August 28, 2009

Scientists Find ‘Garbage Patch’ In Pacific

Scientists recently returned from an expedition into the "Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch."

The Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) crew got a close up view of the plastic debris floating in a remote region of the Pacific Ocean.

The researchers left San Diego on August 2 to visit the garbage patch, located 1,000 miles off California's coast.

Samples of the garbage were taken for analysis.

Little has been known about the size of the "garbage patch" and its threats to marine life until the team returned from their expedition on August 21.

The research team was led by a group of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) graduate students and was funded by the University of California Ship Funds, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Project Kaisei.

"SEAPLEX was an important education experience for the graduate students, and contributed to a better understanding of an important problem in the oceans," said Linda Goad, of the National Science Foundation. "We hope that SEAPLEX will result in increased awareness of a growing issue."

Researchers used tow nets to collect debris at various depths during their 24-hour sampling periods.

"We targeted the highest plastic-containing areas so we could begin to understand the scope of the problem," said Miriam Goldstein of SIO, chief scientist on the expedition.

"We also studied everything from phytoplankton to zooplankton to small mid-water fish."

According to the team, plastic was abundant in the region, and could easily be spotted against the deep blue water.

At one point, researchers encountered a large net filled with plastic and various marine organisms. 

A number of organisms were found to be caught in some of the debris, including large barnacles, the predatory pearleye fish, and the lanternfish.

Researchers were taken aback by the amount garbage they encountered.

"Finding so much plastic there was shocking," said Goldstein. "How could there be this much plastic floating in a random patch of ocean--a thousand miles from land?"


Image Caption: By-the-wind sailor jellyfish and other animals live in the North Pacific Ocean Gyre. Credit: National Park Service. [ More Images ]


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