Sunday, August 24, 2008

Plastic marine debris in the spotlight

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is becoming comparatively well known as a source of trouble for bird life, marine life and the shores of the Hawaiian Islands.
(Image: Some of the oceanic plastic debris winds up on the land, as here, at the high water line on a Kaua'i beach.)

Increasing numbers of research and informational missions are trolling the patch for information—the latest being the University of Hawai'i's Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) .

Its voyage aboard the research vessel Kilo Moana leaves Monday (August 25) for a 3,000 mile mission from Hawai'i to the West Coast to collect data on what microbial life is living in there.

The Kilo Moana is unlikely, one supposes, to come across the publicity vessel that has come the other way. The catamaran raft Junk sailed in June from California to Hawai'i to bring attention to the impacts of debris. Along the way, its two-man crew has caught mahimahi with their bellies full of bits of plastic.

As of Friday, the raft—made of netted plastic bottles, with an old Cessna fuselage as a cabin and recycled gear for masts and sails—was reported less than 100 miles from Hilo. Should be there this week.

Read more about Junk at See also

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a section of the eastern Pacific between California and Hawai'i, where winds and currents keep a vast, well, sea of debris clustered up. It includes wood, nets, fishing floats and immense quantities of plastic.

Little by little, we're learning more about this plastic and its impacts. See

The Kilo Moana voyage is aimed at learning more about the effects of the plastic on the smaller parts of the oceans—the microbes that make up 98 percent of the live in the seas.

Says C-MORE in an announcement of the cruise:
“We hope to add to the small but growing scientific database on the GPGP by conducting the Survey of Underwater Plastic and Ecosystem Response (SUPER), a pioneering effort to characterize the microbial community and biogeochemistry of particulate plastic accumulations in the North Pacific Ocean.”

Students, technicians and educators plan to cruise through the garbage patch for 12 days, collecting samples. Interested folks should be able to follow the cruise on the web at Also check

© 2008 Jan TenBruggencate

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