Project Kaisei Science Journal 2009

Welcome to the “Wheel House Reports from the Project Kaisei Science Team (PKST)” Here, you will find information regarding the science aboard the S/V Kaisei, as she travels to and from the gyre.

Wheel House Reports from the Project Kaisei Science Team (PKST)

Day 15 S/V Kaisei: Joining Kaisei, Corinne Hume

Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Lat: 34° 24’ N Lon: 138° 39’ W

(L) Margy Gassel and (R) Corinne Hume

(L) Margy Gassel and (R) Corinne Hume

One of our co-principal investigators of the Project Kaisei Science Team (PKST), Corinne Hume, started her day counting plastic pieces visible under the triangular net of the bow. Total counts of visible plastics in a given area for 30-minute intervals help the Kaisei team measure relative densities of surface plastic debris. When we encounter a high-density area, Captain Mike Smith slows the ship Kaisei and circles the area to allow PKST to get as much sampling data from these areas as possible. Our engineer Norton Smith has also used these opportunities to launch his debris-collection prototypes. Later in the day, Corinne assists with processing manta trawl collections and recording data.

Corinne first became interested in marine debris while writing about the North Pacific Gyre and accumulation of oceanic plastic debris for an undergraduate journalism class. A few years later, Corinne’s mother, Denise Hume, became involved with Project Kaisei as a representative of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chemistry Initiative. Working for the State’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, Denise Hume conducts research on environmental health and develops strategies for pollution prevention. While living in Simi Valley in 1989, Corinne was introduced to environmental problems at a young age when a nearby plant accidentally released chlorine. The entire city was evacuated; thankfully, the chlorine gassed without causing any harm to the community.

Corinne also appreciated the beauty of nature while frequently hiking through Southern California. Corinne’s mother was a docent of the Sierra Club at the time, and Corinne’s connection with nature throughout her childhood led her to become involved in environmental restoration projects. While attending a private high school in Ojai, Corinne and her class went to Chennai, India, to participate in a sea turtle protection program. During the project, Corinne helped newly hatched sea turtles that commonly get off course due to light pollution find their way to the ocean. Also while in India, Corinne helped a rural school in Rishi Valley expand their permaculture garden and provide more medicinal and food crops for their community. During her time in India, she was surprised by the amount of pollution permeating the land, air, and water. She vividly remembers the residue of the air staining her hands a burnt sienna color and the heaps of trash lining the streets. This impression led her to become concerned about the health of our planet.

In college, Corinne attended a colloquium hosted by the European Union in Ghent, Belgium, about recycling agricultural byproducts and exploring the possibilities of turning what was once waste into commodities. During this colloquium, she visited different manufacturing plants, such as the EcoVer, which makes sustainable household products from a zero-waste business model. The colloquium’s purpose was to allow college students from around the world to brainstorm about incorporating agricultural byproducts into business design. While in school, she also worked at the Pathogen Detection Lab of the California Regional Primate Research Center at the University of California at Davis (UCD).

A recent graduate from UCD with a B.S. in Natural Sciences, Corinne was invited to sail on the S/V Kaisei as a research assistant. She was intrigued by the opportunity to see parts of the North Pacific Gyre and hopes to learn more about environmental problems and the planet’s ecological state through first hand experience with Project Kaisei. Corinne also looks forward to sharing information from this trip with family and friends at home.

Day 14 S/V Kaisei: Creating New Collection Strategies

Monday, 17 August 2009
Lat: 33° 57’ N Lon: 139° 03’ W

Chinese Fishing Weight

Chinese Fishing Weight

This evening, the entire Kaisei crew held a group meeting to discuss the best strategies for marine debris collection and finding points of accumulation. Because more turbulent weather is expected, our team is trying to maximize the last of our calm days. All parts of the Kaisei crew are joining forces to find debris fields. One of our continuing strategies is counting marine debris from aloft or on the bowsprit for 30-minute intervals. By taking these counts, we get a sense of the frequency of debris, and PKST can compare this information with our trawl collections. Our goal is to sample in areas with both high and low accumulation rates of marine debris.

Another strategy involves launching our dinghies (“tenders”) in the debris fields to collect large pieces we would otherwise be unable to attain. The larger, more intact pieces will be used for educational outreach and displays in various museums. Many of these pieces tell a story about the origin of the displaced debris in the North Pacific Gyre. For example, today we found a fishing weight with Chinese characters. We also found plastic detergent bottles, bottle caps, lids, netting, plastic bags, a baseball, and other miscellaneous large pieces of plastic floating in the expansive ocean. Below our humble abode, S/V Kaisei, is 18,000 feet of water (6,000 meters); outside a portal window is one plastic bottle more than 1,000 nautical miles (~1,850 km) from the nearest coastline. The image is alarming, and PKST is uncovering evidence of the progression of marine debris as it breaks down to the insidious small particulates accumulating in our trawls. The combination of polymers the ocean has not been able to biodegrade, possible toxicity of small to nano-sized particles, and attachment of persistent toxic chemicals to these surfaces is a forecast of a frightening future. We are seeing that the ocean is full of this ubiquitous waste, clogging and tangling our blue planet.

Day 13 S/V Kaisei: Forging Discovery

Sunday, 16 August 2009
Lat: 34° 05’ N Lon: 140° 15’ W

Nicole Argyropoulos Underwater

Nicole Argyropoulos Underwater

Today, Nicole Argyropoulos, one of our co-principal investigators, assisted Dr. Neal in her multi-tiered filtration analysis. On a ship, feeding ocean water through a drip system can be a challenge; however, Dr. Neal and Nicole finally devised an effective gravity-fed system that functioned as needed to process samples. Nicole joined the Project Kaisei Science Team (PKST) in a multi-faceted position: creating first drafts of the science blog, assisting in research, and coordinating educational outreach material.

