Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Atlantic Garbage Patch

We’re less than a hundred miles from the predicted accumulation zone, the center of the Sargasso Sea. Yesterday we came across our first real glimpse of what we’ve seen in the North Pacific Gyre – the infamous “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”- only here in the North Atlantic.

We had just pulled in our first trawl after 48 hours of laying low due to heavy winds. We can’t sample when storm winds pummel the oceans surface – suspended plastic is so close to the buoyancy of water that the slightest disturbance nudges it below the reach of our trawl. Forced to do nothing for 2 days but tend to boat duties, read, and entertain one another, we were all starting to climb the walls. And then we spotted the windrow, flanked by a group of dolphins dancing in our wake.

Stretching far across the horizon was a long chain of floating Sargassum mats, clumped together like huge wicker doormats. Embedded in each patch was a disturbing mosaic of plastic junk. “This looks more like the Pacific gyre”, commented Joel Paschal, who has also been on several long research voyages with Captain Moore. We grabbed our nets and began fishing furiously, amassing a pile of bottlecaps, shotgun shells, crates, toothbrushes, a boxer’s mouthpiece, and myriad unidentifiable chunks floated by, gently pulsating with the ocean’s currents.

There is no doubt in our minds that the Pacific plastic plague is not an isolated phenomenon, but an International problem. We’ve seen plastic trash covering beaches in Bermuda, carried from the mainland by the Gulf Stream. We’ve seen broken down fragments in our trawls after sieving the ocean’s surface. We’ve now seen mini “islands” of plastic trash entangled in Sargassum. And yesterday afternoon, we saw the strangest thing yet, involving a large trigger fish and a plastic bottle. But that’s a story for tomorrow.....

Replies to Participant Questions And Comments

Q: Hello! My name is Terra and our environmental systems class has just started a unit on pollution. We are excited to follow your progress and ask you questions during your trip. West High School, Anchorage, Alaska

A: Hello Terra, Great to hear from Anchorage! Please ask all the question you would like. We're now in the middle of the Sargasso Sea. We're finding patches of sargassum filled with plastic.

Q: Hello, We are 6th grade Magnet students from South Gate, CA. We are looking forward to following your journey to study the "garbage dump". We will be talking to you over the weeks of this project. Thank you for sharing with us. Ms. Walker and Company

A: Hi Ms. Walker and Company, We're in the middle of the North Atlantic Gyre, and we're finding lot's of plastic. We'll be back in Los Angeles in March. We would love to come to your school and tell you in person about our research. Please stay in touch with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Cheers, Marcus

Q: During your new voyage to the Atlantic ocean's gyres, what will you do to better your results? Have you gained any more experience on how to retrieve more helpful results? Exactly what do you expect to accomplish during your new expedition? Thanks, Bryan and Ashley at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey, Florida

A: Hi Bryan and Ashley, Our goals are to document the presence of plastic and determine how dense it is on the surface. We're using the same protocols we've used in the Pacific Ocean. The only difference here is that there is seaweed , called Sargassum, that clogs our trawls. This forces us to conduct shorter trawls. Also, there are more storms here. There is currently a storm with hurricane force winds just north of us. Winds are expected to gust up to 35 knots tomorrow. Cheers, Marcus and Anna

Q: Do you think that you are going to find the same results in these Gyres that you did in your previous voyage in the North Atlantic? What are you expecting? Thank you and have fun. From, Kayla, 11th grade at River Ridge High School New Port Richey, Florida.

A: Hi Kayla, We truly don't know what to expect. It's best that scientist enter new territory with an open mind. We do have hypotheses, but it's important not to let expectations cloud your objectivity. From what I've seen so far, this gyre looks like what we know from the North Pacific Gyre. The one difference is that there are fewer pieces of netting and rope from the fishing industry.

Q: How will you do things differently on this expedition then you did on the first? Also how do you like your work? Are you seeing any improvements in the oceans? Thanks, Patty, 11th grade at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey, Florida

A: Hi Patty, We are using the same methods here as we have done in the North Pacific. There are only differences in the amount of seaweed. There's none in the North Pacific, but in the Atlantic there's a seaweed called "Sargassum" that's everywhere. "HOw do we like our work?" It's wonderful! We're are learning new things all the time. Cheers, Marcus

Q: Greetings from 4H Are your filmmakers planning to produce a documentary or are they just documenting your travels? Will they post some of the footage on this blog site? We have some filmmakers in our midst too! We wonder how we can upload their video for all to see. It is called "A Day In the Life of A Plastic Bottle." We would like to share it with other schools participating on this blog so they can share it with their larger school community and educate others.

A: Hi 4H We're making a film of our expedition in the future. Please share your video with us. We would love to see it! Cheers, Marcus and Anna

Answers from Crew Members Marcus and Anna

Send a comment or question to the crew!


Ashley said...

What's your biggest fear on the boat?

George Washington High School
Mangilao, Guam


Anonymous said...

i ma corey, i have a question what other typeof data do you guys collecty on your trip and how do u guys avoid getting sea sick

Anonymous said...

hi its Alex
glade got back 2 me and i wont to say thanks
and what kind of stuff did u find and what was the bigest thing did u found

Team Marine said...

Santa Monica High School
Santa Monica, California
11th grade, Kou from Team Marine

If you find the high level of plastics in all of your trawls that you are expecting, how do you plan to use your research to influence the single use plastics industries?

Jon said...

How did you guys get internet, if your so far out?

Santa Monica High School
California, U.S.A.

Edie_Walker said...

Hi, my name is Juan from South Gate MS and I was wondering what is a "knot" and how did you end up in a hurricane?

Anonymous said...

Dear cerw,
this is emily and sam from South gate middle school 6th grade magnet in los angeles,california. we wanted to know what was the most amazing thing you have seen during the program.

Edie_Walker said...

Hi I am Victor from South Gate Middle School and I was wondering if you found the things that you and your crew were looking for. :p

Anonymous said...

What's your fear on the sea?
What do you find under the sea?
Christensen middle school
6 grade
Galilea Arias

Anonymous said...

Hi, i love what you guys are doing and i want to know the physical properties of Sargassum. thanks.

University High School
Los Angeles, California
9th Grade

Anonymous said...

Hello. I am Denny, a ninth grader from Univesity High School, Los Angeles, California. I was wondering about how much plastic you find daily and how does so much plastic get to the ocean?

Anonymous said...

What is the worst trash that has been on one of the trash heaps?

University High School
Los Angelas California, United states

Anonymous said...

Hello I am Edward from University High School in 9th grade and i wass wondering: how long did it take you for you to pick up all the trash in the lake? Also i want to thank you for doing thid while no one else did.

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is Jesse Park and I go to University High School. This picture has made me realize how bad and careless we are with our trash and it makes me feel so sad and bad for the marine enviornment and makes me want to do something about it. I hope that you guys omplete your researching project and finish your adventurous journy.

Anonymous said...

I'm a student in University High School in California,U.S. I'm in the ninth grade and I'm wondering how you can decrease the possibilities of the sargassum mats from happening again?