Current SEA News
24 February 2014
HONOLULU – Scientists are revealing how microbes living on floating pieces of plastic marine debris affect the ocean ecosystem, and the potential harm they pose to invertebrates, humans and other animals. New research being presented here today delves deeper into the largely unexplored world of the “Plastisphere” – an ecological community of microbial organisms living on ocean plastic that was first discovered last year.
Read More >
Scientists Discover Thriving Colonies of Microbes in Ocean 'Plastisphere'
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 1, 2013
Scientists have discovered a diverse multitude of microbes colonizing and thriving on flecks of plastic that have polluted the oceans—a vast new human-made flotilla of microbial communities that they have dubbed the “plastisphere.”
In a study recently published online in Environmental Science & Technology, the scientists say the plastisphere represents a novel ecological habitat in the ocean and raises a host of questions: How will it change environmental conditions for marine microbes, favoring some that compete with others? How will it change the overall ocean ecosystem and affect larger organisms? How will it change where microbes, including pathogens, will be transported in the ocean?
The collaborative team of scientists—Erik Zettler from Sea Education Association (SEA), Tracy Mincer from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and Linda Amaral-Zettler from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), all in Woods Hole, Mass.—analyzed marine plastic debris that was skimmed with fine-scale nets from the sea surface at several locations in the North Atlantic Ocean during SEA research cruises. Most were millimeter-sized fragments.
“We’re not just interested in who’s there. We’re interested in their function, how they’re functioning in this ecosystem, how they’re altering this ecosystem, and what’s the ultimate fate of these particles in the ocean,” says Amaral-Zettler. “Are they sinking to the bottom of the ocean? Are they being ingested? If they're being ingested, what impact does that have?”
Using scanning electron microscopy and gene sequencing techniques, they found at least 1000 different types of bacterial cells on the plastic samples, including many individual species yet to be identified. They included plants, algae, and bacteria that manufacture their own food (autotrophs), animals and bacteria that feed on them (heterotrophs), predators that feed on these, and other organisms that establish synergistic relationships (symbionts). These complex communities exist on plastic bits hardly bigger than the head of a pin, and they have arisen with the explosion of plastics in the oceans in the last 60 years.
“The organisms inhabiting the plastisphere were different from those in surrounding seawater, indicating that plastic debris acts as artificial ‘microbial reefs,” says Mincer. “They supply a place that selects for and supports distinct microbes to settle and succeed.”
These communities are likely different from those that settle on naturally occurring floating material such as feathers, wood, and microalgae, because plastics offer different conditions, including the capacity to last much longer without degrading.
On the other hand, the scientists also found evidence that microbes may play a role in degrading plastics. They saw microscopic cracks and pits in the plastic surfaces that they suspect were made by microbes embedded in them, as well as microbes possibly capable of degrading hydrocarbons.
“When we first saw the ‘pit formers’ we were very excited, especially when they showed up on multiple pieces of plastic of different types of resins,” said Zettler, who added that undergraduate students participating in SEA Semester cruises collected and processed the samples. “Now we have to figure out what they are by [genetically] sequencing them and hopefully getting them into culture so we can do experiments.”
The plastic debris also represents a new mode of transportation, acting as rafts that can convey harmful microbes, including disease-causing pathogens and harmful algal species. One plastic sampled they analyzed was dominated by members of the genus Vibrio, which includes bacteria that cause cholera and gastrointestinal maladies.
The project was funded by a National Science Foundation Collaborative grant, a NSF TUES grant, and a Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health Pilot award.
About Marine Biological Laboratory
The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in 1888 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the MBL is an independent, nonprofit corporation.
About Sea Education Association
Sea Education Association (SEA) was founded in 1971 as a nonprofit educational institution, which provides challenging multi-disciplinary academic programs ashore and at sea. Its 12-week SEA Semester program for college undergraduates integrates marine science, maritime literature, history and policy, and practical seamanship with deep-water oceanographic research. Since its founding more than 7,000 students have participated in its programs. For more information, please visit http://www.sea.edu
About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean's role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit http://www.whoi.edu
Read More: Click for More News Articles
SEA Ship Departs On Major Marine Debris Research Cruise
Kara Lavender Law, Principal Investigator
Erik Zettler, Principal Investigator
Emelia DeForce , Chief Scientist
At sea onboard SSV Robert C. Seamans.
Interviews may be arranged via satellite phone.