The catalyst for Nicole’s environmental zeal began with a deep-rooted love for animals. She subscribed to the Wildlife Fact File at age seven. Her mother could only get her to the dentist if she agreed to take Nicole to the Humane Society afterwards to walk the dogs. With an introduction to the greenhouse effect in third grade, Nicole took action in her own house and introduced her parents to an entire recycling program, from plastics to compost. Becoming fascinated with the ability for waste to become fertile soil, she started working with her grandmother to plant organic gardens and to learn about sustainable agriculture. Her first job was at the farmer’s market selling peppers at a local Santa Barbara stand.

Growing up by the ocean, Nicole was constantly tide pooling and enjoying the sea’s splendors. Throughout high school, she took many environmentally focused classes and volunteered in trail building, beach clean-ups, and seminars geared towards educating the public about environmental issues. Nicole chose to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder for their excellent natural science program. While attending, she became very active in the university arena, joining the Biodiesel Committee, The Alpine Club, and the Journalism Board, writing about environmental issues in the Boulder area. In her senior year, Nicole flew to New York to volunteer at the Clinton Global Initiative as the CEO’s assistant. The Clinton Global Initiative is a three-day meeting of some of the most influential minds gathered to help solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. Nicole was inspired by the call for immediate action. After she graduated from CU Boulder in Geography, Nicole packed her bags and worked for the Clinton Foundation in the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI). At CCI, Nicole conducted baseline research, created sustainable design models and approaches, and wrote proposals for the Energy Efficient Building Retrofit Program, which aims to help 40 of the world’s largest cities reduce their carbon footprint through green architectural design.

While working for CCI, Nicole was introduced to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) during a presentation on their sustainable design objectives for their energy-efficient retrofit of the Empire State Building. Amazed by their presentation and contribution to the environment, Nicole applied to work at RMI the following spring. Upon receiving the job, she packed her things once again and moved back to Boulder, Colorado. Following her passion in green architecture, she was placed on the Built Environment Team to work in sustainable design and as a liaison to the Communications Team. Throughout her time at RMI, Nicole conducted a plethora of case studies showing how green architecture was becoming increasingly popular due to its economic benefits. Nicole also led wilderness therapy trips through the Rocky Mountain Range teaching the importance of biology and backcountry skills. Inspired by her experience working at RMI, Nicole plans to continue her graduate education in environmental economics and policy.

After her rocky mountain adventure, Nicole returned to hometown Santa Barbara to take pre-requisite classes for graduate school. There she started working for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society where she met Dr. Neal and started becoming involved in many grassroots campaigns and organizations geared towards addressing marine debris. Being back by the coast after six years and seeing how detrimental effects of dumping waste in oceans was becoming an increasing concern, Nicole became more involved with the oceanic community. After working on many environmental projects and teaching seminars with Dr. Neal, Nicole was invited to be a part of PKST.

Still holding true to her early environmental aspirations as a child, Nicole will continue her career with innovative groups trying to heal the planet. Her involvement in Project Kaisei has shown her the results of our “wasteful” actions and has solidified her ecological path. She is moving to the San Francisco Bay Area after the voyage and looks forward to embracing this paradigm-shifting city.

Day 12 S/V Kaisei: Dissolved Organic Matter (DOM) Analysis

Saturday, 15 August 2009
Lat: 34° 30’ N Lon: 141° 46’ W

Michael Gonsior

Michael Gonsior

Michael Gonsior

Michael Gonsior

Today, Dr. Michael Gonsior, one of our co-principal investigators, collected another set of water samples at 200 meters depth and at the surface for dissolved organic matter (DOM) analysis. DOM is an important part of the global carbon cycle. The amount of carbon in DOM in the oceans is equal to carbon in atmospheric CO2 and also to carbon present in all land-based biomass. However, this important component of the carbon cycle is not well understood due to the fact that 80% of the molecular composition is unknown. Without a molecular understanding, the reactivity of this highly dynamic DOM pool cannot be evaluated.

Only recently, a new analytical technique referred to as “ultra-high resolution electrospray ionization Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry” (ESI-FT-ICR-MS) became available to analyze the complex pool of dissolved organic molecules in an unsurpassed fashion. The samples taken during this research cruise are the first collected in the Pacific Ocean for ESI-FT-ICR-MS analysis. In addition to basic research of DOM characterization in surface waters, the leaching of DOM from marine debris will be also studied. The hypothesis is that biota associated with DOM does produce a significantly different pool of DOM and therefore have the potential to influence the DOM dynamics and composition in open ocean surface environments. If this hypothesis holds, it will be seen later after the analysis at the Helmholtz Zentrum Munich in collaboration with Professor Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin.

Dr. Gonsior was always interested in science and found chemistry very interesting throughout high school and college in Hueckelhoven, Germany. As a teenager, environmental problems concerned him and he experienced the effects and news coverage of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in the former Soviet Union. He began his study of chemistry at the University of Aachen, Germany, and changed universities for his postgraduate study in environmental chemistry at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany. During his studies, he took all opportunities to travel and study abroad including five months at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, Scotland and nine months at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada. Dr. Gonsior dedicated as much time as possible to travel and learn about people and cultures. Not completely satisfied with his M.Sc. in Environmental Chemistry, he completed a second master’s degree in Environmental Protection Engineering at the University of Dresden. Dr. Gonsior became involved in soil science, and took an opportunity to work on an international carbon cycling program in the mountain rainforest in southern Ecuador. During his nine months in Ecuador, he was exposed to the complexity of life in a developing country.

