About the Expedition
Sea Education Association (SEA) conducted the first federally-funded research expedition dedicated solely to examining the accumulation of plastic debris in the North Atlantic Ocean. Beginning on June 10, 2010, the Plastics at SEA: North Atlantic Expedition expanded upon 25 years’ worth of data previously collected by SEA that reveals a region of extensive plastic pollution in a narrow latitude band in the western North Atlantic Ocean.
This trip explored an area southeast of Bermuda that is an extension of that plastic debris field. It is perhaps the Atlantic Ocean’s version of the region of the eastern North Pacific Ocean dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
This expedition is a natural extension of the more than two-decade-long effort to measure plastic debris by SEA students and staff. First described by former SEA scientist R. Jude Wilber in Oceanus magazine in 1987, floating plastic debris has been collected by several thousand undergraduate students who hand-pick, count, and archive tiny pieces of plastic collected in plankton nets, amassing an unrivaled dataset describing the extent of plastic pollution in the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans.
SEA has catalogued and archived more than 100,000 individual plastic pieces since 1986. We are currently studying the material to understand the ultimate fate of plastics in the ocean. SEA is committed to the highest scientific standards so that this research can better inform the public and policy makers on the role humans play in the present and future of the oceans.
This expedition was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program and Sea Education Association, and was conducted in collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Woods Hole Sea Grant. The Henry L. and Grace Doherty Foundation and the American Chemistry Council provided additional funding to support educational outreach for this project.
The cruise, which ended on July 14, 2010, took place on the SSV Corwith Cramer, SEA’s 134-foot brigantine-rigged sailing oceanographic research vessel. The crew consisted of 11 professional mariners and 22 additional participants, most of them SEA Semester alumni.
The expedition followed a 3,800 nautical mile saw-toothed cruise track extending more than 1,000 nautical miles east of Bermuda.
Kara Lavender Law, Principal Investigator
Jan Wagner, Media Relations