Sea Education Association Tall Ship Departs On Major Marine Debris Research Cruise
Vessel Undertaking North Pacific Expedition to Study the Effects of Plastic Marine Debris in the Ocean Ecosystem
(San Diego, California – October 2, 2012) A tall ship owned and operated by Sea Education Association (SEA) will depart port tomorrow on a research expedition dedicated to examining the effects of plastic marine debris, including debris generated by the 2011 Japanese tsunami, in the ocean ecosystem.
During their 37-day cruise, the crew of the Woods Hole, Mass.-based sailing oceanographic research vessel Robert C. Seamans will explore a region between San Diego and Honolulu, popularly dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, where high concentrations of plastic debris accumulate. Floating debris washed to sea by the March 2011 tsunami in Japan will also be drifting in the area, based on predictions from computer models and recent observations.
Updates on scientific findings and notable events will be provided by journalist Jonathan Waterman for National Geographic at http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/ as part of the Society's "Ocean Views" news, and daily on the expedition’s website at http://www.sea.edu/plastics, including video footage and slideshows of the region of the North Pacific where SEA scientists expect to find plastic and other floating debris. In addition to measuring plastic debris, scientists onboard the expedition will be studying the communities of organisms living on floating plastic, from microorganisms to larger animals such as barnacles and crabs, to determine whether or not this debris is a vector for invasive or pathogenic species.
“This expedition will be one of the first to unravel the impact that plastic pollution is having on our ocean’s ecosystem. SEA has over 25 years of experience sampling marine debris and, using this knowledge, we will further investigate the health of our marine ecosystem,” said Emelia DeForce, the expedition’s chief scientist. “Those onboard will have a productive and eye-opening experience with long lasting effects. We will extend this experience to the public at large through our outreach program that will take place during and after the expedition, with the goal to raise awareness of the impact that this long-lived pollutant is having in our oceans.”
This expedition, which will follow a 2500-nautical mile cruise track extending more than 1,500 nautical miles west of San Diego, expands upon SEA’s 25-year history of measuring plastics, tar, and other marine debris in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is funded by Sea Education Association, with funding from the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Foundation for outreach, and support from Patagonia and Elemental Herbs.
The SSV Robert C. Seamans is a 134-foot brigantine-rigged sailing oceanographic research vessel. The 38-person crew includes graduate students, educators, an environmental policy analyst, medical professionals, writers, a business professional, scientists, and professional mariners, most of whom are alumni of SEA’s core academic program, SEA Semester.
To learn more about Sea Education Association’s mission and programs, please visit www.sea.edu. Downloadable images of the SSV Robert C. Seamans are available at http://www.sea.edu/ships_crew/seamans.
Sea Education Association (SEA) was founded in 1971 as a nonprofit educational institution, which provides challenging multi-disciplinary academic programs ashore and at sea. Its 12-week SEA Semester program for college undergraduates integrates marine science, maritime literature, history and policy, and practical seamanship with deep-water oceanographic research. Since its founding more than 7,000 students have participated in its programs.
SEA Remembers Ned Cabot, Beloved Friend & Trustee
We mourn the loss of Dr. Edmund B. “Ned” Cabot, a beloved member of the SEA family, on September 1, 2012.
Ned was dedicated to his love for the sea and was deeply committed to Sea Education Association (SEA) and its mission of teaching young people about the oceans. He had been a trustee of SEA since 1992, serving as Board Chair from 2001 until 2006 and Vice Chair of the Board from 2006 to 2012. He also served as Chair of the Committee on Governance and Chair of the Development Committee. His generosity to and support for SEA has been instrumental in its growth and excellence in education.
He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Harvard College and then Harvard Medical School. Dr. Cabot practiced as a surgeon at Brigham & Women’s Hospital for more than twenty-five years and was a member of the Harvard Medical School Faculty. After retiring from the practice of medicine he devoted himself to philanthropy and service. In addition to his devotion to SEA, he was active in Sailors for the Sea, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
We will remember fondly his determined dedication to SEA: aside from his generosity, his moral and emotional support never waned. He was always interested in how committees were working for the common good. He had a wonderful ability to identify others who could share his passion, and then bring them into SEA's fold. This enthusiasm was contagious, and we have benefited tremendously from his oversight, foresight, and energy for all these years.
The trustees, overseers, faculty, staff and crew of SEA send heartfelt condolences to Ned’s family. He will be greatly missed.
SEA Featured in Sargasso Sea Alliance’s August Newsletter
August 13, 2012
SEA had double exposure in the August 2012 newsletter of the Sargasso Sea Alliance. First, we were highlighted as a collaborator on the cover of their latest "Science Case" report. Second, SSA's Executive Director Dr. David Freestone's visit to SEA as an expert panelist was mentioned as well. Dr. Freestone was one of several panelists who participated in the final student symposium of our SEA Semester: Marine Biodiversity & Conservation program this spring in Woods Hole.