After finishing his second M.Sc., Dr. Gonsior decided to complete a doctoral program in marine chemistry and applied for a scholarship to Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand. The application was approved and Michael started his Ph.D. study in New Zealand in 2004 under the supervision of Professor Barrie M. Peake and Bill J. Cooper, a professor from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Bill J. Cooper and Dr. Gonsior became good friends while in New Zealand. After he finished his Ph.D. degree in 2008, analyzing dissolved organic matter in New Zealand’s natural waters, Dr. Gonsior was invited to apply for a post-doctoral position in Bill Cooper’s laboratory at the Urban Water Research Center, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UCI. His application was accepted, and he works in this laboratory to the present day. Besides being enthusiastic and engaged in marine chemistry and biogeochemical cycles, he also followed his passion for helping people in developing countries, and became vice-president of the non-for-profit, volunteer organization Engineers Without Borders, Orange County Professional chapter. Since that time, he has been involved in a humanitarian project to build a footbridge in Kenya to help local communities to access a small clinic on the opposite site of a river.

Dr. Gonsior’s first exposure to the influence of marine debris on life happened while he was still working on his Ph.D. in New Zealand where he learned about threats to albatross at the local albatross colony on the Otago Peninsula. Being fascinated by these birds that were always present during his research cruises in the Southern Ocean, he found out that albatross breeding on the Midway Islands in the Northern Pacific Ocean feed their chicks plastic debris accidentally mistaken as food. Hence, the death rate of albatross chicks is very high due to starvation. While working at UCI one year later, Dr. Gonsior attended a seminar given by Captain Charles Moore from the Algalita Foundation in Long Beach, California about the accumulation of marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre. Dr. Gonsior was astonished to see the degree we have polluted our world’s ocean. Together with Professor Bill Cooper, they decided to help educate the world and further scientifically evaluate marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre. They also extended the research into the Atlantic Gyre located in the Sargasso Sea. Earlier this year, Dr. Andrea Neal met Bill Cooper and told him about Project Kaisei. Later, she also went to the UCI laboratory where she and Dr. Gonsior started to develop scientific objectives for Project Kaisei.

Dr. Gonsior’s future plans will involve an extended time in Kenya to help the Engineers Without Borders project. His scientific goals involve using state-of-the-art analytical techniques to investigate the least known components of the global carbon cycle, which happens to be located in his favorite environment: the world’s ocean. He will also continue to educate people and, in particular, high school students, to learn how we can prevent spoiling our oceans. Scientific research of marine debris will continue and will help to give further evidence of the frightening situation of pollution in marine environments.

Day 11 S/V Kaisei: Launching Beach and Sweep

Friday, 14 August 2009
Lat: 34° 43’ N Lon: 143° 221’ W

 Lauching Sweep

Lauching Sweep

Norton Smith, our consulting engineer, has been inventing several different types of trawling prototypes that he built onboard. Today, Norton launched two capture devices in the North Pacific Gyre; one of these capturing devices is an example of biomimicry called, “Beach”. The beach prototype is a wooden inclined plane with sides that begin one foot below the water level and extend three inches above the water level. On the back end, there is a large net with a cod end. Water comes over the lip of the incline and has to pass out through the net. Norton sees the natural environment as a way we can use and understand natural processes to benefit, instead of manipulate, nature. In creating the Beach and other trawling devices, Norton considered the potential problem of harming oceanic biota in efforts to clean up marine debris. Nets, for example, collect plankton and other organisms as well as plastic and other debris. The intention is to build a device that will catch plastic while minimizing collection of biota. Furthermore, this passive device does not expend energy. The fist launch of The Beach was a success—catching a surprising amount of marine debris and few oceanic organisms.

Norton’s second device, “Sweep,” consists of two panels of non-porous tarp with floats attached on the top and weights on the bottom. One end is connected to a plankton net and the other end is attached to plywood doors holding the mouth of the net open. The whole apparatus is attached to a sea anchor (75 meters below the surface) to keep the Sweep relatively stationary. Again, Norton’s intention was to use inexpensive known technologies, such as those used in oil-containment booms, to collect marine debris in the plankton net. The Sweep received its name to reflect its purpose to sweep marine debris off the surface of the water.

Norton became involved with environmental issues back when he started a recycling company with his brother, Neill Smith, in 1972 in Marin County, California. At the time, plastics were not recyclable but were a cause for concern because they do not biodegrade. Norton’s passion for preservation originates from his yearning to explore through adventure travel and preserving the environment through his entrepreneurial career. Recently, Norton has been working for a start-up company in Talent, Oregon called “Straw Jet.” They build prototypes of a machine that will make construction material out of straw. Since Norton has always been an innovative builder and inventor, Project Kaisei was an opportunity to combine his creativity with environmental issues.

Being a sailor most of his life, Norton has been exposed to the worsening of marine debris in our oceans over the last five decades. He will continue testing capture methods throughout the trip and plans to continue environmental advocacy the rest of the his life. He is very concerned about plastics in our oceans and, more generally, the health of the oceans, including the loss of the fish and productivity in the oceans. “It is not just plastics,” he states, “it is a combination of things, from over-fishing to pollution of estuaries.” One of Project Kaisei’s goals is to show the contamination of the ocean to the world, so people can see the destruction of our natural world caused by our waste and our failure to account for the responsibly. Norton believes it is essential to create public awareness of the issues in hopes of promoting changes in our habits and means of disposing waste, plastics included. The ocean has been seen as an infinite dumping ground, but we are seeing evidence that this is not the case.

