Reblog:New scientific study on plastic entering the ocean

February 13, 2015

Reblog from Algalita Blog

How much plastic is entering the ocean?

An important article has come out in Science Magazine. This is the first scientific study to systematically estimate the amount of plastic going into the ocean from land. It also highlights the geographies that contribute the most and provides insights into the relative impact of different mitigation strategies.

ballona-creekOne thing we have learned from this article is the estimated amount of plastic going into the ocean is far greater than most previous estimates. Yet, overwhelming amount of plastic going into the ocean today pales in comparison to what scientists estimate for the future. I have been studying this area for 15 years and it’s gone up by two orders of magnitude – it is approximately one hundred times worse than what I measured in 1999. This article is stating they expect an increase of ten in the next ten years.

Habitats are normally damaged by removing valuables from them, such as animals, plants and minerals. In a complete turnaround, we are destroying our ocean habitat by inserting our valuable polymer plastics. This leads us to a clear understanding of why the status quo HAS to change by adopting a zero waste circular economy—if we don’t, it will be ten times worse than it is now, or a thousand times worse than I found it in 1999.

Plastic consumption in developing countries is increasing and because many of these countries do not have sufficient waste collection, more plastic is entering our ocean each day. We keep hearing Mismanaged Waste. That implies that burning waste in an incineration or burying it in a landfill is properly managed waste, but it’s not. We believe in Zero Waste. This so-called managed waste is composed of precious resources that need to be recovered.

algalita-global-estimate-plastic-pollutionThe quantity of plastic in the global ocean’s five accumulator gyres has reached a level that is destroying their fragile ecosystems. It is reasonable that plastic manufacturers, who profit from externalizing the cost of dealing with their products that become waste, take some responsibility for the destruction of gyre habitat and help remove some of the tonnage of plastic causing the damage. Additionally, this would incentivize manufacturers of plastic products to design them to be easy to recycle and help create the infrastructure to process the collected plastics.

In 2013 International Coastal Cleanup Day had 648,015 volunteers from 92 countries combing coastlines around the world. In one day they gathered about 12.3 million pounds (about 6,000 tons) of trash, much of which was plastic. Even if it was all plastic, it would only be a third of what goes into the ocean each day, based on a mid-range estimate from the Jenna study. We would have to have a worldwide clean up 3 times a day, every day of the year to clean up what is ending up in the ocean, although much of the world’s coastal areas were not covered by the volunteers.


In the North Pacific Gyre this summer, Algalita researchers took plankton samples from 10 meters below the surface. In our lab, we found that every spoonful of plankton looked at under a microscope had tiny plastic fibers in it. Gyres were pristine areas where virtually nothing floated for long. The creatures there think anything floating is something to eat. The plastic is being consumed in high quantities, has no nutritional value, and is toxic. On top of all this, floating garbage in the pristine ocean is UGLY and constitutes an aesthetic. An ugly world, poisoned by our waste, is not a world we want to live in, and bequeath to our progeny.

What can we do? Single use disposables are the biggest culprit. Targeting waste from “use once and toss” plastics is the key. We can’t solve the ocean plastic problem at scale without addressing waste management in developing countries. We can change habits and behavior. People are rational if they are given rational reasons for changing their habits.

As members of the Trash Free Seas Alliance, Algalita is happy to see that this information has been made available through Science Magazine. This is an important study and we must act on the information it provides, or we will see the status quo based prediction of exponential increase in marine plastic pollution by 2025 come true.

Read the article here.


Making Fat Shark FPV goggles work with OPENROV ($7 solution ?)

March 7, 2014

Robodox ROV team is building an OPENROV 2.5 kit for Algalita Research Foundation to take on their July 2014 Pacific Gyre expedition.    The ORV catamaran , named Alguita, will take a team of scientist to sample and analyze the effects of plastic in the ocean on marine species.    To help extend their capability to locate plastic concentrations they are utilizing a variety of sensors.   One is a Phantom quadcopter drone equipped with a Fat Shark Predator V2 FPV system.

