Monday, April 18, 2016

Dr. Kara Lavender Law Marine Debris Event

"Where is all the Plastic?"

On Monday night the Plastic Ocean Project, the UNCW Center for Marine Science (CMS) and Surfrider invited Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) marine debris researcher, Dr. Kara Lavender Law to Wilmington to partake in a two day marine debris event complete with a film screening and seminar.

Dr. Law is a research professor at the Sea Education Association at WHOI, where she studies the distribution, behavior and fate of plastic debris in our oceans. She serves as the co-principle investigator of the Marine Debris Working Group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and hold a Ph.D. in physical oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

About 25 students, faculty and community members turned out for the screening of ‘Into the Gyre’, a documentary about WHOI’s marine debris research in the North Atlantic. The film focused on a research expedition made by WHOI researcher in 2010 to the Sargasso Sea, the center of our North Atlantic gyre. The researchers were pursuing answers to the question of where exactly our plastic trash goes when it is released into the ocean, how long does it take to get there, and most importantly how much is out there. The data collected during the 35 day journey contributed to an almost 40 year old collection of marine debris at WHOI.

After the film, Dr. Law held a Q & A with the audience discussing the research techniques used during the film, her research on the photo-degradation of marine plastics, and the consequences of our plastic trash filling the mid Atlantic.

On Tuesday night, Dr. Law was invited to CMS as one of this year’s speakers in their The Planet Ocean seminar series. Dr. Law’s talk, entitled ‘Plastics in the Ocean: Floating Island or Invisible Threat’, addressed many aspects of the marine debris issue from misconceptions about the actual physical make up of these ‘garbage patches’ to estimates on how much plastics are actually floating on the ocean’s surface.

According to a study done in 2010, approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean. Using statistical modeling of plastic sampling data, the researchers estimate about 7000 – 245,000 metric tons are on the surface of the water. That’s less than one percent of what is entering the ocean. So where is all the plastic?

That is the million dollar question, that has unfortunately not been answered yet. Some scientists hypothesize the plastic could be below the surface, sinking to the sea floor, being ingested by animals, or ending up on beaches and coastlines.

Dr. Law wrapped up the lecture by touching on ways we can all do our part locally to tackle this global issue. These include recycling, reusing, enacting extended producer responsibility, cleaning up our coastlines, not directly releasing litter (balloons, cig butts or microbeads). But the absolute best way to ensure plastic free oceans is by reducing our plastic use. Avoiding single use plastics and choosing reusable options. Or simply skipping unnecessary items, like straws. There are many ways we can all contribute!

During the reception following the seminar, the audience was able to speak with Bonnie Monteleone, Founder of Plastic Ocean Project, along with other POP volunteers, UNCW POP Student volunteers, and UNCW marine debris researchers to learn more about the pollution solutions being explored at UNCW. Also on display was the POP traveling art exhibit created by Bonnie Monteleone, (Plastic Ocean Project founder), out of recycled debris collected during her trips to 4 of the 5 major ocean gyres. Bonnie presented Dr. Laws with a copy of the art and other gifts after the presentation.

Bonnie Monteleone and Dr. Kara Lavender Laws


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