Friday, September 5, 2008

Kilo Moana sought plastic trash, and found it.

Researchers aboard the University of Hawai'i's research vessel Kilo Moana just completed a 12-day passage from Honolulu to California, looking for drifting plastic.
They weren't disappointed—or were, depending on how you look at it.
(Image: A sampling of plastic particles collected by the R/V Kilo Moana during its crossing of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Credit: Lucy Marcus)
The crew conducted 14 trawls during its passage, and collected hundreds of bits of plastic on each one. Some were as small as pinheads; others as big as volleyballs, the research team reported.
The fact of plastic in vast quantities on the ocean isn't news. It's been a research subject for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, whose raft built of trash recently sailed from California to Hawai'i to help call attention to the project. The raft's name is “Junk.” For lots of information on the web, search for trash, raft and algalita.
The Kilo Moana trip's mission was called SUPER, for Survey of Underwater Plastic and Ecosystem Response.
Its goal was to help determine the impact of all that plastic on the natural environment.
We know some of the impacts. Birds eat it and feed it to their chicks, which can die from bellies bursting full of undigestible plastic bits. Turtles appear to feed on plastic bags that look like jellyfish in the water. Animals like seals get trapped and drowned in plastic netting.
But are there other impacts, either positive or negative.
Says the program: “We will use these samples to characterize the diversity and productivity of plastic-associated microbial communities, while water samples that were collected at each station will be analyzed to describe regional biogeochemistry.”
According to the website,, among the questions SUPER is looking into are these:
Do plastic bits provide habitat for microbes; what kinds of microbes are found around them; what's the role of plastic waste in bacterial production rates; how does the plastic affect the movement of nutrients in the ocean; and how does it impact movement of light through the water?
For more information on related issues, see
The previous RaisingIslands post on this topic is at
A post on small boat voyagers, including Junk, is at Since that post, all three of the voyagers mentioned have made it safely to their initial destinations.
© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

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