Sunday, September 8, 2013

North Atlantic Research with Help From a 12-year-old Sponsor

12 Open-Ocean N. Atlantic 2013 Samples with some of the biggest pieces we ever collect in our sampler
Six weeks ago, I returned from Bermuda with 12 more open-ocean samples all containing plastics.  We have been sampling the North Atlantic each summer four of the past five years with Dr. Maureen Conte, Woods Hole Institute, and now have a total of 46 samples. I have been in four oceans working with PlasticOceans.orgAMRF and 5 Gyres Institute and have helped collect a total of 210 surface samples, sadly all containing plastic fragments. What once came as a surpise to find all types of plastic in remote places on the planet, no longer shocks me.  Though I confess, I was holding out hope this year, that maybe, just maybe one sample in this remote area in the N. Atlantic would be plastic-free.  Now that would surprise me!  What was different that lead me to believe there was a chance? The ocean was much calmer than in previous years which we would expect to see more debris, but on the contrary, there seemed to be a marked difference in the amount of visual debris we saw floating by.  But what our surface sampler collected, made previous years appear scant.  So what did we find?  In the photo above, you are looking at the 12 vials loaded with plastic fragments smaller than 5cm, a white balloon (really!), plastic bag(another shocker), several bottle caps, lots of large fragments, and fishing gear, but the real kicker for me was scoring a milk jug ring. Can you find it in our stash?  It was serendipitous because the image below of the severely disfigured snapping turtle, Mae West, who had crawled through a milk jug ring when it was small, and due to the plastic's durability her body was forced to grew around it, is what influenced me to research this issue.

Mae West so named due to hour glass figure due to plastic milk jug ring
We have been fortunate to take students offshore over the years to learn how to collect samples and over the next several months, students from UNCW will learn how to process these samples in hopes of publishing the data from this long-term study.  Student involvement drives Plastic Ocean Project, Inc. to keep going and sometimes that drive comes from the most unexpected students.

A 12-year-old from the other side of the country, Annelie Miller, from  Mill Valley Middle School in California, decided she wanted to do something significant for the sake of our oceans in honor of World Ocean Day. She had been creating art out of non-recyclable materials as well as hand-painting pictures and notecards.  She sent a letter out to family and friends explaining the perils caused by plastic marine debris and asked that they purchase her art as a fundraiser for Plastic Ocean Project, Inc.  She must have sold a lot of her work because she raised over $700!  This donation that will help keep our research and outreach going.  Annelie has allowed us to post her painting found on Shutterfly, click here.  Thank you Annelie for your generosity, thoughtfulnes, and your passion for the sea. You have not only honored the ocean, but have helped us continue the work we do for the sake of our seas.  Annelie will be appearing on the with Diana Dehm.  Date and time TBA.