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Sierra Daily

11/23/2011

Exploring the Aftermath of the Japan Disaster

Tsunami Debris Expedition 2012

The tragic devestation of the Japan earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster happened in March, but the aftermath is still developing. While the toll on lives was catastrophic, the toll on the ocean has been largely unknown. 

That might change through a partnership between 5 Gyres Institute, Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and Pangaea Exploration, which are sending scientists aboard a vessel that will sail to the area -- and the public is invited to join them. The goal of Algalita and 5 Gyres, which usually study the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is to get a sense of how the wreckage from the disaster is interacting with the existing plastic pollution that has been swirling around the North Pacific Gyre for decades. Scientists onboard will also investigate whether the debris is being colonized by marine life and if it's assisting the transportation of invasive species.  

The trip is open to anyone who is 18 or older, regardless of sailing experiece. The 7,000-mile research expedition is scheduled from May 1 through July 1 of next year. Participants will be expected to get their hands dirty and "earn their sea legs" by hauling in lines and hoisting sails. They will also help out with the research side-by-side with scientists.

The trip will start from Kwajalein Atoll northward, followed by a second leg from Japan to Hawaii through the gyre, where plastic pollution spans for as far as the eye can see. For information on signing up for this unique trip, click here.

In an interview with the Sierra Club this past February, 5 Gyres co-founder Dr. Marcus Eriksen described the Pacific Ocean's enormous pastic garbage patch as a thick soup that blankets the top portion of the ocean's surface. This floating chemical layer is the result of decades of plastic pollution from the coasts of adjacent continents. Dead fish and birds in the area have been found with little plastic bits in their innards. "Once you see it, it's hard to deny it ever again. You see this endless soup of really tiny plastic particles you sail through," he said. Eriksen and his colleagues now take civilians on these expeditions to raise awareness. 

"After first hearing of the devastating state of the North Pacific Gyre, I immediately had a desire to witness it for myself and tell the world about it," said Tim Silverwood of New South Wales. "Participating in leading scientific research with people from all over the world, all motivated to bring this issue to the mainstream, was incredible."

Image courtesy Zan Dubin Scott.

-- Brian Foley

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