IMG_7776The Predator V2 uses two LCD screens to display video in goggles show below.


The Predator specifications are shown here.   Pictures are sent from an aerial camera platform to the goggles in real time over a 5GHz wireless link.

openrov 2.4The underwater ROV that Robodox is building will do a similar function by transmitting HD camera video to a topside Laptop computer over a two wire tether.    It would be desirable if the Fat Shark video goggles could also display the Laptop video sent by the ROV.    Unfortunately the video formats are not compatible without a VGA to composite video converter.   I did a little research into how this could be accomplished.

Here is the plan:

1) purchase a Tmart $3  VGA to A/V RCA converter.  03m-VGA-to-SVIDEO-and-RCA-Female-Cable_320x320

2) Purchase an $3.50 Allelectronics 3.5mm  A/V  to RCA cable with 6 ft  extension to allow freedom of movement between the laptop and the goggles.

3) Plug the VGA converter into the laptop VGA output port and then plug the 3.5mm A/V cable into the Fat Shark video input port via the extension.   Turn off the Fat Shark wireless receiver.

Seems like this would work…yet to be tested.

Wireless Connection to the Fat Shark

The transmitter side of the Fat Shark FPV system involves a small 600 TVL camera that plugs into a transmitter compatible with the receiver in the goggles.

Fat Shark tranmitter

If the transmitter is available on the boat (ie a spare that is used for the Phantom drone) then the output of the converter could be used in place of the camera output that plugs into the transmitter.   This way the goggles could be free from any wires. There would be another plug adapter to mate the composite video RCA plug to the plug on the xmitter.

Algalita OPENROV ready for testing

February 25, 2014


I wanted to share what the Robodox Algalita ROV engineering team has been up to for the last two months.  See Robodox Engineering ROV for ORV blog post : Feburary Status Update .   I am happy with their progress and we expect to have the underwater robot ready for the Algalita summer voyage.

Relevant posts:

Dec 20 2013 OpenROV Berkeley Trip

Robodox 599 Algalita 2014 Youth Summit Video Submission

Use of Robotics to support Algalita research into the Pacific garbage patch

Links: (build blog)

Algalita ROV project facebook page

Proposed Towed Ocean Debris Location and Evaluation Robot (TODLER)

May 22, 2013

Algalita has an informal sensor working group to help them define requirements for a 2014 voyage to sample plastic debris in the Eastern Pacific ocean.    I had proposed using robotics to assist them in some way such as a ROV or possibly R/C boat or helicopter with cameras.     These are local aids but the general problem of mapping the ocean debris remains largely unsolved due to inadequate sensors.   I began thinking there would be a need for a coarse debris ocean plastic sampler that could be towed by any ship or research vessel in the ocean including the Liquid Robotics Wave Glider which would be cheap, reliable and easily deployed.     So I wanted to start a requirements study for a proposed Towed Ocean Debris Location and Evaluation Robot (TODLER)

Why TODLERTotal debris weight data can be useful in estimating plastic content:  The plastic in the ocean is now reaching weights that are 6 to 40 + times more than the  dry biomass floating in the ocean.   E.g.  Algalita reported in 2001 that the plastic to plankton dry weight of the  was 6.1:1.   Subsequent voyages found much larger ratios… nearer to 40:1.   The ratio is increasing every year due to the influx of plastic from the rivers, ship dumping and natural disasters such as the Japanese tsunami.    Although we are interested in the amount of plastic in the ocean… measuring the total debris weight would give a reasonably accurate assessment due to the large plastic to biomass weight ratios.    It would avoid the tedious job of carefully separating biomass and plastic in the lab and give many more opportunities to collect samples world-wide.  The samples would measure the weight of wet biomass plus the debis so the ratios would be slightly lower than those mentioned above.

