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.


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

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