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Recap of the Alguita Marine Research Excursion

Amy Hsieh, UCSD Bioengineering, Class of 2010

May 19th 2010

Ever think about where that plastic that you throw away goes? It is remarkable to think that the circle of life has even made a spot for plastic. Although quite undesirable, some of that plastic finds itself back in our ocean.

On May 15, 2010 the Southern Califonia Siebel Scholars met and embarked for a fun day on the Alguita research vessel to learn about where our bits of plastic find themselves. Aboard the vessel, the Siebel Scholars were accompanied by Captain Charles Moore, and fellow researchers, whose studies range from fish to recycling and trash.

As we sailed out into the ocean, we experienced an “otter trawl,” where fish and invertebrates are collected from the ocean to analyze plastic ingestion and contamination. Our “otter trawl” brings up sea creatures such as fish, crabs, shrimp, and even a jelly. Our resident ichthyologist guides us in identifying the various species of specimens and she explains how she analyzes fish ingestion for plastic.

We next witnessed a “benthic grab,” where small creatures are brought up from the sediment surface and other sub-surface layers. As we sifted through the mud, we found small crabs, worms, and little worm houses. The worm houses are typically compactions of sediment, shells, and dirt. However, we noted that some worm houses, even incorporated small sheets of plastic.

Continuing on our sail, we investigated the products of a “mantra trawl,” where a fine net skimmed the ocean surface and captured surface debris. In the past, this “mantra trawl” has even brought back up t-shirts, which is a testament on how if one throws something away; it could find itself polluting our ocean waters.

As the effects of pollution and contamination are visible via these various trawls, we were still able to observe the simplicities of nature from a swimming sea lion off the port side to a pack of sea lions sunbathing on a buoy. We even participated in preventing pollution of our waters by chasing down floating balloons that found themselves a home on the ocean surface. By retrieving the balloons, we prevented them from being eaten by a whale and seriously harming the whale.

Overall, the day was filled with good company. We learned about how pollution and contamination affects the oceans around us. We’d like to thank all the members of the Alguita research vessel for their continual work to protect our waters through their research on the impact of plastic marine pollution and for providing their educational findings to all communities. We would also like to thank Karen and Jenny for joining the Southern California Siebel Scholars, as well as Tom and everyone who helped to make this event possible! Thank you!