Expedition to the “Great Ocean Garbage Patch”

Written by on September 2, 2009 in Marine Life, Other News, Physical Oceanography, Policy & Ocean Law

On August 2, 2009, researchers left on the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition(SEAPLEX) to learn about the size of the Pacific Ocean gyre’s “garbage patch” and the threats it poses to marine life and the gyre’s biological environment.

On Aug. 11, Scripps Institution of Oceanography SEAPLEX researchers encountered a large ghost net with tangled rope, net, plastic, and various biological organisms.  Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

On Aug. 11, Scripps Institution of Oceanography SEAPLEX researchers encountered a large ghost net with tangled rope, net, plastic, and various biological organisms. Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

On board the Scripps research vessel (R/V) New Horizon,they left San Diego’s home port for the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, located some 1,000 miles away.

Researchers surveyed plastic distribution and abundance, taking samples for analysis in the lab and assessing the impacts of debris on marine life.

The team, led by a group of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) graduate students, reached their first intensive sampling site on August 9th.  During their 24-hour sampling period,s they used a variety of tow nets to collect debris at several ocean depths.  Among the assortment of items retrieved were plastic bottles with a variety of biological inhabitants.

Miriam Goldstein of SIO and chief scientist of the expedition said, “We targeted the highest plastic-containing areas so we could begin to understand the scope of the problem.  We also studied everything from phytoplankton to zooplanktonto small midwater fish.”

Two days later they encountered a large net entwined with plastic and various marine organisms; they also recovered several plastic bottles covered with ocean animals, including large barnacles.

Other species collected in the gyre were the pearleye(Benthalbella dentata), a predatory fish with eyes that look upward so it can see prey swimming above, and lanternfish(Tarletonbeania crenularis), which migrate from as deep as 700 meters to the ocean surface each day.

“Finding so much plastic there was shocking,” said Goldstein, adding, “How could there be this much plastic floating in a random patch of ocean — a thousand miles from land?”

The expedition has been supported by University of California Ship Funds, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Project Kaisei.

Copyright ©  2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Celia is Director of Business Operations for OceanLines LLC and is a frequent contributor to both OceanLines and Marine Science Today. She is a certified diver and her favorite topic is marine biology, especially stories about whales. .

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