In July 2014, together with support from Algalita Marine Research and Education, private and corporate sponsors and myself, we embarked on our 10th voyage to the Gyre. We returned with samples, photos, video footage and observations to share with researchers, citizen scientists and government. The data collected will expand my body of work monitoring and offering solutions to marine plastic pollution. This voyage completed a four-part series of expeditions focused on collecting comparative data sets on plastic pollution in the Gyre.
To date, I have conducted ocean and coastal sampling of plastic debris through more than 75,000 miles of the North Pacific Ocean, crossing 24 degrees of latitude and 70 degrees of longitude. This research work has been featured in various major media outlets, including The Late Show with David Letterman; The Colbert Report; Good Morning America; CBS Sunday Morning with David Pogue; ABC Nightline; TED Talks 2006; TEDx - 2010; National Public Radio; Rolling Stone; The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In July and August of 2006, reporters Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling, together with Photographer Rick Loomis, published the five-part series Altered Oceans in the Los Angeles Times, featuring my work in Part 4, "Trashing Our Oceans". This five-part series on the crisis in the worlds oceans, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. CLICK HERE to take a tour through all our pioneering voyages to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.
Our initial 1999 expedition was followed by the 2000, 2002, 2005, ** 2007, 2008 and 2009 voyages. Each successive trip indicated the ratio of plastic to plankton to be on a continual rise. ** (In 2006, I led the Greenpeace vessel, Esperanza, to what that group termed "The Trash Vortex".)
In collaboration with the 5 Gyres Institute and Pangaea Explorations on board their vessel, Sea Dragon, our research continued, crossing the Trash Vortex from Oahu to Canada in 2011. Also in 2011, Tara Expeditions collected samples for Algalita during their circumnavigational expedition to Antarctica and the Southern Pacific Ocean using our protocols. With the exception of some of those collected off the Chilean Coast, plastic was found in every trawl. More samples were collected by their expedition in the North Pacific Ocean in 2012 with similar results. That summer, our joint efforts continued with 5 Gyres and Pangaea on the two-leg summer Japanese Tsunami Field Investigation with Leg 1 beginning at Majuro, Kwajelein in the South Pacific Marshall Islands to Tokyo, and Leg 2 from Tokyo to Oahu.
A 15-year retrospective study of our work in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre covering the 1999, 2008, 2009 and 2014 voyages is currently in preparation and will be published soon. By combining information collected during these expeditions, our researchers are working to evaluate the long term trends, changes, and environmental impacts of plastic pollution we’ve observed over the past 15 years. This project will yield valuable information enabling the scientific community to assess prevention efforts related to ocean plastic pollution. In addition, results from this study will be used to develop critical updates to educational curriculum. It will also serve as the basis to create a series of interactive infographics for public use through Algalita’s Plastic Ocean Index, which contains data from all Algalita research, as well as data from other researchers and citizen scientists.
All expeditions have resulted in an extensive body of scientific data, peer-reviewed publications, articles and educational programs, all available through Algalita Marine Research and Education. On all four voyages, we monitored the same eleven stations of our original 1999 sample design. No one else has done this type of monitoring. Our work in the North Pacific Gyre is far from complete and Algalita is committed to continue monitoring the impact of plastic pollution on this dynamic ecosystem for years to come.