Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | February 23, 2010

SEAPLEX Outreach Materials

My AGU Ocean Sciences education talk is tomorrow! It’s called  “Using Social Networking Tools for Low-Cost, High-Impact Outreach: The Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX).” As a supplement to that talk, I am listing the resources mentioned in my talk so interested people can easily find them. After the talk I will post the slides as well. Here are my slides, with the tools below.

Low/no cost tools:

Science social networks:

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.

Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | November 13, 2009

Response to NYT Article

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an article on the North Pacific Gyre called “Afloat in the Ocean, Expanding Islands of Trash.” Written by Lindsey Hoshaw, it was the culmination of a $10,000 freelance journalism project* in which she visited the gyre with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Unfortunately, this NYT article was far below their usual standards. Not only did it not add anything new to the discussion, but it significantly misrepresented the state of the science, presenting broad estimates & conjecture as facts.

I sent a list of corrections to the New York Times, and I am republishing them here as well. They are in the order they appear in the article. Because there are so many, I have kept each explanation brief, but please ask in the comments if you would like elaboration. Thanks to my SIO colleagues Kristen Marhaver and Mike Navarro for their suggestions!

In this remote patch of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any national boundary, the detritus of human life is collecting in a swirling current so large that it defies precise measurement.

The gyre is not a current, but a lack of currents. Please see Pete’s explanation of convergence zones for more detail.

…an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas.

There is no evidence for this. There certainly is a lot of trash, but there have been no measurements of either the trash’s total area or its growth rate.

But one research organization estimates that the garbage now actually pervades the Pacific, though most of it is caught in what oceanographers call a gyre like this one — an area of heavy currents and slack winds that keep the trash swirling in a giant whirlpool.

There is evidence for debris in some other areas of the Pacific, namely in the California Current, off Japan, and in the Alaskan Gyre, but there are few measurements from the southern hemisphere. A few studies have studied macrodebris – big stuff floating around or washed up on islands – but I am not aware of any microdebris studies there. And again, the gyre is defined by a LACK of currents, not “heavy currents.”

Scientists say the garbage patch is just one of five that may be caught in giant gyres scattered around the world’s oceans.

This is a very poor description of oceanic circulation. There are five major gyres, but lots of minor ones (e.g., the Alaskan Gyre). There is no evidence for all five major oceanic gyres containing large amounts of trash – only the North Atlantic and North Pacific have been studied. It certainly could be the case, but we don’t know yet.

Millions, billions, trillions and more of these particles are floating in the world’s trash-filled gyres.

As above, there is no evidence for all gyres being filled with trash. Also, though I realize writing is trying to be poetic, we do not know how many particles there are, but there may not be “trillions.”

Scientists…say that fish tissues contain some of the same chemicals as the plastic. The scientists speculate that toxic chemicals are leaching into fish tissue from the plastic they eat.

This is highly misleading. Fish tissues may contain pollutants, but no current evidence that they contain chemicals transferred from ingestion of plastic. There is only one study of this kind, and it was done on birds in the laboratory. To be fair, the article did say “speculate,” but it should have been clearer on the current state of the science.

Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles.

We do not know if significant numbers or important species of fish are ingesting plastic. We are studying this now, and it continues to be unclear.

The researchers say that when a predator — a larger fish or a person — eats the fish that eats the plastic, that predator may be transferring toxins to its own tissues, and in greater concentrations since toxins from multiple food sources can accumulate in the body.

There is no current evidence of this, particularly since food species of fish (e.g., tuna) do not inhabit the gyre. The gyre is a biological desert – it is an area of very low productivity and there are very few large fish there. Top predators certainly do accumulate toxins like methylmercury, but that is not related to plastic ingestion.

“I saw much higher concentrations of trash in the Pacific garbage patch than in the Sargasso,” Ms. Monteleone said, while acknowledging that she might not have found the Atlantic gyre.

The Sargasso Sea is in the North Atlantic Gyre, and nearly synonymous with it, so I don’t know what this means. It might be possible to be in part of the North Atlantic Gyre without seeing the seaweed Sargassum, but it is impossible to be in the Sargasso Sea without being in the North Atlantic Gyre.

Water samples from February contained twice as much plastic as samples from a decade ago.

This is a very difficult claim to make without controlling for the medium- and small-scale variation of plastic abundance. Even in the same year, some areas have little plastic and some areas have a lot of plastic. Without controlling for these variations, the increase in plastic can’t be measured accurately.


