Anna here, with the last set of answers. We weren’t able to answer all of them – there were so many great questions, and we’re still on the road, currently in Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon is a beautiful city – filled with history. Yesterday we visited a castle built in the 11th century!
We will still be posting some videos and photos on the blog, so stay with us. And stay tuned for more info on the Plastics Are Forever Youth Conference we are holding in Los Angeles next spring! We’d love to have you there.
Sean and Landan from River Ridge High School, Florida wanted to know if we expected the North Atlantic gyre to have the same amount of plastic trash as the North Pacific – this question has come up quite a bit. Though we weren’t sure what to expect, we didn’t think we’d find quite as much as in the Pacific. The North Pacific Gyre is bounded by some heavy consumer nations – the US, China, Japan, Canada – so we’d expect to find a lot of trash from these areas.
That being said: we still found a lot of plastic in the North Atlantic – similar to what we see in the Pacific. Crates, buckets, bottle caps, toys, shoes – you name it. And when we combed beaches on the three islands we visited, we found even more trash washed up by the currents. Take a look at the photo above of trash covering a beach in the Azores, the islands where we landed. So our take home message: plastic pollution is a huge issue all over the world.
To Leila from Santa Monica High School, CA: we are so sorry to hear about your mother’s passing – our hearts go out to you. It’s tragic and wrong to think that we live in a world saturated with synthetic, toxic chemicals – in our food, water, baby products, cosmetics, etc. I recently had my blood tested, and found I have trace levels of PCBs, DDT, PFCs, and higher levels of flame retardants. This is a new reality our generations need to deal with. The best thing we can do is get active – fight for more transparency with companies that make these products – we have a right to know what chemicals are in the things that we use, eat, and drink. Check out the Green Policy Institute: http://greensciencepolicy.org/ And lets talk more about this when Marcus and I return. Our sympathies to your family.
Theresa from Belmont University, Tennessee wanted to know if there is some way to at least clean up some of the most harmful plastics. There are efforts to remove ghost nets – NOAA has done quite a lot of work here, removing thousands of pounds of derelict fishing gear. And many cities try to contain urban runoff by placing nets over rivers and catch basins on storm drains. Once this plastic waste gets into oceanic currents, it becomes very spread out, and difficult to clean up. The strategy here must be better source prevention, as cleanup efforts are expensive and resource intensive. As for the most common items: in our trawls, we mainly found broken down plastics – small items that we can’t yet identify. In the Sargassum, I’d have to say bottle caps were the single most common item. Broken down buckets and crates, likely from the fishing industry were also common.
Anastasia from River Ridge High School, Florida wanted to know what the craziest thing we’ve found has been: without a doubt, finding that trigger fish living in a bottle was the strangest. It had grown too large to escape, and was now confined to a plastic prison. Cory, this fish could probably have lived in this bottle indefinitely – food flowed into the bucket from the Sargassum nearby.We also found a mouth piece for boxer – I tried it on, which was pretty gross – I immediately washed my mouth out! HUGE thanks for all of your cleanup efforts, we need more young people like you!
Gurpreet from Christensen Middle School, CA asked what kinds of fish we come across, and if we’ve ever found toys. We saw many flying fish in the Sargasso, sometimes they’d even land on our boat! We used one for bait, and saved one in freezer to study later. We saw an amazing fish called a Mola Mola or “Sunfish”. It was just hanging out inside a plastic life preserver! We saw a beautiful Mahi Mahi, shimmering bright green and blue just beneath the surface. And most common: we almost always saw trigger fish living amongst plastic patches in the Sargassum (check out the picture of the trigger fish in the bottle above). Plastic trash provides them a bit of shelter, so they hang out near it, or in it!
This photo is also amazing - we saw this Hawksbill turtle shell in Bermuda at the Aquarium. See the vial full of plastic trash next to it? This was all plastic found in its stomach! As you can see, plastic pollution impacts many, many different marine species.
Jerod and Cody (from River Ridge High School, Florida), to answer your question about fish: we don’t see nearly as many as we used to, sadly, we’ve fished and overfished out most of the big ones. For an EXCELLENT website on this topic, check out Shifting Baselines: http://shiftingbaselines.org/index.php And watch some of the videos, especially the “Tiny Fish” PSA, and the Groundlings “Restaurant” scene. You’ll get a kick out of it.
As to what organisms we’ll test Tyler (also from River Ridge High School), we’re mainly interested in testing fish that are ingesting plastic particles, to make the link to human health. We didn’t collect many organisms on this voyage though – some Myctophids, a flying fish, and a large trigger fish that was living in a plastic bottle. On our next voyage to the South Atlantic, we will do more research on better collection methods. We also have plans to test commercial fish, but this is a future project.
Mike (River Ridge High School): yes, being part of the crew is an incredible experience! Being at sea for an extended period of time without seeing land gives you an indescribable sense of freedom, and makes you realize just how small we are. We see strange and beautiful creatures – bioluminescent plankton (the waves created by our boat glow on a dark night), jellyfish, Portuguese Man O War, dolphins, whales, and more. Experiencing storms is also exciting – you get a real sense of nature’s power. We hope you have a chance to join an oceanic voyage some day!
Stephanie and Josiliyah from River Ridge High School asked what we think the outcome will be from all of this plastic pollution....well, that depends entirely upon us. If we do nothing, our oceans will become increasingly polluted from plastic waste, more species will suffer from entanglement and ingestion, more trash will enter the food chain, and the consequences could be horrific. BUT: if we begin taking action now, we can reduce the flow of plastic to our oceans, and ensure a cleaner future for your generation.
Well students, I apologize, but this is all we have time for. If you had a burning question that didn’t get answered, and you really want to know, feel free to try again – we will do our best. Meantime, we will send you all more information soon about the big youth conference we are going to hold next year – we may have some scholarships available for students from other regions, and would love to have many of you involved!
Thanks for joining us, and here’s to working together in the future!
Anna and Marcus