Day 10 S/V Kaisei: In the Heart of the Gyre

Thursday, 13 August 2009
Lat: 34° 42’ N Lon: 143° 19’ W

Crab and Sea Anenomeas Take A Ride

Crab and Sea Anenomeas Take A Ride

Dr.Dre and The Net

Dr.Dre and The Net

Today’s early morning began with Kaisei crew capturing a ghost net full of fish, a Chinese weight for a 100-m net, package binding, and a large fishing lure. A ghost net is a fishing net lost at sea, and it can be hazardous to the environment and to passing vessels. Dr. Neal, our principal investigator, believes ghost nets to be one of the most menacing types of marine debris for several reasons. Myriad organisms get caught in the tangled net as it spirals randomly on an oceanic path. These abandoned nets are no longer in use and as we witnessed fish get caught in the net and die. On top of that, they are a haven for invasive species, which get transported to other places. Marine life also congregates around and under the net, which increases the likelihood they will ingest debris associated with the ghost nets.

When ghost nets get snagged on coral reefs, the coral grows into the net. Often, with a big swell or storm, the coral breaks off the reef, taking new coral growth with it. These broken coral pieces caught up in ghost nets then become destructive, tumbling weeds that roll across the ocean floor destroying more coral. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) marine debris program includes a focus on derelict fishing gear and ghost nets and their recovery. In the Hawaiian Islands, NOAA supports federal, state, and local communities in surveying and collecting derelict fishing gear. NOAA is also working to produce energy sources from recovered ghost nets.

Later in the afternoon, the crew spotted a glass buoy and captured it as a keepsake of this epic sojourn. A small colony of gooseneck barnacles and crabs were living on the buoy and all of the buoys we have collected share this phenomenon. As we slow down to gather other large marine debris, we have seen that these pieces have become homes to an array of living organisms, most commonly barnacles and crabs. We also saw the lower half of a tree with an abundance of creatures on it.

Our afternoon trawl exposed more pre-production pellets and one flying fish. We spotted another ghost net, and Dr. Neal and Heather Coleman dove into the ocean to investigate. Underneath the net was a habitat for a school of pilot fish and other species of fish. On board Kaisei, Dr. Gonsior seized the opportunity to go fishing and caught a dozen of these small fish from the jack family for future analysis of stomach contents and persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

In the evening, we reached our second CalCOFI sampling site where further samples were collected. We are looking at CalCOFI sites throughout our mission because they obtain archived data PKST can use for current analysis but also compare data to what oceanic health was in the past. We plan to hit several CalCOFI sites along our research route and compare these sets of data to uncover the progression of our marine debris pollution from past to present.

Day 09 S/V Kaisei: Welcome Scientist

Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Lat: 34° 28’ N Lon: 141° 43′ W



Heather Underwater

Heather Underwater

Our midnight trawl revealed five more myctophids, one flying fish, and four pre-production pellets. Recently our night trawls have been showing less plastic marine debris than our daytime trawls. Since we are in the heart of the gyre and the apex of our sampling scheme, we have been working around the clock collecting data. At minimum, we have been trawling each afternoon and at midnight. Our crew has been on watch either aloft in the crow’s nest or on the bowsprit watching for debris fields. This extra help has been useful in gathering large pieces of marine debris that will later be used for educational outreach or analysis of surface properties. In our afternoon trawl, we found nine by-the-wind-sailors (Vellela vellela), part of a plastic bottle, one pre-production pellet, and numerous marine insects. The contents of our trawls reveal different items with each location, providing new insight into the nature of the North Pacific Gyre.

Today, one of our scientists, Heather Coleman, celebrated her 30th birthday. When Heather was a child, her brother, a UCLA marine biology major, used to take her tide pooling in Palos Verdes, California. An early introduction to marine life inspired her to start scuba diving in the eighth grade. She could not unglue herself from oceanic environments, never wanting to return to land. Thus was the birth of her muse, diving, and studying oceanic environments throughout high school and college. Heather received her undergraduate degree in marine biology from UCLA and through Northeastern University’s East/West Marine Biology Program. The program’s first stop was at the Friday Harbor Marine Laboratory in Washington. With only four students that year, Heather received an intensive research-oriented education. Her passion stayed strong for oceanic discovery, and despite the inability of her drysuit to keep out water, Heather could not contain herself from the bounty of the sea. The next venture in the East/West Program occurred in Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Heather started her first independent research project on behavioral interactions in invertebrate communities. The East/West Program continued in Nahant, Massachusetts, focusing on community ecology at the Marine Science Center. Heather continued her research in Jamaica the next year as a teaching assistant in oceanography. After another year at UCLA, Heather went to Akumal, Mexico to study nutrient input in coral reef systems. After graduating, she worked at Santa Monica Baykeeper leading the volunteer brigade in kelp restoration. To continue doing research, Heather began a doctoral program at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. Along the path of earning her Ph.D., she acquired a master’s degree in environmental economics. Heather was introduced to Dr. Andrea Neal, and together they have been on many dive adventures including a plethora of research dives to study the effects of oil pollution on sea urchins. Heather aspires to become involved with non-profit work in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, and to continue her new research focus on marine debris in our oceans.

Day 08 S/V Kaisei: Meeting R/V New Horizon in the North Pacific Gyre

Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Lat: 33° 53’ N Lon: 139° 33’ W



Preproduction Pellet

Preproduction Pellet

Kaisei and New Horizon

Kaisei and New Horizon

Today’s early morning trawl revealed three more myctophids, good news for our ichthyologist (fish specialist) Dr. Margy Gassel. We also found six flying fish and nine pre-production pellets. These pellets are the raw materials used to make plastic products and are usually transported by trains and container ships. After another late night, the Project Kaisei Science Team (PKST) rushed to catch some sleep before another set of trawls and filtration experiments later in the afternoon.

