1a. Why haven’t you posted any photos of the trash?
1b. Why are all your photos of tiny pieces and bits of net? I want to see the huge garbage dump!
1c. Why can’t I see the debris in the North Pacific Gyre on Google Earth?
The vast majority of the debris is tiny, hard-to-see pieces. The debris is like a thin soup, with some big pieces like nets and bottles intermixed. It looks like this.
We did not observe an island or floating landfill. Our photos are representative of what we saw – larger pieces floating by every minute or so, with the space between filled up with tiny, nearly microscopic bits.
For a more in-depth explanation of why the debris does not appear on Google Earth, see here.
2. What effect is the debris having on marine life?
We don’t know yet. We are working on processing our data and samples, and will publish the results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. We’re looking at:
- Plastic abundance, location, and size of the pieces
- Toxins in water, plastic and animals
- Bacteria communities on plastic
- Phytoplankton (microscopic plants) species
- Zooplankton (microscopic animals) species
- Fouling communities (animals that grow directly on the plastic)
- Fish ingestion of debris
- Whale and bird abundance around high-debris areas
3a. What are the SEAPLEX scientists doing now that the cruise is over?
3b. When will the results from the cruise be made public?
Our work is just beginning – we collected lots of samples that need to be processed in the lab. We will publish our results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, but it will take at least six months.
4a. How can this mess be cleaned up?
4b. Why are you doing research instead of just cleaning it up?
4c. Why can’t we just scoop up all the garbage in big nets or suck it all up with giant pumps?
Since most of the plastic is the same size as the marine life (less than 1/4″), it will be quite a challenge to clean it up without killing a lot of animals. Our collaborators, Project Kaisei, are exploring the possibilities.
Basic research, like the kind done on the SEAPLEX voyage, is critical to understanding how to approach this – you can’t clean something up if you don’t know where it is, how big it is, and what the collateral damage will be.