School Email Exchange

What is the most interesting thing you have found in a plastic sample?

Posted on October 29 2012

Question submitted by King Philip Regional High School

I asked the SEA science staff and shipmates doing research on plastics to answer this question:

The small size of the plastic pieces, in terms of total numbers, and the soccer ball-designed tether ball were most interesting to Tommy Wotten.

This soccer ball-designed tether ball just picked out of the ocean was found with some Japanese debris.  It has the beginnings of its own ecosystem with biofilm and gooseneck barnacles growing on it.

Mike Gil found the number of gooseneck barnacles on the first buoy we brought aboard shocking.  Barnacles grew on top of each other, creating chains of up to five with other organisms living on top of them.

Planes crabs and a sea slug are some of the organisms Mike found living among the chains of gooseneck barnacles attached to the first float we brought aboard.

Planes crabs and a sea slug are some of the organisms Mike Gil found living among the chains of gooseneck barnacles attached to the first float we brought aboard.

Kristen Mitchell was surprised by the amount of plastic in the windrow and how much of it consisted of identifiable objects, such as a toothbrush and bottles.

Greg Boyd thinks the number of microplastics and the size of zooplankton are interesting.  To the naked eye some of the blue plastic pieces look just like a species of copepod the same color in the sample.

Katy Hunter thought finding a piece of macroplastic with a limpet and two types of algae known to live in intertidal zones out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean surprising.

Chrissy Dykeman was interested in the amount of plastic found in the windrow tow.  By putting a dip net through the water next to the boat it was caked with small pieces of plastic.  Another time she caught a big squid in a neuston tow.

For Zora McGinnis, who is a marine debris surveyor, the most interesting thing was a Cookie Monster inner tube and a “ghost net”, unfortunately too big for us to bring aboard.  It had a blue sphere, styrofoam float and trash in it.

Marina Garland, who is counting microplastics 5 mm in size or smaller, has found it interesting that she has found these tiny pieces of plastic in every sample.  They are so small she can’t tell what product they came from except for one tiny sliver of a black plastic bag.

Chief scientist Emelia DeForce’s most interesting item is a small child’s ball possibly from Japan, which is relatively new and had an entire ecosystem living on it.

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