2000 miles from Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico to give 40 talks about plastic to universities, politicians and local conservation organizations. Before that, we built a raft from 15,000 plastic bottles and sailed 2,600 miles across the Pacific Ocean. Check out to see the fun we have doing our work, and follow the link to Algalita to see the research we’ve done.

Q: greetings fellow sailors, i was wondering since the small fish eat this plastic, does the plastic effect the bigger fish when they eat the small plastic filed fish?- brandon faith lutheran high school

A: Yes, plastic carries POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants). These likely bioaccumulate up the food chain and end up on your dinner plate. This is where the science is now. We want to know if plastic really does this, and how bad it is. There is a need for people like you to become environmental scientists and help create a sustainable world.

Q: Greetings from Faith Lutheran HS in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am called Samuel, but my comrads call me Sam and am in the grade of 12. I pondered how you would fix this problem of large amounts of plastic in the ocean?

A: We can’t clean up the ocean in any practical way. Starting in the ocean to clean up the plastic is the most expensive and time consuming place to clean up waste. It has to happen on land first. To fix it you’ve got to stop adding more. Plastic is an environmental hazard at sea. We’ve got to stop making throw-away, single-use products from a material that’s designed to last forever. That means, no more plastic bags, straws, cup lids, bottles, bottle caps, knives and forks made from cheap, oil-based plastic. But you can start right now! Do you have a steel water bottle? You can buy a steel water bottle for the price of 10 plastic bottles of water, but your canteen will last for years. Do you have a cloth grocery bag? I’ve got a dozen made from t-shirts.

Q: Faith Lutheran High School Nevada,USA 12th grade Trevor What other products do you suggested we use instead of plastic?

A: Steel water bottles, cloth bags, bamboo reusable silverware and cloth napkins. In a restaurant tell the waiter, “No straw in my water please.” As far as the material, paper, metal, glass and wood worked just fine 50 years ago. Right now all of the solutions exist around you. Aluminum cans carry soda, why not water, liquid detergent or motor oil? Glass bottles carry wine, why not other liquids? Detergent powder comes in a box, so we don’t really need it in a plastic bottle? Do you ever need a straw? A plastic bag? What other observations of solutions to you see around you?

Q: Ahoy maties! I am John of Faith Lutheran, located within the boundaries of Las Vegas, Nevada. Besides encountering any swashbuckling pirates, what might be yer' greatest danger upon the deck's of the mighty Stad Amsterdam?

A: No Pirates, but we did see a few fishing boats yesterday. Maybe you could do us a favor and research instances of piracy off the coast of Madagascar. It’s actually a very serious issue for sailors. There are more and more boats being hijacked, crew killed, and ships left abandoned. It’s nothing like what you see in the movies.

Q: Hey, I am a senior at Faith Lutheran Jr/Sr High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. My question for you is "What type of equipment do you use daily on your expeditions at sea?"

A: Check here to see the manta trawl we deploy to capture our surface samples of the sea. It’s basically a net with two wings that keep it flying on the surface. We pull it at 3-4 knots for an hour, then empty the net into a jar. After counting the pieces of plastic and weighing them, we can publish the data in a journal.

Q: Is there a reason for following Darwin's expedition? Did the HMS Beagle go through the 5 gyres or something?

A: Following Darwin isn’t our idea, it’s the idea of the Dutch production company that invited us. Beagle VPRO has taken the challenge to follow Darwin’s footsteps to see how the world has changed. It’s an awesome opportunity to be a part of it. We’re also looking at how the world has changed. Darwin saw a new world. We’re now watching that world begin to fall apart. Human civilization must learn to live within our ecological boundaries, and not take more than what can naturally replace on its own. That means, no overfishing, no destroying natural ecosystems when other developed land lies abandoned, no dumping waste into the sea, especially plastic, and sending less carbon into the air from power plants. Eat local food, drive less, walk, ride your bike, and put a solar panel on your roof. The smartest human tomorrow will be the person/family/community that gives more to the world than they take.

Q: Jacobe (from Faith Lutheran High Las Vegas, NV) How much government money are you guys using and how much is this whole project costing.

A: No government funds here. We were invited to be part of a production about Darwin, so the TV show pays those expenses. We are doing research, so we will collect 10-15 samples of the sea surface. Back at the Algalita lab we have some money given by a private family, which we will use to process the sample. This trip across the Indian Ocean is basically a dream come true.

Q: Hello, I am from Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas, NV, USA. I was wonder have you discovered any new species of marine animals?

A: No new species, but if we were to trawl near the ocean floor 5000 feet below, we might find something new. The seafloor is the new frontier. With so much attention focused on going to Mars, we only need to go deep in our own oceans to find new life in the solar system. There’s a need for new oceanographers to understand the ecology of the ocean ecosystem. It could be you.

