Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Ocean Garbage Patch

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Ocean Garbage Patch

Article excerpt

Scientists recently completed an unprecedented journey into the vast and little-explored Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. On the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX), researchers got the first detailed view of plastic debris floating in a remote ocean region. It wasn't a pretty sight.

The expedition was led by a team of Scripps Institution of Oceanography graduate students, with support from University of California Ship Funds, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Project Kaisei. The Scripps research vessel New Horizon left its San Diego homeport on August 2, 2009, for the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, located some 1,000 miles off California's coast.

Team members began 24-hour sampling periods using a variety of tow nets to collect debris at several ocean depths. After transiting for six days aboard the research vessel, the researchers reached their first intensive sampling site. Scientists surveyed plastic distribution and abundance, taking samples for analysis in the lab and assessing the impacts of debris on marine life.

Before this research, little was known about the size of the garbage patch and the threat it poses to marine life and the gyre's biological environment. "We targeted the highest plastic-containing areas so we could begin to understand the scope of the problem," said Miriam Goldstein, chief scientist of the expedition. …

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