The day started with a cloudless morning, and the overhead sun gave a clear vision of marine debris continuously floating by the ship. Even though we are on the outer rim of the gyre, there is still a large amount of marine debris in the ocean. Our afternoon trawl revealed an abundance of live ctenophores (comb jellies) and fish from the Carangidae (jacks) family in the trawl. Before releasing the ctenophores into their natural habitat, we placed them in a bucket of water with the small plastic particles, and discovered they were engulfing the marine debris. This is not surprising because they are considered voracious predators that indiscriminately consume anything of the appropriate size that they encounter. This gave PKST a direct visual example of how organisms in the ocean are affected by the small polymer particulates.

Later in the evening, the Brigantine Kaisei met with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography vessel R/V New Horizon in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre. Our first mate Adrian Thibeault-Stone brought a tender and welcomed Doug Woodring (one of the main founders of Project Kaisei), Professor James Leichter (from Scripps Institute of Oceanography), and Annie Crawley (a film producer and creator of the organization “Dive Into Your Imagination”). The three visitors from R/V New Horizon received a tour of Kaisei, and we discussed the progress of our research. As the night sky set in, we said our final farewells and the New Horizon visitors returned safely to their ship.

A year ago, when the idea for Project Kaisei was budding, it was hard to imagine this meeting in the gyre, testing strategies to sort out this insidious, environmental catastrophe. Although Project Kaisei started with a small group of concerned people, it took the collaboration of several different fields banding together to make these studies a reality. PKST and the rest of the Kaisei crew are starting to realize how calamitous this issue truly is and that it will take many more collaborative efforts to even skim the surface of the problem. We are proud to be a part of the first of many Kaisei missions and hope that our efforts will inspire further action.

Day 07 S/V Kaisei: Reports From Inside the Gyre

Monday, 10 August 2009
Lat: 33° 51’ N Lon: 137° 24’ W
1100 miles due west of Santa Monica, CA

 Dr. Andrea Neal "Dr. Dre"

The amount of debris collected in the manta trawl today was enormous compared to the planktonic biota. Dr. Andrea Neal, the principal investigator for the Project Kaisei mission, expressed her reflection about the marine debris in the gyre:

“I think the worst thing about what we are seeing is that you have to perform capturing methods, such as trawling, with a super fine net in the planktonic size range to really see the danger lurking beneath. Our trawl net today came up with at least an order of magnitude more debris than plankton; a majority of this debris was post-production polymers. It’s hard, as a scientist, to look at samples like this and not immediately start to extrapolate what the implications of this tremendous amount of debris mean to the environment as well as ourselves. Most of our samples will not be identified until we get back to shore, but the visual interpretations are astounding. It is vitally important that we make a huge change in our habits. It is imperative that we start managing all of our resources wisely. What we are seeing out here are some larger post-production polymer pieces, but the majority is fine to ultrafine postproduction polymer pieces.”

At a young age, Andrea Neal, Ph.D. was always experimenting in the scientific world, and she knew she wanted to be some kind of “-oligist.” While on the family ranch in Wyoming, she often used her grandmother’s travel beauty case as a portable laboratory. (She would also like to give a great shout-out and hug to her family doing the annual ranch maintenance while she is on this expedition.) In the ninth grade, her science teacher Mr. Shotland gave her a book called “Shaman’s Apprentice” by Mark J. Plotkin, which created an insatiable appetite for her to become an ethnobotanist. The rest of her high school studies and collegiate interests were then directed in this field.

Dr. Neal chose Purdue University, which has one of the top botany programs in the world, and she worked in a medicinal and aromatics lab with Professor James Simon for four years. There she discovered that very little was understood about how plants produce specific types and quantities of oil. Dr. Neal felt a strong need to understand plant oil synthesis in an attempt to efficiently use them for bio-fuel production. She continued her education in plant biology at the Swedish Life Sciences University (SLU) in Uppsala, Sweden, with Professor Hans Ronne, Professor Sten Stymne, and Professor Ulf Stahl, studying lipid biosynthesis in eukaryotic organisms. After five years of intensive studies, Dr. Neal became interested in the unusual fatty acid production in coastal sea sponges and their important role in oceanic health.

After getting her doctorate degree, Dr. Neal began a post-doctoral appointment at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. There she worked with Professor Patricia Holden on nano-particle toxicity on bacterial organisms. Afterwards, she revisited the importance of coastal sea sponges and the environmental implications that waste has on fragile coastal marine habitats. During these studies, she realized that scientists tend not to be taught effective communication with government agencies and the general public. She felt that in order for proper legislation to be passed and action taken on environmental issues, there must be a quorum of communication between science, government, industry, and the general public. To learn to be a more effective communicator, she participated in a post-doctoral enrichment study at Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society focusing on outreach. There, she put together the Santa Barbara component of the “Day Without a Bag” campaign. The campaign passed out 6,000 reusable bags at 18 educational outreach sites, focusing on the importance of reusable bags and recycling. Dr. Neal also worked with school groups such as Don’s Net Café from Santa Barbara High School and Jean-Michel Cousteau’s “Ambassadors of the Environment Program,” empowering kids to become pro-active environmental advocates.

This past spring, Dr. Neal worked on an environmental toxins campaign, bringing to light the detrimental impacts of brominated and chlorinated compounds used as flame retardants in household products on environmental and human health. It was during this time that Dr. Neal met Doug Wooding and Mary Crowley, and was invited to lead the science team on the S/V Kaisei. Using her broad scientific background and research experience, she put together a notable team. The intention of this international scientific group is to analyze and quantify the environmental impact of marine debris at representative sites the North Pacific Gyre. The Kaisei science team’s hope is to develop standardized methodologies that can be used for future marine debris studies. Dr. Neal’s hope is that, as a global scientific community, we will work together proactively to find innovative solutions to what could be the largest environmental disaster of our human history. Dr. Neal wants everyone to know how thrilled she is to work with such an amazing group of people that are on the S/V Kaisei. She is also very proud of her team who are working around the clock on this incredibly important mission to improve our understanding of marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre.

