Researchers will embark on a first-of-its-kind voyage next week to show that every ocean on the globe is polluted with plastic garbage harming marine wildlife and potentially threatening human health. The 5 Gyres Institute, collaborating with Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF) and Pangaea Explorations, is leading the expedition.
The 5 Gyres team, lead by co-founders Marcus Eriksen, PhD and Anna Cummins, will sail from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, South Africa on the first transatlantic Southern Hemisphere plastic-pollution research trip. The husband-and-wife team, overseeing a 13-member crew of researchers, journalists and others for the first global study of the problem, want the world to know that the scourge is not confined to a single mythical “Texas-size garbage patch.”
“You can’t cross an ocean today without finding plastic pollution,” says Cummins, co-founder of 5 Gyres Institute, a Santa Monica, CA-based nonprofit organization.
A gyre is a rotating system of ocean currents where floating debris accumulates. Eriksen and Cummins plan to produce the first comprehensive snapshot analysis of plastic pollution in each of the globe’s five gyres. Building on AMRF’s discovery of plastic pollution in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, the 5 Gyres crew has discovered garbage patches in the North Atlantic Gyre and the Indian Ocean Gyre.
Two renowned professional surfers, James Pribram and Mary Osborne, will join the voyage to help raise awareness. “My goal is to share my experience with the world in becoming a spokesperson against plastic waste,” says Pribram.
“We want to show people wherever we sail that the problem contaminates their international waters,” Eriksen says. “They cannot say, ‘Well, that’s across the ocean, what does that have to do with my country?’ “
5 Gyres’ Rio-to-Cape Town voyage will be aboard Pangaea Explorations’s racing sloop, Sea Dragon. In addition to sailing through gyres, the team aims to advance its research into whether humans are being harmed by eating fish that have ingested plastic debris contaminated with persistent organic pollutants such as DDT and PCBs. PhD candidate Chelsea Rochman of UC Davis will lead this research. Cummins has already found trace elements of such toxins in her body. The crew will also analyze seawater for the same pollutants.
The Sea Dragon crew will be communicating via blogs with more than 1,850 Los Angeles school children through AMRF’s Ship-2-Shore Education program. Charles Moore, AMRF’s founder, first put the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on the map.
Eriksen and Cummins plan to sail across the South Pacific Gyre—the fifth subtropical gyre—in March 2011.
5 Gyres is partnering with the United Nations Environmental Program’s Safe Planet campaign and Eriksen and Cummins will be speaking at AMRF’s 2011 Plastics Are Forever International Youth Summit and Training Program.
5 Gyres disseminates its message and findings through national lecture tours and raises awareness of ocean plastic pollution through voyages including that aboard JUNKraft, the boat built in 2008 of 15,000 plastic bottles. The organization’s collaboration with Algalita Marine Research Foundation and Pangaea Explorations provide it with a marine laboratory and research vessel, respectively. After studying the five subtropical gyres, 5 Gyres plans to monitor these vortexes through Traveling Trawl Program voyages which loan research equipment to volunteer “citizen scientists.”