"Dr. David Freestone, SSA Executive Director, participated in the Sea Education Association's Marine Biodiversity and Conservation Symposium on 28 June 2012 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Student presentations on both science and policy aspects of the Sargasso Sea were discussed, opening lines of communication for further collaboration between the Alliance and SEA."
Access the full SSA newsletter here.
Honoring John Bullard with the Establishment of an Award
Honoring John Bullard with the Establishment of an Award, in His Name, to be Given for Leadership in Promoting Diversity in Woods Hole
June 25, 2012
The Woods Hole Diversity Initiative (WHDI) is honoring John K. Bullard for his leadership in the effort to increase diversity in the Woods Hole science community by establishing an award in his honor, and presenting him with the first award. The John K. Bullard Diversity Award will be given every other year to individuals who carry on the spirit of John’s work toward making the community more welcoming and more inclusive of individuals from all backgrounds.
John Bullard’s commitment to diversity began long before he arrived in Woods Hole as President of the Sea Education Association (SEA). As mayor of New Bedford from 1986 to 1992, and later as the head of the first federal Office of Sustainable Development during the Clinton administration, John tirelessly devoted himself to the mission of diversifying not only his organization, but his professional community. During his 10 years at SEA, John Bullardmade diversity a priority every year, actively identifying and creating opportunities for SEA to become more diverse.
As presidentof SEA, John was the driving force in the formation of the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative. He worked to bring the Woods Hole institutions together to address the issue of diversity, and he articulated the vision in the 2004 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that established the Diversity Initiative. Before and after the signing of the 2004 MOU, John relentlessly encouraged his fellow CEO’s to devote time, energy and resources to making the community more diverse.
John Bullard is the only DI member to also serve on the Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC), the working arm of the WHDI that developsdocuments and programsto fulfill the MOU’s vision of diversity and inclusion. John brought his considerable political skills to the effort – he was the master at finding common ground when committee members from the various partner institutions had different visions and differing institutional needs.
He brought imagination and dogged determination to the effort to first develop a strategy for diversifying the scientific community (The Roadmap to Diversity produced bythe DAC in 2005), and then to bring to life programs envisioned in the Roadmap.
John stepped up in the early stages of planning for the Partnership Education Program (PEP), and brought his institution fully into the effort. Under his leadership, SEA has provided financial management, student services, and a campus home for the PEP program.
The WHDI recognizes John both for his efforts in the big picture (i.e., envisioning a village-wide effort and working tirelessly to bring the institutions together on the cause of diversity) and for his day-to-day, person-to-person efforts (as, for instance, when he spends his Saturdays giving PEP students guided tours of New Bedford).
The WHDI members and the DAC members appreciate John’s leadership, his energy, and his companionship in the quest to make the Woods Hole science community more diverse. When we discuss diversity in Woods Hole, John is always careful to note that while we have made some progress, we nonetheless have a long ways to go. Acknowledging that much work remains to be done, we can say in 2012 that we have made real progress toward becoming a more welcoming and inclusive community, and that John K. Bullard has been a key figure in moving the diversity effort forward.
Woods Hole Diversity Initiative
Six Woods Hole Science Institutions Refocus Diversity Efforts, Renew Memorandum of Understanding to Create ‘Pathways of Opportunity’
June 25, 2012
The leaders of the six scientific and educational organizations in Woods Hole renewed their commitment to building a diverse and inclusive scientific community by signing an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) June 25 at a ceremony at the Sea Education Association. The MOU was first signed in July 2004, and while the leadership at all six institutions has changed since then, the group’s commitment to support the Woods Hole Scientific Community Diversity Initiative has strengthened over time.
The Woods Hole Diversity MOU was the first MOU signed by the six scientific organizations on any topic. Its renewal reaffirms the institutional commitments to work together to attract and retain a more diverse workforce, one that represents the changing demographics of the nation and the international community.
“We believe that we must create ‘pathways of opportunity’ that will attract people from underrepresented groups by showing that the Woods Hole scientific and educational community has opportunities beginning with primary education and leading to higher education, post graduate work, research and lifetime careers, both in Woods Hole and in the global scientific community,” the agreement states in part. “We believe that homogeneity among people is self-perpetuating and that in order to increase diversity, we will have to increase our efforts beyond what they are now.”
The group acknowledged that significant barriers lie between them and their goals but reaffirmed their determination to identify those barriers and assemble the necessary resources to overcome them.