Day 06 S/V Kaisei: Catching the First Myctophid

Sunday, 9 August 2009
Lat: 33° 33’ N Lon: 135° 00’ W

 (left to right) Dr. Margy Gassel, Corine Hume, Dr. Andrea Neal

(left to right) Dr. Margy Gassel, Corine Hume, Dr. Andrea Neal

The science team was unable to conduct the midnight manta trawl due to rough seas. After much needed rest, they gathered in the morning to discuss the fish collection protocol. Dr. Margy Gassel is interested in studying fish species from the myctophid family because they are common mid-water fish that migrate to the surface at night for feeding. This means they have a high probability of ingesting small plastic debris. Myctophids represent an important trophic connection between zooplankton and other pelagic fish including species that we consume.

Dr. Gassel’s initial interest in marine biology began in high school when she was inspired by a documentary portraying research on right whales (Eubalaena australis) in Patagonia by Dr. Roger Payne. Many years later, she decided to pursue this interest by participating in a sail study program aboard the R/V Regina Maris on the breeding grounds of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeanglea). Following that, Dr. Gassel studied humpback whales and other marine mammals while working as a naturalist on whale-watching boats in New England. After working as a registered nurse in women’s health and as a graphic designer, Dr. Gassel returned to school to study biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. While there, she had the opportunity to conduct research with an international team of scientists on the R/V Polarstern in the Arctic Ocean. Dr. Gassel is also a shareholder in the cooperatively operated S/V Alvei. Dr. Gassel completed her doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley, Department of Integrative Biology, where she studied crustacean behavior and ecology in Hawaii. Dr. Gassel currently works as a research scientist with the California Environmental Protection Agency, whose mission is to protect public and environmental health. Never losing her passion for protecting the oceanic environment, she accepted the invitation to sail as a member of the Project Kaisei science team.

All members of the S/V Kaisei crew have been using innovative strategies to capture marine debris. Our onboard engineer Norton Smith handcrafted another trawling device onboard S/V Kaisei. Using a flowmeter to measure the volume of water passing through the net, this trawl will be used to catch marine debris at a depth of approximately three meters. Appropriately titled the “Norton Trawl,” it will be used throughout the research route to collect additional samples and compare to surface collections.

The midnight trawl produced the first myctophid sample, which was preserved in the lab freezer aboard Kaisei for future research at the California Environmental Protection Agency. In our night trawl samples we also found nine Pacific sauries, six flying fish, two comb jellies, and four sea slugs. In addition, the science team found two pre-production plastic pellets and numerous amounts of polymer particulates. The Project Kaisei team has been astounded by the large quantity of marine debris floating by the ship, and the crew has become inspired to scoop large pieces of marine debris with hand nets for future use in educational outreach.

Day 05 S/V Kaisei: Bioluminescent Sea Jellies

Saturday, 8 August 2009
Lat: 33° 32’ N Lon: 132° 43’ W

Day Trawl

Day Trawl

Day Trawl

Day Trawl

Day Trawl

Day Trawl

August eighth started with bioluminescent sea jellies glowing neon aqua-blue illuminated by the presence of the full moon. The limpid waters and moonlight allowed the jellies to glow as deep as two meters, giving the science team an underwater electric light show. Some of the bioluminescent jellies were caught in the jaws of “Manny”, the manta trawler. We found 22 small silver fish, three small sea jellies, and an astonishing amount of marine debris given our distance from the Northwest Pacific gyre. The collected debris included two pre-production plastic pellets, also known as “nurdles.” After tedious work picking out the copious amount of fine and micro-sized particles, we decided to call it a night at 1:30 AM, to wake up again at 6 AM to prepare for our experiments at our first CalCOFI site.

Dr. Neal and Nicole Argyropoulos prepared the multitiered filtration system to analyze different sizes of fine-particulate marine debris and phytoplankton. Dr. Michael Gonsior, Dr. Margy Gassel, Heather Coleman, and Corinne Hume prepared Dr. Gonsior’s dissolved organic matter (DOM) analysis, gathering water samples from approximately 200 meters and also from the surface. By gathering water at these two depths, Michael believes that he will be able to analyze the dissolved carbon pool in that general region. He plans to gather the samples in this methodology at all the CalCOFI sites on our research route in order to understand DOM cycling in that area. This is the first attempt to analyze marine DOM in the Pacific Ocean using ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry and to compare it to the Atlantic Ocean. DOM samples from the Atlantic gyre located in the Sargasso Sea are currently being processed and will be compared to the Pacific gyre after this research cruise.

After lunch we pulled in the manta trawl and noted a decrease in the quantity of marine debris. We also collected more small fish and jellies in the cod end of the trawl. After seeing incorporation of fine particle polymers in the innards of the jellies, the Science Team considered jelly and fish collections for persistent organic pollutant (POP) analysis. Later in the day the wind picked up again, and we scampered aloft to unfurl the sails. By using wind energy, we are once again able to conserve fuel, continue along our research route, and make our trip as environmentally sound as possible. This ethic continues in the way we dispose of our waste, recycling plastic and other co-mingled containers and only discarding organic waste.

The Science Team started to notice an increase in large-sized marine debris floating in the ocean (e.g., buoys, plastic bottles, crate) as we approach closer to the gyre. When possible, the Science Team has tried to catch the large pieces of marine debris or slow the ship in order to scoop the samples. Unfortunately, were we to stop to retrieve every piece of debris, we would sacrifice precious time at the gyre. Later in the evening, we had a fantastic birthday feast and Dr. Margy Gassel prepared an incredible butternut squash soup as per request of Nicole Argyropoulos. With the good company of our on-board shipmates, we finished the lovely evening with a screening of the film “Life Aquatic.”

