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Ocean Plastics in the Sargasso Sea

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The crew and research team on-board the 72ft Sea Dragon expedition ship are currently undertaking two expeditions from the Island to find out more about the Sargasso Sea.

The Sea Dragon is operated by Pangaea Explorations, and has sailed around 50,000 miles over the last two years as part of a series of research expeditions in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. During the missions the team are sending a daily blog, with photographs, explaining what they have been doing and what they have found.

Here is the most recent update from the Sea Dragon.

BY JP SKINNER, BIOS (a local perspective)

The data collected by 5 Gyres and Pangaea Exploration is a vital part of the global focus on plastic pollution in the ocean. Access to the open ocean and the ability to measure the amount of trash in the “gyres” is limited to just a few scientists on board well equipped boats. Unfortunately, plastic debris is also showing up on beaches around the planet, and Bermuda’s beautiful coastline is no exception. In fact, because Bermuda is the only land within the Sargasso Sea (the North Atlantic’s gyre), our beaches are especially important to monitor.

Fortunately the general public and many local school groups are championing this cause, with groups regularly surveying “adopted” beaches to record the amount of plastic deposited by the sea. The information gathered is being collected by the “Bermuda Marine Debris Taskforce”, and early results are interesting, if rather alarming. The typical items found are shoes, glow sticks, bottle caps, lighters and fishing gear like rope and netting. However, as much of the drift plastic has travelled great distances to get to Bermuda, we tend to find small, broken fragments mixed in with these larger items.

These micro-plastics are everywhere in the ocean, including inside animals. The pieces we find show scrapes and bite marks from fish and turtles, and many creatures are found dead with stomachs full of plastic fragments. Hundreds of surveys have been conducted on local beaches, and although the amount of plastic found can vary, we have never done a survey and found no plastic at all. Today, in every survey on every beach, plastic debris is found!

This research conducted offshore and on our local beaches is a critical part of the solution to this global problem; it enables us to quantify the immense scale of the issue, and helps us to understand it from a local perspective. Bermuda is seeing the problem first-hand, but can also be a part of the solution. For some more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/bermudataskforce

Photo by Ian MacDonald-Smith Dr. Samia Sarkis and JP Skinner discuss the contents and micro plastics with Dr. Wolfgang Sterrer
Photo by Ian MacDonald-Smith JP Skinner and Brandon Russell prepare to lower the manta trawl overboard
The 5 Gyres Institute

The 5 Gyres Institute, a California based non-profit environmental group, will be participating in two exciting voyages to document plastic pollution in the Sagarsso Sea Region. 5 Gyres mission is to conduct research and communicate about the impacts of plastic pollution, and employ strategies and solutions to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution in the world five subtropical gyres.

Since 2009, 5 Gyres has travelled over 30,000 nautical miles and confirmed that plastic pollution is present throughout all our oceans.

The first research voyage, lead by Bermuda Alliance for Sargasso Sea (BASS), that will ultimately be collecting data to better understand the biodiversity and important habitats of the Sargasso Sea, while also documenting pollutants, such as plastic pollution. 5 Gyres will partner with Bermuda scientists to determine the density of plastic pollution in sections of the Sargasso Sea by conducting surface trawls and carrying out visual observations.

The second voyage is an expedition organised by 5 Gyres that will bring together researchers, policymakers, activists, filmmakers and artists to document plastic pollution in the North Atlantic, west and northwest of Bermuda, areas that have been studied less than the rest of the region. Through advanced communication between the research vessel, Pangaea Explorations 72-foot sailboat Sea Dragon, and those on land, both voyages will bring attention to plastic pollution in the North Atlantic Ocean, an ocean that has been well studied but where the plastic pollution issue needs to be publicised more.

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Published June 05, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 04, 2013 at 5:04 pm)

Ocean Plastics in the Sargasso Sea

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