Monday, December 24, 2012

Plastics in the Pacific: How do you study plastics at sea

Kim McCabe is a Visitor Education Specialist at the New England Aquarium. She recently returned from an expedition in the North Pacific ocean studying plastic debris and its impact on the marine ecosystem. She'll be sharing some of her observations and reactions through the coming over the coming days.

We did four to six tows a everyday within the gyre to look for plastics. The Robert C. Seamans was equipped with a variety of nets that were used for our sampling.

1: Neuston Net
Traditionally used to sample plankton this net is towed on the surface of the water. Its fine mesh net lets water pass through while collecting plankton and everything else into the plastic container at it’s tapered “cod end”. Since in the middle of the ocean we are only going to find plastic that floats, this net is a great way to collect gyre samples.

Skimming the surface of the Pacific Ocean with the neuston net

A closeup of the neuston net

2. Dip Net
Long handles dip nets allowed us to scoop up visible pieces of debris, such as buoys, fragments of styrofoam and a soccer ball.

Dip nets are used to recover visible pieces of debris

3. The MOCNESS (Multiple Opening and Closing Net with Environmental Sensing System)
This beast-of-a-net weighed over 100 pounds, and had to be lowered over the side using a hydraulic J frame and our wire winch capable of lowering research equipment down to 3000 meters. This net could be programmed to open and close nets at different depths so we could see if plastic was being forced downward in the water column by the mixing effect of the wind.

The MOCNESS is a large net used to capture plastic debris at depth in the Pacific

Coming up, what did we find?

Plastics in the ocean has been covered on Aquarium blogs several times, unfortunately. Learn about finding plastic debris on remote Indonesian reefs, in the open waters around Costa Rica, around islands in the Bahamas and learn how some people in Dominica are learning to reduce, reuse and recycle.

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