Day 04 S/V Kaisei: Dr. Andrea Neal’s Multi-Tiered Filtration System

Friday, 7 August 2009
Lat: 32° 22’ N Lon: 129° 37’ W

Morning Trawl Sample

Morning Trawl Sample

Day 04b - Dr.Dre's Stacked Filtration Unit

Day 04b - Dr.Dre's Stacked Filtration Unit

We started day four with a midnight trawl that took us into the early morning. Our night trawl was aimed to catch small mesopelagic fish called myctophids (lanternfish) and zooplankton. Myctophids are small mid-water fish that dwell between 200-1000 meters in depth during the day and feed at the surface at night. One of our goals is to examine the incorporation of small marine debris into lower trophic levels of the food web. Myctophids are prevalent throughout the world and representative of zooplanktivores. However, the recent full moon may have provided enough light for them to escape the manta trawl provided by Dr. Marcus Ericson from Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Heather Coleman (soon to be Dr. Coleman) identified the abundance of small fish, baby squid, jellyfish and a plethora of by-the-wind-sailors trapped within the manta trawl. We found a considerably greater amount of marine debris compared to the previous trawl. The haul consisted mostly of plastic and some Styrofoam, and the size dispersion was relatively consistent with the last capture (approximately 100µm – 5mm). Dr. Margy Gassel, from the California (EPA) Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, documented the live specimens and froze them for future analysis.

Later in the day, Dr. Neal started a multi-tiered filtration system to examine the size structure of marine debris. Using polycarbonate filters made by Millipore, this system will capture plastic in size ranges as low as 50 nm (in the nano-particle size range). We will examine the accumulation and characterization of these fine particles in our respective labs when we return. We will also compare our findings with oceanographic data from long-term monitoring sites established by CalCOFI (California Cooperative Ocean Fisheries Investigation). Tomorrow we will we reach our first CalCOFI site, which will mark the first nano-particle collection on our research route. Tonight we will be doing another midnight trawl analysis and kick off tomorrow with a wide spectrum of water sampling experiments in our first CalCOFI collection location.

Day 03 S/V Kaisei: Launching of the Manta Trawl

Thursday, 6 August 2009
Lat: 34° 20.7’ N Lon: 128° 01.5’ W

Manny the Manta Trawl

Manny the Manta Trawl

Stiffing winds allowed us to sail at seven knots and we were joined by two small pods of white-sided dolphins. At 10:41 AM, the science team released the first manta trawl on the port side for one hour of surface trawling. We found small bits of plastic and small silver fish in the mouths inside the underbelly of several by-the-wind-sailors (Vellela vellela) trapped in the manta trawl. The small plastic pieces were collected, placed in a solvent-rinsed vial, and frozen for future analysis in the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laboratories. We also took our first surface water samples with a Nisken bottle to study carbon cycling events that we expect will change as we approach the Northwest Pacific gyre.

Day 02 S/V Kaisei: The First Signs

Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Lat: 35° 51.3 N Lon: 125° 31.6’ W

Derelict Buoy

Derelict Buoy

Early Morning rise and shine at 6:30 am! Our unique team of scientists gathered, On board we have Principle Investigator Dr. Andrea Neal, Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, Co-Principle Investigator Dr. Michael Gonsior from University of California at Irvine, Dr. Margy Gassel from the California Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Heather Coleman from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at The University of California at Santa Barbara, Nicole Argyropoulos from Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society and Corinne Hume.

PKST started with a meeting to discuss the float plan, points of collection, and the specifics of the marine debris we are seeking. With our on board lab we will be able to collect and store samples of water and marine debris ranging from marco to nano-sized particulates. We will also be able to run experiments on oceanic health and carbon cycling as well as monitoring the very basics like water column profiles that show pH, salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll a. All of these complex sampling and experiments can be one while sailing!

Captain Mike Smith spotted our first piece of marine debris today, located at 36˚21.29 north and 124˚50.220 west at 11:32 AM. The marine debris was a yellow buoy containing a microcosm of gooseneck barnacles and sea slugs. Plucked from their oceanic environment, the gooseneck barnacles, their long peduncles adhered to the buoy, repeatedly extended their cirri, or feeding appendages. We cleaned the buoy and retained it for future analysis. Tomorrow we will be doing our first manta trawl, which is a net that skims the surface gathering surface water for samples. The manta trawl’s main purpose for the science team is to collect marine debris to test in our on-ship lab.

Day 01 S/V Kaisei: Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Lat: 37° 48.7 N Lon: 122° 30.5’ W – Point Richmond, CA

Sailing Out of the Golden Gate Bridge

Sailing Out of the Golden Gate Bridge

When we lost sight of land, the PKST then tackled the arduous task of setting up our lab space. We were happily rewarded with a package from The North Face including warm water-resistant windbreakers and blue beanies. After enjoying a brilliant sunset, the science team and the rest of he crew gathered for man overboard, fire, and other emergency drills. Principle investigator Dr. Andrea Neal and Co-Principle Investigator than shared their experiences with the team from last week in the Sargasso Sea on the Atlantic Explorer with the Ocean Flux Program (OFP) at The Bermuda Institute for Oceanographic Sciences (BIOS) run By Dr. Maureen Conte, Professor at both BIOS and Woods Hole Institute of Oceanographic Research. They relayed the amount of debris that they had seen as well as the infiltration of debris in Bermudas fragile reef systems and beaches. PKST once again thought about Project Kaisei, and all of the amazing individuals on the ship gathered together as one team on one mission to help the one planet that we all share.

