Saturday, August 21, 2010

SEAing is Believing

SEA (Sea Education Association) from Woodshole has published the longest running research on plastic accumulating in the N. Atlantic gyre in this months edition of Science Magazine and has been getting much deserved publicity this week. Scores of friends and family have shared the many different venues of SEA's coverage. Thanks for the heads-up by Danny Barefoot, I found the radio interview with Kara Lavender Law on NPR.

After learning about Algalita Marine Research Foundation two years ago, I wanted to know if the plastic was accumulating in the Pacific, was it accumulating in the Atlantic. That is what inspired my research because no one was talking about there being a problem in the Atlantic. This January I presented with Kara Lavender Law in Oregon and found out about their 24+ years of data.
This summer they found 1069 pieces of plastic in just one half hour tow and we hope to reference their work with what we found once we work up our samples. Upon returning from our open ocean voyage in the N. Atlantic our ship this July, we parked next to the SEA's ship Cornwith Cramer and we had the privilege of touring the brigantine. I thought I might share some footage from our tour. Pardon the shakes with the iPhone - what you see mostly is their science lab.

This is a sailing vessel so you can only imagine how much work goes into putting up the sails along with retrieving samples and running experiments. Here you'll see just how much line in on board as the captain explains how they deploy their manta trawl off the side of the ship.
Here we have the living arrangements below. Note the bookcase on the fore wall and the sleeping bunks or berths along the walls in the common area where they eat and socialize.

What needs to be mentioned here is that SEA has been looking at plastic in the marine environment for over 24 years, yet their finding were not publicized until this year. Unlike Captain Charlie Moore, a person who not only observed the overwhelming amount of plastic in the ocean, sampled it, learned of its high concentrations and the devastation it brings to marine life, but he took his findings to the press because he knew the only way to stop it was to let the general public know there was a problem. Sometime scientists gets so caught up in the study that they leave out the importance of letting the public know their findings. Sometimes its due to the media getting it wrong either by over stating or sensationalizing or misquoting bringing embarrassment to reseachers.

Scientists have been studying plastic in the marine environment since the 70s and yet it wasn't until Algalita Marine Research Foundation got it to the mass media has it gained any awareness. Thank you Charlie Moore and Algalita for not only bring this issue to the forefront for me, but also for inspiring the research of SEA to bring their findings to the general public!


  1. I'm certainly glad we, the public, know about the overwhelming problem now. It's just growing. We've got to start cutting down on our consumption and using earth friendly industrial supplies and personal care items.

  2. Go Capt Charlie!!! You'll be stoked to know I switched to glass water bottles with the quintessential cork everyone thinks I'm a pirate! Oh well...

  3. Actually, SEA first published work on this topic in 1987 in Oceanus magazine:

    R. J. Wilber, Plastic in the North Atlantic. Oceanus 30, 61-68 (1987).

  4. Good to know Kara and thank you for clarifying. We do not find this paper. Bill Cooper has looked through Scifinder as well. If you have a PDF of this paper we would love to see it. Its all great and I am grateful SEA and Algalita are getting the word out on this issue.

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