Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | February 8, 2010

SEAPLEX Update: We’re in the lab

This blog has been silent for the past few months, since the SEAPLEX team has been holed up in our labs, processing samples as fast as our little fingers can go.  While at sea, we grabbed as many jars of plankton and water samples and fish as we could without doing much analysis. Now we are carefully going through them to understand the impact of plastic on the oceanic ecosystem.  You can get a glimpse into this process with Rebecca Tolin’s blog entry at Voice of San Diego.

While attending the Science Online 2010 conference in North Carolina, I was inspired to try to blog more on what we are actually doing in the lab. I know a lot of people wonder why results aren’t out yet, but turning a jar of plankton or a dead fish into data is really hard and time-consuming work. In the coming weeks, I will try to post photos and explanations of this not-so-glamorous but critically important side of ocean science.

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  1. So how long does it take to process one sample (jar, trawl, whatever…) ?

    • It depends on the type of sample – it takes me around 3-6 hours per manta tow sample. We’ve got 126 of these. And that’s just looking at the plastic content, not at the actual animals.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BoraZ, Neil Saunders, SEAPLEX Expedition, topsy_top20k, topsy_top20k_en and others. topsy_top20k_en said: The SEAPLEX blog is back! See what we've been doing in the lab. #scio10 […]

  3. I look forward to reading your blog posts. I followed the SEAPLEX expedition daily, watching, as you towed in all that garbage.

    Thanks for all your hard work.

  4. Thank you for updating the blog, Miriam. I will follow it, and I’m also following on Twitter.
    Thanks to you and the others for the very exciting jar of plastics in ocean water that we received last week – I love that little gift! Thanks, Kris

  5. Would an analysis of DNA tagging be useful in determining the products and potentially the sources of the plastics?

    See for more on DNA tagging.

  6. Are any of the Project Kaisei team members doing any research into the source of the plastics. Is there a breakdown anywhere as to what each of the original participants are focused on following the much publicized voyage.

    I was hoping to hear more from Ed Kosior, identified on the Project Kaisei website as the founder of “NEXTEK Pty Ltd” and the winner of many awards and patents on plastic recycling.

    He would seem a logical participant in the process of
    – figuring out how all this junk gets into the ocean
    – how best to mitigate it’s impact
    – how to get it out of the ocean

  7. Bob,
    Thanks for your response and good questions. Indeed we are still analyzing samples for a variety of information on material make up, as well as toxicity that might be existing on the outside of the material due to ocean exposure and the presence of other toxins there.

    In terms of source, this is a very tough one to understand, but it is an issue we are confronting. It is estimated that 70-80% of all of the plastic comes from land. This means rivers, beaches, dumping, etc. It is very hard to know “where”, and “who” has done this, and which products are involved once they break up from the sun exposure.

    We are working on an innovative program to bring awareness to the world’s river mouths, which are the main arteries for life, and debris, that come into our sea. We also are hoping to do another expedition this summer to gather much larger amounts of debris for testing, analysis and remediation.

    I hope this helps. Thanks for your interest. You can also vote for us in the Pepsi Refresh Project during the month of May, which would help fund our summer trip.

    B. Regards,

  8. Ur blog is always interesting. I’m learning a lot. Now more expeditions are heading out in the Indian Ocean too!
    Use more earth friendly restroom supplies and food service containers. Corn polymer is the new plastic. Way better!



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