The signatories to the MOU are the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the Sea Education Association, the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center of the United States Geological Survey, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Woods Hole Research Center.
Dr. Susan Avery, president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and current chairman of the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative (WHDI), presided at the signing ceremony, attended by the leaders of the six institutions. Also in attendance were members of the Diversity Advisory Committee, comprising representatives from each of the WHDI member institutions, and the 2012 Partnership Education Program (PEP) students.
The PEP program is a project of the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative. Sixty students from 39 colleges and universities in the United States have participated in the Woods Hole PEP program, now in its fourth year. Thirteen students are enrolled in this summer’s program which runs May 31 through August 10; they represent six colleges and universities that have not participated in previous years as well as four institutions that have previously been represented. Students had an opportunity to speak with the lab directors about their summer projects, how they learned about the PEP program, and why they chose to study science.
The MOU signing was then announced to the SEA Board of Trustees, which was holding its annual meeting in a nearby room.
A surprise presentation was made at the meeting as John Bullard, outgoing president of SEA, was honored by his fellow lab directors as the first recipient of an award named in his honor, The John K. Bullard Diversity Award. John Bullard was recognized for his leadership, vision and commitment to diversity in the Woods Hole science community and for his role in forming the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative. The award will be given every other year to an individual in the Woods Hole community who plays a significant role in making the community more inclusive and more welcoming to people of all backgrounds. Bullard was presented a plaque, and a second plaque with the name of all the recipients will be kept at the current recipient’s institution.
The goals of the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative are to provide advice to member organizations about developing diversity activities, to sponsor activities, and to serve as a resource for employees, students and postdoctoral researchers within the community’s research, learning, and work environment regardless of their race, religion, color, creed, gender, age, national origin, citizenship status, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, socio-economic status, or veteran status.
A particular focus of the WHDI is to increase participation of underrepresented minorities as defined by the U.S. government, which includes African Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics and Latinos, on the staff and in the education programs of the WHDI institutions.
Another major goal is cooperatively to undertake recruitment, retention and mentoring programs that will result in a diverse group of students, employees and postdoctoral researchers in ocean sciences, biological sciences, geosciences, ocean engineering and marine and environmental policy activities undertaken by the Woods Hole scientific and educational organizations.
SEA Receives Grant from the Davis Educational Foundation
May 4th, 2012
A grant awarded by the Davis Educational Foundation will support the project Enhancing a multidisciplinary curriculum with innovative cross disciplinary teaching. This project aims to develop a new cadre of teaching materials that cross SEA’s core disciplines of oceanography, nautical science and maritime studies and set the framework for future scientists, educators and policy makers to adeptly engage in interdisciplinary and collaborative problem solving.
The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elizabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc.
Over the next two years, the $66,556 grant will support:
Creation of teaching modules for the classic program, SEA Semester: Ocean Exploration, that will excite students to learn about the marine environment by placing it in the context of important societal issues.
Engagement of all faculty through a workshop to generate essential concepts an skills, areas of overlap and potential module topics.
Creation of at least 10 innovative, dynamic modules by project leaders.
Implementation of the modules and convening of a “Best Practices Symposium” to share experiences related to their use.
SEA Oceanography Faculty, Drs. Amy Siuda (appointed 2007), Jeff Schell (appointed 2003) and Deb Goodwin (appointed 2010), will be responsible for project leadership and implementation.
Wind pushes plastics deeper into oceans, driving trash estimates up
April 25, 2012
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON - While working on a research sailboat gliding over glassy seas in the Pacific Ocean, oceanographer Giora Proskurowski noticed something new: The water was littered with confetti-size pieces of plastic debris, until the moment the wind picked up and most of the particles disappeared.
After taking samples of water at a depth of 16 feet (5 meters), Proskurowski, a researcher at the University of Washington, discovered that wind was pushing the lightweight plastic particles below the surface. That meant that decades of research into how much plastic litters the ocean, conducted by skimming only the surface, may in some cases vastly underestimate the true amount of plastic debris in the oceans, Proskurowski said.
Reporting in Geophysical Research Letters this month, Proskurowski and co-lead author Tobias Kukulka, University of Delaware, said that data collected from just the surface of the water commonly underestimates the total amount of plastic in the water by an average factor of 2.5.
In high winds the volume of plastic could be underestimated by a factor of 27.
Massachusetts ocean planning turns political
October 5, 2011
WASHINGTON — The president of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole brought his expertise on the seas to Capitol Hill Tuesday to support the National Ocean Policy.