*If you’re interested in how the story was funded, I recommend checking out Hoshaw’s fundraising page at, as well as Megan Garber’s critical article at the Columbia Journalism Review and John Zhu’s thoughtful blog post.

Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | September 15, 2009

SEAPLEX video, now with narration

Check out footage from the SEAPLEX SIO communications team, now with narration!

Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | September 10, 2009

SEAPLEX media for download

Download high-resolution photos and video free from the main SEAPLEX website.  There’s video footage of trash, instrumentation, and SEAPLEX scientists at work. There’s also high-res photos – most of them have already been posted to the blog but there are some new ones. I’m partial to this one of gooseneck barnacles and anemones on a piece of rope.

Please feel free to use these materials in your classroom, outreach activities, or blog – that’s what they’re there for!

Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | September 3, 2009

New SEAPLEX video!

Here’s another new SEAPLEX video, this one from footage taken by SIO’s own Josh Jones and Mario Aguilera. You can see all the different oceanographic instruments in action, and a selection of debris laid out on deck.

Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | August 31, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions

We have added a Frequently Asked Questions page! Take a look here.

Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | August 29, 2009

New Project Kaisei/SEAPLEX video

Annie Crawley, the videographer and photographer on SEAPLEX with Project Kaisei, has posted her first video! It looks great, and you can see us in action.

Posted by: Miriam Goldstein | August 26, 2009

SEAPLEX deprivation? Check out Flickr!

We’re all decompressing and unpacking and getting used to life on shore. (What? We have to do our OWN dishes?!) But looking at our amazing photos makes the transition to normal life much easier. Check out the SEAPLEX set on Scripps’ Flickr page and the Project Kaisei Flickr (includes photos from the vessel Kaisei as well) for a look back at SEAPLEX highlights.

Here’s some of my favorites:

Miriam measuring plastic on the oceans surface. See the little white flecks?

Miriam (yep, that's me) measuring plastic on the ocean's surface. See the little white flecks?

Lucky the dog trapped in a ghost net!

Lucky the dog trapped in a ghost net!

Jars of debris preserved for analysis.

Jars of debris preserved for analysis.

Posted by: Alison Cawood | August 21, 2009

SEAPLEX Day 20 Part 3: The last blog from sea

Assuming that no one suddenly has some extra time and the computers are still set up, this is the last blog from the SEAPLEX cruise.  However, please join the Google Group so that we can let you know if there are new blog postings about results or other SEAPLEX related news.  Thanks so much for following the trip!

Miriam Goldstein writes:

Last night at around 3 a.m., I was awakened by Lara whispering that the best thing ever was happening outside and that I really, really wanted to get up. I staggered outside in my stripy pajamas and was greeted by fiery bioluminescence erupting from our wake and from each whitecap all the way to the horizon. Above in the perfectly dark sky, the stars mirrored the glowing sea. I have no words for the beauty and the glory of it.

When I was growing up near the Gulf of Maine, my parents cautioned us to never turn our backs to the ocean. They meant that we shouldn’t get caught by surprise by a big wave or a rip tide, but I think this advice should extend to the lovely parts of the ocean as well as the scary parts. The ocean is the cradle of life on Earth, filled with infinite variability, and we’ve only explored a tiny fraction of it. There are so many mysteries to explain, so many depths to plumb. Even the humblest seaside tidepool contains animals barely known to science.

So to all who followed along with SEAPLEX, and who are intrigued by the big, wet, and blue – please don’t turn your backs to the ocean. Perhaps someday missions like SEAPLEX will become obsolete, and ocean science will be done for the sheer joy of discovery instead of the necessity of
understanding what our species has wrought.

But for now, we are landing with three weeks of hard work safely stowed in hard drives and formalin-filled jars, and will retire to our respective labs to understand what exactly we found.

We’ll continue to post sporadic updates to this blog as they occur. Many thanks to all who followed along and commented on our adventures. Many more thanks to our supporters: Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, UC Ships funds, Project Kaisei, Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Mullin Fund, and San Diego Association of Women in Science. And the most thanks to the captain and crew of the R/V New Horizon, without whom we would have been truly adrift.

Flying squidFlying squid are difficult to photograph. However, SEAPLEX did wish to
satisfy the many requests for images of them leaping from the water. You
need to look closely. It honestly does not due the event justice.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.