features_650x300_algalitaThe following is a press release from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation…

Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita to arrive in Honolulu after 6,500 mile, 7-week Study of Plastic Debris in the Pacific
Date: Monday August 3rd, 2009
Time: 10 am to Noon
Location: Kewalo Basin E-Dock 1025 Ala Moana Blvd Honolulu, HI

Honolulu, Hawai’I – Ending a 7-week study of the accumulation of marine debris in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG), the ORV Alguita and crew will dock at Oahu’s Kewalo Basin to share the results of their findings and prepare to launch the second part of this summer long research venture. The crew logged 379 pieces of debris collected at deck level along with over 50 trawl samples during the voyage.

Chartered by the Long Beach, CA based non-profit Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF), the ORV Alguita has logged over a decade of research at sea concerning the issue of marine pollution, more specifically the expansive issue of plastic pollution NPSG, a swirling vortex of ocean currents twice the size of the United States.  The NPSG is housing a vast and growing plastic buildup, much like debris soup.

Headed by Captain Charles Moore, founder of AMRF, the Alguita left with a crew of 5 from Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, CA on June 10th.  The crew consists of 3 southern California natives; first mate Jeffrey Ernst, icthyologist Christiana Boerger, research assistant and vessel blogger Nicole Chatterson and two Oahu residents, marine scientist and sailor Joel Paschal and videographer and sailor Drew “ScubaDrew” Wheeler.

The issue of the plastic soup was first brought to the mainstream with Algalita’s shocking published research showing that plastic outweighs zooplankton in areas of the Pacific by a factor of 6.  Based on current research, Algalita scientists believe this number is growing.

The goal of the voyage was to expand the database on plastic pollution accumulation, with a specific goal of sampling as far east as the International Dateline, an imaginary line which splits the globe into the eastern and western hemispheres. This trip took the crew on a large circular route from Long Beach, to Oahu for a brief fuel up, and up through the doldrums into the NPSG along the International Dateline to a latitude of 41N, which is the point where the Pacific turns into the Bering Sea.

The issue of the growing Pacific plastic soup, commonly referred to as the “Eastern Garbage Patch” is multifaceted with impacts ranging from the ocean itself to the human food chain.
Beaches are polluted as the debris makes its way out of the gyre and back on land.  This can be seen in several places throughout Hawai’i, like Oahu’s Kahuku Beach, the home of two-time crew member Drew Wheeler, or South Point on the Big Island.  Oahu resident and two-time crewmember Joel Paschal points out, “Being located at the southern edge of the NPSG, Hawai’i beaches accumulate plastic marine debris from the gyre, much of which originates in Asia and North America.”

The course of the Alguita’s voyage covered much of the same ocean surface used as foraging grounds for Hawaiian born albatrosses. These birds scour the Pacific in search of food to bring back to young at nesting spots throughout the North West Hawaiian Islands.  Too often the parents mistake floating debris–plastic fragments, lighters, toothbrushes even–as food, feeding to and eventually starving or choking their young.

The human health risk of the plastic ocean plague is of growing concern.  Plastic has been found in the stomach-contents of fish commonly served in restaurants, such as a Rainbow Runner, and in smaller fish species like Laternfish which are preyed upon by bigger food fish like Mahi Mahi.

This is the research that vessel icthyologist Christiana Boerger has been conducting for the past year through quantifying the ingestion of plastic, primarily by Lanternfish, collected on 2007-2008 Alguita voyages.  Plastic was found in 30% of these fish.  Boerger identified two new species of fish with plastic in their stomach on this 7-week voyage, a sobering fact she hope will push people to change their consumption of superfluous plastic products.

As far as anyone can tell, there is no practical way to clean up the NPSG plastic soup.  The best solution is to do no more harm. “If we’re honest with ourselves,” Captain Moore states, “we have to admit that we are oppressed by our products. Too many of them don’t last, and require frequent, often unpredictable maintenance or replacement.  We must take seriously the idea that we will have more quality time for ourselves with less stuff. The key is to focus on the first of the three R’s, REDUCE, and its corollary, SHARE. That is perhaps the most important lesson the plastic waste that fouls the ocean we just surveyed has taught us.”

The Alguita will have a slip at Kewalo Basin.  If you are interested in learning more about our research or stopping by to check out the debris and trawl samples collected from the Gyre for yourself, please contant Holly Gray, Vessel Support Coordinator at vesselsupport@algalita.org <mailto:vesselsupport@algalita.org> or call 562-598-4889.  You can also check out the vessel blog, www.orvalguita.blogspot.com <http://www.orvalguita.blogspot.com>, which chronicles the past 7 weeks of research.

About Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF): AMRF is a Long Beach-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of the marine environment through research, education and restoration. Algalita was founded by Captain Charles Moore, who first put the plastic soup problem on the map.

Information: (562) 598-4889 or http://algalita.org
Marieta Francis, Executive Director
Algalita Marine Research Foundation
148 N Marine Dr.
Long Beach, CA 90803