5 Gyres Institute / Algalita Marine Research Foundation Expedition to the Japanese Tsunami Debris Field
This expedition will depart from Japan just over 1 year after the 3-11-2011 tsunami hit. The Sea Dragon team we will arc northeast to the Japan Tsunami Debris Field, then sail into Maui, Hawaii.
Estimates of ten’s of thousands of tons of debris washed away from the coastline of Japan on March 11th, 2011 after an earthquake occurred offshore, resulting in the worst tsunami on record in that country. The material infrastructure in a developed country was carried out to sea, including cars, boats, homes and also many victims. One year later we will expect to find the field of floating debris to be half-way across the North Pacific Ocean. We will conduct multiple transects through this area to survey the condition and type of debris, as well as the rate of growth of marine organisms and presence of invasive species.
“We’ll be searching for large debris from the tsunami, but also skimming the ocean surface to better understand the quantity and distribution of plastic pollution throughout the North Pacific Gyre,” says Marcus Eriksen, Executive Director of the 5 Gyres Institute, who will lead the expedition. “We suspect that the tsunami has generated plenty of debris, but knowing the precise origin and date of the disaster, we can study how materials degrade, persist and transport invasive organisms in the marine environment.”
This expedition is in partnership with the 5 Gyres Institute
and Algalita Marine Research Foundation
. Scientists, educators and adventure-seekers are being offered the opportunity to join the Sea Dragon team on two phases of this marine debris expedition. The first, through the Western North Pacific Gyre
. The second, to the Field of Debris from the 3-11-2011 Japanese Tsunami, as outlined above.
Four organizations; 5 Gyres Institute, Pangaea Explorations, Algalita Marine Research Foundation and the University of Hawaii, will collaborate to travel over 7,000 miles to study the impacts of plastic pollution and tsunami debris in the marine environment. These expedition aboard the Sea Dragon will give participants a direct role in advancing research into one of our time’s most pressing environmental concerns.
The expedition is open to anyone, regardless of sailing experience. A total of 13 people will be on board the ship, Sea Dragon, including four professional crewmembers. On this voyage, new crewmembers will earn their sea legs and rough hands hauling in lines and hoisting sails, but they will also be doing research side-by-side with scientists, taking part in all aspects of the expedition, from operating a trawl to collecting micro-plastic bits to hauling aboard larger items from the tsunami.
In the end we will better answer some vital questions about marine pollution. We’ll better understand the fate of debris washed out to sea, rates of colonization by marine life, and the ability of plastic to transport invasive organisms from one continent to another. We’ll study microplastics in particular to understand the spatial distribution across the North Pacific, as well as the pollutants that absorb into plastic particles.