Of Plankton and Plastic in the Pacific

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting emails directly from Captain Moore so we can follow his journey to test for plastic marine debris to better understand what we are doing to our oceans.
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On June 10, 2009 Captain Charles Moore set off on Algalita's Oceanographic Research Vessel for the first leg of a four month expedition from California to past the Northern Hawaiian Islands to test for plastic marine debris.

Captain Moore discovered the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch, known as the the Pacific Gyre, and he is continuing his research to help all of us understand that the rapid rise in global plastic production is leading to a rise in plastic pollution and its devastating effects on our oceans and our lives.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting emails directly from Captain Moore so we can follow his journey and better understand what we are doing to our oceans.

Below is Captain Moore's most recent email describing the ship and its crew, a change in route and the ever present plastic debris:

Day 5

June 15, 2009

Dear Laurie,

We are on the 6th day of our trip and while the weather has been great for sunbathing, with only a few rain squalls, we have already had to change course due to weather patterns. This has turned out to be a great opportunity to study an unexplored area of the ocean. And, as you can see in the photos, the plastic has been unavoidable at every turn.

Our 25 ton (that's small for a ship) research vessel, Alguita, is a nimble and economical platform for oceanographic research far from shore.

Her design makes for easy operation by the volunteer crew, who rarely get much time aboard before putting out to sea. Without the help of volunteer citizen scientists, we could never access and sample the remote reaches of the vast Pacific Ocean where our plastic trash travels to areas of accumulation, some known and some yet to be discovered.

Our current voyage, leg one of a 3 leg summer program, is designed to access one such accumulation zone near the International Dateline, north of Hawaii at about the latitude of Los Angeles. We had hoped to be able to take a generally direct route from LA/Long Beach out to the dateline, but, as mentioned above, the great North Pacific High got in our way.

This relatively stable atmospheric phenomenon spirals debris clockwise into the center where there is little wind. Since we have to sail to save fuel, we can't go through the high on our way west, it's too calm. So we turned south and are now headed towards the Big Island of Hawaii. There is another interesting accumulation zone southwest of the Big Island that we tried to sample winter before last, but were driven back by strong winds and seas. This unexpected opportunity to access the area is actually most welcome.

Each day we have seen and captured items of plastic debris.

Yesterday it was a Japanese fishing float, and today we did our first zooplankton sampling with the manta trawl. Unfortunately, that also means plastic particle sampling, as every manta trawl we have done, not matter where in the Pacific, has had plastic particles in it along with the zooplankton. (see photo).

We have not sampled this area before and it is well south of the so called Eastern Garbage Patch, yet it is replete with plastic fragments and bits of line.

We will do another manta trawl this afternoon, with a camera attached to the front to observe how effectively it samples. We will then have our second blue water dive in water that is beginning to be tropical.

Best to all from the Captain of the ORV Alguita at (27 29.3N 127 00.2W)


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