Day 00 S/V Kaisei: The Beginning

Monday, 3 August 2009
Pt. Richmond, CA

Mary Crowley at the Helm

Mary Crowley at the Helm

A Large Thanks to Mary Crowley and Ocean Voyages Institute:

The Project Kaisei Science Team (PKST), would like to start our blog by thanking Mary Crowley and Ocean Voyages Institute for supporting our shipboard time and lab supply costs for our research to be performed on the S/V Kaisei. This is a huge donation since many modern day research vessels can cost up to US $20,000-$40,000 dollars per day, not including lab supply costs. Each member of PKST understands how lucky we are to have this unique opportunity to do oceanographic research on the brigantine S/V Kaisei. By utilizing a sailing vessel for oceanographic research we will conserve fuel by sailing a majority of the time and significantly reduce our research carbon footprint. A typical modern research vessel used in mid ocean studies can expend the same amount of fuel in one hour that the S/V Kaisei. will use in a day while sailing. We will also be among the few people in the world who learn to sail a tall ship!

The Science Plan:

Many studies have documented the role of air, water and sediments in persistent organic pollutant (POP) transport, but few have looked at the role of a relatively new vector, marine debris. Our team will examine the distribution, physical characteristics and ecological consequences of marine debris pollution concentrated in the North Pacific Gyre. Our overarching goal in all of our experiments is to measure the prevalence of synthetic organic polymers, the primary vector for POP intake in the environment in species of concern to humans, namely consumable fish and their prey. The Kaisei team will investigate marine debris accumulation in representative areas of the water column across the North Pacific Gyre, how the surface properties of marine debris change over time at sea, which toxicants adsorb to each type of debris, and which debris-toxin compounds collect in biota. In addition, we will quantify the amount of plastic in tissues of these organisms, as well as the concentration of a number of POPs.

Our material scientists strive to understand how the synthetic organic polymer chemical composition affects marine debris oceanic fate. Questions such as whether different synthetic organic polymer types will attract fouling organisms, sink or float, the speed and pattern in which they break down, and the surface morphology are relevant to understanding oceanic plastic dynamics. Appreciating the attributes that make plastic surfaces favorable to POP attachment may be the key to cleaning up POPs and keeping them out of the food web.

Satellite or airborne remote sensing techniques do not currently exist to track marine plastic debris. The Kaisei team will measure the optical properties of very small particulate plastic, which have the greatest backscatter per unit mass. These measurements will then be used to simulate the reflected radiance that would be observed at the top of the atmosphere in a variety of atmospheric and oceanic conditions. These simulations will be used to assess the potential to remotely sense the location and quantity of marine plastic debris, and if possible, design algorithms to do so.

Along these lines, our ocean cycling scientists will investigate the effect of marine debris on life at the most fundamental level, the carbon cycling system. Using the latest techniques, we intend to uncover correlations between marine debris and changes in POM (particulate organic matter) and DOM (dissolved organic matter) at the surface and in the water column through our sampling area within the Pacific Gyre.

Our ecological toxicology team will study the extent to which POPs attached to marine debris affect organisms throughout the food web. It is now known that plastic resin pellets and broken bits of consumer plastics carry certain classes of POPs in greater concentrations than virgin polyethylene pellets 3-5. Further studies are needed to determine the extent to which these plastic and other marine debris particles transport absorbed pollutants into the food web and determine if future research will be needed to identify how these contaminants affect the human diet.

Project Kaisei believes it is imperative to understand the extent of contamination within the food web and hopefully to find correlations with known monitoring systems to allow predictive mapping of POP sinks. This set of studies will provide important clues into how we will realize practical solutions to prevent further pollution and improve our situation.


8 responses

12 08 2009
Seba Sheavly

Ahoy Kaisei – I am very pleased that your expedition is doing so well and that your science activities are finally underway. I am sad that both the Kaisei and New Horizon are finding marine debris in each tow, but we knew that was a very real possibility. I am very interested in the types and sizes of the debris that is being collected. If possible, please report on that information when you have a chance.

Please keep us all posted on your progress and know that the Kaisei has many, many people eagerly watching your progress and anxious to learn more about your studies. We are sending our best wishes to the crew and science team. Be safe and come home soon.

Seba Sheavly

16 08 2009

Dear Seba,
We are finding a large size dispersion of marine debris in our manta trawl net tow. A large portion of what we are seeing a very fine and ultra fine polymer particles. However, what we visually see is not all that is there. When we get back to the lab I expect that we will see many nano sized to ultra fine debris within our samples. Thanks for all of the support! -Dr.Andrea Neal (Dr. Dre)

17 08 2009
Seba Sheavly

Dear “Dr. Dre” – your reports are very informative and provide a good snapshot of what is happening during the cruise; please keep them coming when you have the chance. I agree that your team will have much to study upon your return. We are not all that familar with the micro debris forms and your expedition has highlighted that significantly. Determining the next steps in this research is critical to making headway in fully understanding the impacts of this form of plastic debris on the ocean and its inhabitants. Give my best to Mary, Norton and the rest of the science team and the Kaisei crew.

Wishing you much continued success and safe sailing — Seba Sheavly

16 08 2009
Dr. Gordon Neal

This segment of blog has been very informative . Keep it up. I know communications are tough and expensive, but the public must know what is happening in a very personal way.

21 08 2009

Thank you so much for all of your support!! BTW Happy Birthday!!! Stor Kram Andrea

24 08 2009
Day 18 S/V Kaisei: Compelling Solutions « Project Kaisei

[…] The Science Journal […]

26 08 2009
Rea Christodoulou

Nicole, great article incredible work.

3 09 2009
Bill Bartmann

Cool site, love the info.

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