Sitting in a Sea of Plastic

What is that? Is it another jellyfish? Is it a turtle? Wait, what IS that? Oh, it’s a big plastic bag…

A steady flow of plastic been floating past the JR with the Gulf Stream current. The issue of ocean plastic pollution gained notoriety with the Pacific Garbage Patch. However, plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean is often overshadowed by its famous Pacific counterpart. No matter what ocean you are in, plastics pose risks to fish, seabirds, and a spectrum of other animals large and small.

Left: A plastic bottle surrounded by sargassum seaweed. 

Each red circle highlights a piece of plastic! 

The JR is currently sitting at the edge of the North Atlantic Gyre, and we have seen plastics of all sizes. Mixed in with the sargassum seaweed are plastic crates, bottles, bottle caps, shopping bags, food containers, balloons, and countless other ambiguous plastic chunks. These pieces are easy to spot as they stand out stark white or yellow against the ocean.

When the plastic is exposed to light, wind, and wave action it continues to break down into tiny pieces. Confetti-like plastic bits, often smaller than a pencil eraser, are called microplastics. These microplastics are easy to mistake as plankton, making them dangerous to all planktivors (plankton eaters) including the storm petrels we’ve grown attached to in the last few weeks.

Rope covered in gooseneck barnacles.

It has been sobering to see human impacts firsthand hundreds of miles from shore. Yet, as we keep bringing new cores on deck it, is refreshing to think that the climate data garnered from these cores may inform future decisions on how to minimize the global human footprint.

Baloons