A total debris sample might have one additional data point… the difference between the dry and wet weight of the sample.   This could give an indication of the amount of biomass present.    The usefulness of this would vary depending upon the ratio of plastic to biomass.   On tows that do not sample a lot of plastic one could reduce the error in the plastic weight estimate by about 16% (in 6:1 ratio sample) but this would be of little use in a 40:1 .    The wet/dry ration would require some type of air or centrifugal water extraction device.   A tradeoff study would determine the cost effectiveness of the wet-dry weighing.

Concept:  This is a small towed robotic vehicle that contains  a mini  Manta plankton trawl net capability which can collect a debris surface sample, weigh the contents , record and transmit data to the towing vessel and then clean the net for another sample.   The sample time would be programmable and be based upon a flow sensor to ensure that the ocean area covered is consistent for each sample.  The total debris weight would be used to estimate the plastic debris weight.

There would be several versions of the system each with different capabilities. The baseline version would sample only the surface at <5 knots and be towable by small craft say less than 50 ft.  Follow-on versions would be capable of  sampling at greater depths and at higher speeds.   The higher speeds would allow TODLER to operate during normal ocean cruising speeds for small yachts or research vessels.  This could allow a large  amount of data to be taken by volunteers willing to tow the robot.  Automatic data logging would be a useful feature to simplify the tasks of the volunteer.     If proven successful, it might be adapted later for large cargo ships  to take data during normal voyages.     These added capabilities would change the design significantly due to the weight and stress on the towing tether.  However, possibly adding an intermediate small craft like pontoon boat/raft which had the main tether load attached to it could mean the TODLER would have a uniform interface for all its tow boats.

Prototype design driving requirements:


I.1)Towable by a  Wave Glider which can patrol the oceans at speeds from .4 to 1.5 knots using the power of the waves.   The Wave Glider weighs about 200 lbs and displaces a maximum 300 lbs.  If we assume that the drag is proportional to the displacement and we don’t want the Wave Glider to slow down too much.. then perhaps we should keep the TODDS at 30 lb limit and require it to have an aerodynamic shape.

I.2)Portable enough to fit on the Algalita  25ft x50ft ORV .  Perhaps a volume of a large duffel bag including its tow ropes and electronics.

I.3)Max off-board sensor power  13.3v at 3 amps or 40 watts. (Wave Glider driven)


II.1) Initial tow speed capability: 5 knots

II.2)Final tow speed capability TBD knots:   near the maximum speed of the Algalita ORV. (although Manta nets are typically towed at a maximum speed of 2.5 kts we would want the capability to collect plastic on outward and inward journeys without slowing down.  This could drive biomass into the mesh possibly making the scrubbing process more complex.)

II.3)  Net area:  TBD   I would like this to be small to make cleaning easier and to keep the robot volume small.   If it was 10% of the area of a Manta Trawl (209 sqin) this would make it around 20 sqin or the area of a 5 in diameter circle.  To match the ocean area of a manta trawl the tow distance would have to be increased from  about .7 km to 7 km.  If towed by a Wave Glider there could be a series of circular tows made during a voyage that would allow the sample taken to be constrained to a 1 sqkm area.

II.4 Net samples before replacement:

Prototype 40 samples

Wave Glider improvement:  Last 6 months (180 days x 6 samples per day)    ~1000 samples

This might involve having spare nets that can be changed periodically.

II.5  Measure only the wet weight of the sample.

More later:

Is this a viable thing to do??  Your comments are welcome.

Resources relevant to sampling and removal of plastic from the oceans

September 29, 2012

This post will be updated occasionally with links that could be useful in developing concepts for a robotics project to work with Algilita.

relevant Blogs and Scoop it:

Ralph Schneider Design Web site.  Scoop it :  Marine Litter

Vamfun Scoop it: Synthetic Sea Solutions

Marcela Garcia: Marine-Litter

Commercially Available:

Spray glider: This is drone submarine  that is equipped with a CTD (for conductivity, temperature and depth)
that measures temperature, salinity and pressure, as well as an optical sensor
that measures the turbidity, which is related to the biomass in the water.   I might be capable of being adapted to sampling plastic… not sure yet.

