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.


  1. […] FAQ Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | August 31, 2009 […]

  2. this polution is a disturbing problem. thank you for working to find a solution

  3. aren’t the results still out?
    I think I’m gonna be needing them for my thesis..

    Is there any possibility of using biodegradation to solve this problem?

    • Hello Claudio,

      We are still working on our results. Processing the samples is extremely labor- nad time-intensive. We will certainly keep everyone posted via this blog and our Twitter.

      I am not aware of any likely biodegradation solutions. Certainly there is precedent, as with the oil-eating bacteria, but nothing exists yet.

  4. […] really we know very little about it. If you want to know more about this issue, check out the Seaplex FAQ page and NOAA's Marine Debris […]

  5. […] speak to Miriam Goldstein, doctoral student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography about her research expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage […]

  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for
    your next write ups thanks once again.

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