This blog shares the research experiences and findings conducted at University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW faculty and students) in conjunction with Plastic Ocean Project. Earlier posts share open-ocean sampling and adventures in the North and South Atlantic, the South Pacific and the North Pacific Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Outreach and education is the primary purposes to bring global awareness to an issue that has reached a crisis level in the marine environment.
This is the fourth
year Plastic Ocean Project is sampling roughly the same region of the North
Atlantic gyre which is also where the longest running deep ocean time-series
takes place called the Ocean Flux Program (OFP) headed up by Dr. Maureen Conte
our lead scientist. Flux, meaning the variability in material transfer from the
surface to the deep driven by the activity between the physical, biological,
and chemical processes, and longest running meaning over the past 45 years. One area in particular we will be visiting is
BATS, (Bermuda Atlantic Time Series) where meteorological measurements have been
ongoing since 1988. There is never a
dull moment out here. I was up to 3am
processing our 3rd surface sample our 1st day.
Bermudian students removing plastic from Sargassum
It is one of the
calmest visits we have had out here, roughly 700 miles of the North Carolina
coast. It looks more like a calm lake
than a 3.52 million km salty water-world. We
have seen trace amounts of Sargassum,
a free floating golden seaweed, that we like to find in our sampling net so we
can also study the ecosystem unique to this weed. Because it floats as do some plastics, we
have long thought it was an indicator – the more Sargassum, the more plastic.
But this voyage has punched holes in this hypothesis. As our surface sampler skimmed the top 20 cm
of water yesterday, the water looked super pristine devoid of natural and
man-made debris. I had hope that this sample was going to come out of the water plastic-free.
It would be the first
in four oceans -210 samples total. But
alas, with less than 102 cm of Sargassum
in our net, we found hundreds of plastic fragments along with a 12 cm piece of
rope and the presumed piece of a crate about the size of a half dollar that
rivals our low amount of Sargassum. Imagine my disappointment.
The word for this is heterogeneity. Though we understand that plastics share the
same ocean influences as marine biota like plankton, Selps, Copepods, and
algae, it does not necessarily mean if there is an abundance of one, there will
be an abundance of plastics. One thing is for certain though, if there is Sargassum, there will be plastics, not so much because Sargassum is an aggregator as much as it all just simply follows the same motion of the ocean.
On a lighter note, as
I had mentioned, there are many different types of research going on around the
clock. The fun part has been having Matt
Moffett here to not only film this research project for a feature film title,
Plastic Seas, directed by Jeneene Chatowski, but he has lent a much need hand to the
ongoing setup and deployment of the manta trawl. You can find a trailer to the film on Clean Canteens website who is also sponsoring the film www.cleancanteen.com.