John Bullard spoke before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Tuesday, basing his testimony on his experience in assisting the state draft the Massachusetts Ocean Plan in 2010.
He said the ocean will be looked at in the future for critical new services — such as wind energy — while traditional uses such as commercial fishing continue.
"We in New England, like other parts of the country, are reliant on our coasts and oceans for jobs, recreation and the very fabric of our coastal communities," Bullard said.
"Ocean planning "» is a sensible approach that will enable new and existing uses to thrive together," he said.
Statement of John Bullard, President, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole MA. (PDF)
SEA Faculty Receive NSF Grant for Biodiversity and Conservation Policy Research
A group of SEA faculty and collaborators have just received a substantial National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education, Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) program grant for their project Biodiversity in the global ocean - incorporating molecular biology in field-based approaches to undergraduate studies of marine conservation. This project aims to improve the effectiveness of undergraduate teaching and learning in science through a new problem/project-based, field-intensive curriculum that integrates scientific research with its application in the construction of public policy.
Over the next two years, the $200,000 grant will support:
SEA faculty during curriculum development for the inaugural SEA Semester: Marine Biodiversity & Conservation.
Teaching and research collaborations with outside experts in the fields of marine biodiversity and conservation
A teaching assistantship for an SEA Assistant Scientist
Expansion of SEA's research capabilities through the purchase of new laboratory equipment for molecular analyses
Dissemination of project outcomes at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals
The project team includes Drs. Amy Siuda, Erik Zettler, and John Jensen (SEA); Dr. Caleb McClennen (Wildlife Conservation Society, Director of Marine Programs, SEA class W-144); and Dr. Linda Amaral-Zettler (MBL).
SEA Semester: Marine Biodiversity & Conservation will be offered for the first time in Spring 2012. During the program, Dr. Dan Distel of Ocean Genome Legacy (OGL; Ipswich, MA) will conduct a 2-day Molecular Analysis Workshop for faculty and students. Additionally, OGL will barcode and archive samples from the students' Caribbean to Woods Hole research voyage. External evaluation of the project/curriculum success will be conducted by Dr. Jim McDonald (Central Michigan University).
To request information on Marine Biodiversity & Conservation, or any of SEA's programs, click here.
SEA Featured On Channel One News
Channel One News, the leading television news network for young people nationwide, profiled SEA's plastics research voyage in their series "Our Disposable Lives". Watch now
Crew of disabled sailboat rescued 900 miles southeast of Hilo
Crew and Students of the Robert C. Seamans come to aid of vessel in distress
HONOLULU – The Coast Guard and the crew of a good Samaritan vessel assisted the crew of a sailboat 900 miles southeast of Hilo Friday after the ship's sails frayed and fuel began to run low.
Coast Guard search and rescue watchstanders from the Honolulu's Joint Rescue Coordination Center received a distress call at 7:40 a.m. Friday via satellite phone from the captain of the 43-foot sailboat Kehaulani. The 66 year-old captain and a 63 year-old woman were the only crew aboard the sailboat. Read More...
SEA Semester Alumnus Nominated for Position of Chief Scientist at NOAA
White House Press Release
August 4, 2010
WASHINGTON - Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key administration posts:
Scott Doney, Chief Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce (note: SEA Semester alumnus)
Nancy E. Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, Democracy Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Bureau, USAID
Kevin Nealer, Member, Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation
Chase T. Rogers, Member, State Justice Institute
Wilfredo Martinez, Member, State Justice Institute
President Obama said, "Our nation will be well served by the talent and expertise these individuals will bring to their new roles. I am grateful they have agreed to serve in this administration, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead."
SEA Research Published in the Journal Science
Despite growing awareness of the problem of plastic pollution in the world's oceans, little solid scientific information existed to illustrate the nature and scope of the issue. This week, a team of researchers from Sea Education Association (SEA), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and the University of Hawaii (UH) published a study of plastic marine debris based on data collected over 22 years by SEA undergraduate students in the latest issue of the journal Science.
A previously undefined expanse of the western North Atlantic has been found to contain high concentrations of plastic debris, comparable to those observed in the region of the Pacific commonly referred to as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch".
More than 64,000 individual plastic pieces were collected at 6100 locations that were sampled yearly over the course of the study. A surface plankton net was used to collect plastic debris as well as biological organisms at each station. The highest concentrations of plastic were observed in a region centered at 32°N (roughly the latitude of Atlanta, GA) and extending from 22-38°N latitude. Numerical model simulations by Nikolai Maximenko (UH) explain why surface currents cause the plastic to accumulate in this region.