Boat Embarks on Research Expedition to Garbage Patch

We need not roam far to find rubbish.  It is all around us: in our own homes, neighborhoods, and sadly, on our beaches and in the ocean.  So why is a group of thirteen people setting out to sea in search of garbage today?

Dr. Markus Eriksen, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and Research Director of the voyage, told KITV, “We are going to be looking for derelict fishing nets and buoy, bottles and crates and plastic junk. We want to see the condition of it. We want to see what is the condition of what’s living under it and on it”.

Today, the group of environmentalists, scientists and self-funded explorers are setting sail on a 72-foot steel-hull racing sloop, called the Sea Dragon.  Their destination: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Once they locate it – in about one week – they will collect samples and conduct research activities on the effects that plastic is having on the environment, sea life, and those who consume fish that have ingested plastic.  Eriksen explained that, “Not just marine mammals, but many fish, including fish you and I eat, are eating plastics. So, we are going to capture fish and see what’s in their stomachs and tissues”.

This is not the first trip the California-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation has taken.  In fact, it is their ninth.  Previous Algalita-led voyages have sailed between California and Hawaii, focusing on the eastern part of the Patch.  Two years ago, they collected samples as for west as the International Date Line.  And in 2010 and earlier this year, they joined forces with the 5 Gyres Institute to collect samples from North and South Atlantic Plastic Gyres, the Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific Gyre.

What makes the current voyage different is the sailboat and its small size and great speed that will allow the research team access to areas within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that they have not previously explored.  Their hope is to advance research into plastic pollution, while illuminating the massive plastic problem evidenced by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Although nine out of the thirteen members of the team are self-funded “guest crew”, they will not be exempt from the work being done – both on and off the boat.  Each team member will actively participate in maintenance of the ship and crew duties such as cooking, as well as operating trawl and collecting plastic pieces, debris, and data, large and small.

In a press release by Algalita, Eriksen warned the crew, “On this voyage, you’ll earn your sea legs and wind up with rough hands from line hauling and hoisting sails”.  But he went on to remind the team members of the rewards and significance of the work, explaining, “You’ll also be doing the science side-by side with researchers by helping with sea trawls and sorting plastic, preserving fish and cataloging data”.

You can follow the Sea Dragon journey on Algalita’s website and view photos of the crew, Sea Dragon, and previous voyages here.