SEAPLEX is the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition,
which is a cruise written and designed and executed
all by Scripps graduate students which is made
possible by a
really cool program that we have here at Scripps called the UC Ship Funds
where people early in their career are able to apply to this fund
competitively with their own proposals
to get their own Ship time which is very unusual
and we were really lucky to have it.
On the SEAPLEX cruise
we're going to be trying to figure out the worst case scenario
of the amount of plastic in the North Pacific gyres so
well we don't have time to actually sample the entire North Pacific from
Japan to California,
so which is where the gyre is and so we're going to be targeting
some areas of high plastic accumulation out northeast of Hawaii
about 1500 miles from shore.
So we will be looking for
where the plastic is, where is it in the water column
in about the first 100 meters of water
and we'll be looking at what animals are found in proximity to the plastic
and what we are mostly focusing on the little things are the base of the food chain
so we will be looking at looking at phytoplankton, the little plants,
zooplankton, small fish
and communities which are the animals that go directly attached to the
plastic like barnacles.
So our goal is again to figure out what the
baseline for this problem might be, just to start studying it
in a rigorous way. Well, what's known is that there's definitely
plastic out there.
The Algalita Marine Research Foundation were the first people to
research this problem. They have been going out there for about 10 years
and showing that there is plastic out there and that there is
some data that suggest that might be increasing.
So there's that we definitely know there's
stuff out there but we really don't know what the extent is,
what the size is, it's thought that eighty percent of the particles are really
really small so you can't see them with your eyes.
They are probably less than a couple millimeters
so maybe like the size of your pinky nail or smaller.
But we don't know if there's even smaller particles that hasn't yet been tested.
And we just don't know what effect it might be having on the animals that live there.
Well the only way to get out to this really isolated location
is by ship and it's really in the middle of nowhere.
Between Hawaii and the United States there's just a big swat of ocean
with nothing in it but it's actually a really cool ecosystem very old
unique and interesting animals that live there.
But to be able to get out there we have this research vessel which gives us
take careful measurement of the physical oceanography,
temperature of the water
and the physical characteristics of how it's moving
as well as actually looking at
the plastic and the animals themselves.
Well while we don't think we can sample the entire
ocean in one single three week cruise
we are just hoping to just basically
continue further this scientific effort and to set the stage for future
scientific efforts because the North Pacific gyre, there is gyres in all the
oceans, that's just a term for
the big slow whirlpools driven by
the major trade winds and the westerlies of the world so
there is a South Pacific gyre and the North Atlantic gyre
and we think there might be debris accumulating in all of them
so we're just trying to look at one corner of the problem and we're hoping to
set the stage for future research. What we know is that
and this is based
on their research from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation who are the people
who have been going out there the most
we know there's probably no giant island like and there's nothing that you can
most of the pieces are really small
and are smaller than you can easily see as you're traveling around on a boat
but the main point that I want to make is that we're not going to be able to like
walk on the trash, not going probably be able to see the trash, so we might not
see anything with their eyes and that's why the kinds of sampling we will be doing mostly
involve pulling various kinds of
equipment and nets through the ocean so it will gather these particles that we
couldn't otherwise easily see.
Part of what we're trying to
to do on this cruise is contribute to
the area that's not, what's not known or we are trying to fill in some of those
There's a lot that isn't known
we really don't know the size we really don't know this or if you like the scope
and scale of the problem
I think one of the most important things that we
hope to get a handle on
this cruise and probably over the next few years is
what the sources are and
it's clearly certain many sources
but that's really
if we can figure that out then
we start to get a handle on some ways we might be able to mitigate the problem.
So I'll be the faculty advisor
but it's really it's important to emphasize that this is a
steam crews some from
conception the idea to execution all the way to
loading equipment and driving the equipment back from Oregon.
It's a really nice opportunity for a couple of reasons, one
a group of students coalesced around this issue
a couple years ago
based on a seminar that was given here really
made clear the extent to which there's a
scientific gap for it would be useful to get new scientific information
and the the group
really self-organized then through the vehicle
of the UC Ship funds application
put in an application with advisement
for advising but really
motivated and bringing in because its a group
it's a sort of a core group of eight graduate students and then some
associates as well
bringing in their own interests, their own expertise is
and designing individual projects that can all be carried out.