Wave glider :   This sensor platform uses the energy of the waves for propulsion.   Solar panels and battery power the electronics.  Has great long term sustainability and can be independently controlled using gps navigation system and satellite links.     Currently used for meteorological data collection and ocean surveillance…but I think it could be easily modified to contain plastic sampling sensors to monitor ocean surface plastic density.

Current Measuring App for IPhone/IPad

The Clean Oceans Project is planning to use this to direct their plastic scimming boat to the heavy debris areas of the bay.   Hopefully this techonolgy can be extended offshore.

The app was developed by researchers at San Francisco State and six other universities and can collect real-time information about surface currents by the Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland Bay Bridge and Richmond Bridge. The app uses Google (GOOG) maps, GPS technology and shore-based radar sensors on Angel Island, Treasure Island, Tiburon, Sausalito and Fort Point in San Francisco.
“We put together what we thought recreational boaters would find helpful so they could see what the currents are going to be,” said Toby Garfield, professor of geosciences and director of the university’s Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies. “The GPS actually shows up in the app. So when you are in the Bay, you can see what the currents are doing.”


The Clean Oceans Project

Nick Drobac, Founder and Executive Director of The Clean Oceans Project, is interviewed by’s Ken Spector.  Featured in the interview is the plastic to oil machine that could help to clean up the world’s oceans including the Northern Pacific Gyre.

Project _ Floating Horizon (Ralph Schneider)

Here is a link to Ralphs ppt.

Marine Drone  Although this doesn’t seem practical for marine debris collection due to the conglomeration of different types of flotsam…It may have some use in the short-term collection of samples under a watchful eye.  Popular Science article .

Here was a post that pointed out some problems with the drone and brought some new ideas about a floating plastic processing island that was self sustaining.

Marine Litter Extraction Project

Boyan Slat conceptual project that is stationary and proports to minimize by_catch of marine life due to the use of booms rather than nets.  He recently gave a TEDxDelft talk.  I have had some correspondence with him re the details of the project.   He claims that the clean-up of the ocean can be greatly accelerated …i.e. from Capt Charles Moores 79000 years to less than 10 years:)    His talk went viral and many news sources picked up his concept and presented it as a feasible method to clean up the gyre plastic.    This sparked a interesting and informative rebuttle by the 5gyres Stiv here   It should be fun to watch  where Boyan’s concept evolves to in the next 5 years.


Pod Project (

The Pod’s shell is made of recycled plastic.   Inside, the Pod features a geometry that draws plastic particles into the chamber and a proprietary mesh that entangles the particles for permanent sequestration.  Moreover, such mesh also absorbs Hydrophobic chemicals.  pod project conceptThe Pod also helps restore the marine biome.  Its exterior shell provides anchor points for biomass to grow and flourish.  This is assisted by the Pod’s porous scrap metal ballast, which releases iron ion nutrients to feed marine life.  Note: biomass growth will increase the base of the food chain and, further, naturally sequester carbon-dioxide.

Therefore, overtime, the each Pod becomes an island sanctuary for new marine life, and it permanently sequesters floating plastic, along with chemical contaminants: toxins that cannot be netted and, thus, are among the greatest threats to the food chain.

degrading Technologies

New Organism Found In Ocean Lives Off Plastic   Now this seems to be the best of all worlds.   An organism that feeds on plastic and hopefully has non toxic waste.   Of all the methods I have come across this trumps them all.   We need an army of these organism and hopefully they can become part of the ocean ecosystem.

Prototyped projects:

Midland High School  Passive scooper …with a great write-up.   This is the kind of write-up that I desire for Grant High School Project.

This project homepage #09-2004 was developed by Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Florida, in response to the 2009-2010 Internet Science and Technology Fair

OpenROV: Open Source Remote Operated Marine Drone

ROV Robot Submariner

Plans available for about $10.

