of our research from August 2016 till October 2017
Newsletter Science article
An integral part of every By the Ocean we unite expedition is sampling the waters for plastic fragments. This allows us to show the expedition members on board that small plastic fragments are pretty much everywhere while they are almost invisible from above the surface, illustrating how the problem is much larger than just the bigger bottles and bags floating around. Additionally, such measurements can be shared with scientists, giving them baseline values of plastic densities which they can use to focus their research. Scientific expeditions are very expensive and not having to use resources for such baseline measurements can give plastic research a real head start.
Throughout 2017, expedition teams have been sampling the North Sea and Wadden Sea, and even Loch Ness. Almost all samples contained plastics larger than one millimeter, the few exceptions being one sample from the Wadden Sea and both samples from Loch Ness. Especially the Loch Ness samples were interesting because it showed that such relatively isolated bodies of water can still be relatively unpolluted. Two other samples were also very interesting. One sample from the North Sea north of Cherbourg, France, and one from the Wadden Sea. Remarkably, both contained 248 fragments, our largest catches so far. The Cherbourg sample came from an area where currents seemed to bring floating debris together. Dense floating seaweed made it necessary to abort the sampling after thirty minutes and caused the sample processing to last deep into the night. The Wadden Sea sample was collected just before low tide when a current draining the mudflat concentrated the debris from a wide area into the shipping channel where it ran into the perpendicular channel current. This interaction caused a vortex which trapped the floating debris in very high densities. Both these samples show how plastic litter is very much affected by local current regimes, something to look into in the future.
Samples from the 2017 expeditions have been added to those from the 2016 Norway expedition, giving us more than forty samples from around the North Sea area. The next step will be to bring all this information together to create an overview of plastic densities throughout the North Sea. We will keep you posted as our analyses continue.
Dr. Nanne van Hoytema, PhD coral reef ecology, has been our research coordinator from day one. Recommend by Dos Winkel from Sea First Foundation, he’s our walking encyclopedia when it comes to plastic and the marine environment.
Patty joined our very first major sailing expedition Up to Norway 2016 as a research assistant. At the time she was writing her master thesis on plastics and interviewing major players in the field, like Jenna Jambeck.
Anne Pennings joined us on Expedition Scotland 2017 as a research assistant. She was studying Marine Biology at Wageningen University at that time.
Sollie joined us on Expedition Scotland 2017 as a research assistant.
Tessa joined us on Expedition The Channel 2017. She was studying Biology at Wageningen University at that time.
Jack joined us on Expedition The Channel 2017. He was studying Marine Biology at Plymouth at that time.