The ORV Alguita (previously) has set off on a new journey to the North Pacific Gyre to examine marine debris. You can follow along with their adventures at their blog. If you’re a teacher or a student, they have a special school-related blog where the crew will answer questions.
The Alguita is run by Algalita Marine Research Foundation, who are the go-to people on trash in the North Pacific Gyre. They brought the gyre to national attention, and pretty much every single paper on the trash gyre in the scientific literature is associated with them, since nobody else is doing any research yet. (though NOAA has made motions.) The lack of multiple data sources is somewhat disturbing for such a big, high-profile issue.
I would really like to see a big oceanographic vessel make a trip out to the gyre. The Algalita folks do fantastic work, but their vessel is much, much smaller than the usual research size. This means that they can’t use large, heavy sampling equipment or operate in marginal conditions. For a size comparison, here’s the Alguita’s A-frame (those slanty white bars in the background), which is used to deploy & retrieve equipment. Here’s a photo of yours truly (in the baseball hat) operating the A-frame on the Sproul, SIO’s smallest ship.
Furthermore, none of the Alguita’s crew are trained oceanographers. There’s a lot of specialized knowledge out there about how to sample the big-ass ocean. (I don’t have it, being a coastal ecology type, but there’s a ludicrous amount to know.) A trained crew can sample around the clock, continuously, for the entire voyage. A small ship just doesn’t have that ability. The tradeoff, of course, is that even the smallest SIO ship costs $12,000 per DAY at sea.
Despite my nitpicking, I’m glad the Alguita is out there, and I am quite curious to see what they bring back. For any San Diego or SoCal readers, one of the Alguita’s crew, Marcus Eriksen, will be reporting on their findings at SIO on April 16th. I’m sure there will be PLENTY of plastic to go around.