Robotic Jellyfish

Virginia Tech is working on Cryo jellyfish.  It has eight legs and a 5 ft diameter silicon body cover with lots of sensors to monitor the ocean.  Perhaps could be adapted to the plastic pollution problem in some way.

cryo robotic jellyfish

Read the rest of this entry »

Use of Robotics to support Algalita research into the Pacific garbage patch

September 1, 2012

More great videos here:

I finally got to meet Capt Charles Moore the captain of  the research vessel Alguita that has been used by the Algalita Marine Research Institute to collect samples from the Pacific gyre that has 6x more plastic than algae by weight.   He gave a joint talk in Seal Beach with Ed Humes the author of Garbology.  I also bought an autographed copy of  Capt Moore’s book called Plastic Ocean to help support their cause.  I have been a supporting member of the Institute for a few years now because I really like what they are doing.

It has been in the back of my mind to get our robotic students involved some way.   I spoke to Capt. Moore and Bill Francis (their president) to see if they were interested in collaborating.   They said yes and I sent them the following email which had a few positive responses.  If anyone has ideas in this area , let me know.

Email text :>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

oh yeah – the O’side talk involved Gwen and me with Fred Mertz whom we met at the ESRI convention here in SD.  He’s trying to do hyperspectral analysis of the plastic samples.  I need to ping on him to see what progress he has made.

On Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 4:18 PM, Bill Francis, Algalita Marine Research Foundation <> wrote:

Thanks, Nikhil.  Gwen, this represents a really interesting possibility.  Charlie had suggested Nikhil speak with him because of some contacts that were made at the Oceanside event a few weeks back, regarding another possibility for automation.  If you were not in those conversations, you may want to review those with Nikhil.
My thought is that if we can utilize the robotic potential, we can analyze more samples in the same amount of time.  That would allow us to get more and more information, as you have indicated we need, several times, in order to be statistically accurate.  It also engages the very types of students that will advance our cause as they learn about the plastic pollution challenges, and perhaps choose a career in our field.  Because of this, I am also copying Katie; these students could be a wonderful addition to our POPs leadership training in October.
I’d like to give this a priority for evaluation, if we could.
Bill Francis, President, Algalita Marine Research Institute      O: 562-598-4889     C: 562-896-7416
“We will eliminate plastic waste.  Each and every one of us must change the way in which we approach packaging and single use materials.  Our resolve will overcome all obstacles as we do what is right for our oceans and the rest of our world.”
 To:  Dr Nikhil Dave’ and Gwen Latting;
Algalita Marine Research Institute
I spoke with Capt Charles Moore and Bill Francis in Seal Beach the other day at their talk .  He said that Dave’ is supporting Algalita with some work that involves visual categorization I think.  He suggested I contact you to get your ideas.  Also, I am interested in the lab protocols and needs that Gwen may help with.
I mentor two high school robotic teams (1508 Grant High School  and 599 Granada Hills Charter High School) and was looking for possible ways they could leverage their robotic skills to help Algalita and get involved with the environmental community.    The kids build a robotic composter last Spring but I want to get them involved in the plastic reduction cause.
I was thinking a robot can either help collect  samples or process the samples in the lab.
Sampling:  Perhaps  an underwater robot that samples plastic around the mouth of the LA rivers  more often than after large rains might be possible.   It could be moble or stationary.   It would need a good visual inspection sensor that could count particles suspended in the water and distinguish them from non plastic stuff.  We might not have the technology that can do this accurately yet…but I wanted to run it by you.  At Lockheed we developed a laser air data system that used reflected light off atmospheric dust particles to measure air speed.  Is there something like that available for underwater use?
Processing samples in the lab:
Bill said that this  is really where Algalita needs help because lab work is very labor intensive and you only have a few techs.   Perhaps there is something that a robot can do to presort or clean samples to assist the lab techs.
Look forward to hearing from you both,
Chris Siegert
Retired Lockheed Avionics and Control System Engineer.
Mentor for 599 and 1508 Vex/First Robotics teams.