Q: Hello, I'm from faith lutheran high (Las Vegas NV). My question is how long will it take to reach your destination, and what are some personal goals you wishto accomplish while your in the midst of your travel?

A: We’ll be at sea for two more weeks to get to Mauritius. My goals, to arrive safely with my wife Anna, and I want to collect at least 10 samples. My greater goal is to tell the world about the state of our oceans. Our planet is 70% ocean. We are a blue planet, and this watery world is what keeps most life on land alive. Plastic does nothing good for the ocean. I would be very happy to see no more new plastic pollution entering the sea.

Q: Hi! I'm Paige Fulfer from Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. How long is this expedition going to last? And also, how expensive is it?

A: How long….2 weeks. How expensive…2 much. I’m not paying the cost. The production company, Beagle VPRO is retracing the route of Charles Darwin. Anna and I were lucky to be invited along.

Q: Hello there crew of the grand ole stad amsterdam. My name is Joe fromLas Vegas Nevada. I want to know where you put the plastic when you get it?

A: The plastic we get will be kept with our scientific samples. We’re not out here to clean up the Indian Ocean Gyre. That would be a waste of time and money. All solutions MUST begin on land. If you spend a few hours to remove a pound plastic out of the sea, in that time the world has contributed hundreds of pound more! You’ve got to stop the source.

Q: Do you think spreading the cause to help the great pacific garbage patch, would make people stop the pollution of plastic in the ocean? -Roland

A: There are 5 garbage patches in the world. This is a global issue. A soon as we recognize that, and have a consensus about solutions, then we’ll see the flow of plastic pollution to the ocean end. But it begins with science, then communication. Check out to read about our bike tour that went 2000 miles from Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico to give 40 public lectures about plastic waste.

Q: Hello, my name is Tyler. I am currently a senior in Marine and Desert Bio at Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas. My question is can anything actually live in this "plastic ocean"? If so what animal or plant matter is it?

A: Everything that lived in the oceans before plastic, is still there today, but populations of many marine organisms are declining rapidly, especially cetaceans. Plastic makes life more difficult for the things that live there. We’re finding more plastic ingested by marine life. 44% of seabird species either ingest or are entangled by plastic, 22 cetaceans, all sea turtle species, and a long list of fish.

But remember, when we talk about a plastic ocean, we’re talking about a soup, not an island of trash. Imagine a handful of plastic confetti spread over a football field. That’s pretty much how thick it gets. Or imagine the worlds largest oil spill dispersed over the planet, with a cup of oil over every square mile. If you look at it that way you begin to understand that it’s impossible to clean up.

Q: Faith Lutheran Las Vegas, Nevada, USA 12th Grade What has been the most recent astounding discovery on your vessel?

A: Well, the eastern Indian Ocean is cleaner that any other place I’ve trawled before. We expected that. But we’re still finding some plastic. We expect to find the most at a point 300 kilometers south of Mauritius. We also plan to look inside the stomachs of fish we catch in our trawls. So, stay tuned.

Q: Hi Hows the trip? After all the studies what do you think about Darwin's theory? –Cody

A: Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is as solid as the theory of gravity. Life evolved on this planet. That’s a fact. How it happened is explained by natural selection. This vessel, the Stad Amsterdam, is repeating that voyage. What we’re learning is that the world has changed. Darwin discovered a world exploding in biodiversity. Now we see a world of biodiversity shrinking. We are experiencing an extinction event that rivals what happened to the dinosaurs. Think about it, with 6.5 billion people on the planet consuming land, food and water, and all the transportation, industry, and war that we do, it’s going to take a lot of work to make our planet livable in the future. This is why conservation and human rights are so important. What is your contribution to the cause?

Q: Faith Lutheran High School Las Vegas, NV 12th grade Robert What is the coolest thing you've ever witnessed while at sea?

A: 40ft waves and 60 knot winds is quite impressive. But when I sailed my plastic bottle raft across the Pacific Ocean in 2008 ( I witnessed a small fish the size of my shoe with 17 particles of plastic in its stomach. Check out the Junkraft website and look for the video titled “Plastic Sushi”.

Q: Hello there mates. I am Tyler from Faith Lutheran High School located in the world famous city of Las Vegas, Nevada. What do you consider the biggest danger to the ocean? And what is the best way to get this critical information out to the world so it can be taken seriously? Oh and what do you do to entertain yourselves for the long voyage?

A: First, why is Las Vegas world famous? What’s dangerous here? If you fall overboard you will likely never be found. That’s probably not a fun way to die. How do we entertain ourselves? Music, read, sing when no one is listening, or just practice sitting quietly and pay attention to the world around you. The best way to get the information out there and be taken seriously is to do good scientific work. That gets published in a peer-reviewed journal. Peer-review means that other scientist critique your research paper before it gets published in the journal. If you get your work published, then people, organizations and lawmakers take you seriously.

NOTE: From now on ONLY questions with school name and location will be considered- make sure you follow the directions provided!!!