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SEA Currents: News

July 30, 2015

Upcoming Cross-Pacific Swim Supports SEA Semester Science

Anne Broache,

SEA Semester

Above: Ben Lecomte, who will soon attempt to swim across the Pacific, learned about ocean plastic measurement approaches from Dr. Kara Lavender Law, Dr. Erik Zettler, and research assistant Jessica Donohue at SEA Semester's Woods Hole campus this week. Below: Ben practices picking plastic in the SEA Semester lab.

When Ben Lecomte dives into water off Tokyo, Japan in September and attempts to swim across the entire Pacific Ocean, he won’t only be pursuing a world-record-breaking feat of athleticism.

Ben says the swim is simply a way to get people’s attention; his real goal is to raise public awareness about the ocean and threats to the marine environment. That is something that he and SEA have in common. Ben and his support team will be partnering with SEA scientists to add to our extensive body of research on ocean plastics pollution.  

The French native and his six-member support crew are collaborating with Sea Education Association oceanographers Dr. Kara Lavender Law and Dr. Erik Zettler to measure microplastics along the 5,500-mile track.

Measuring Microplastics from Toyko to San Francisco

Ben won’t be doing the sampling and sorting himself, of course—swimming about eight hours per day will be more than enough to keep the 48-year-old busy. But the sailing vessel, Rolano, that will travel alongside him, serving as his sleeping and eating location between stints in the water, will also tow a neuston net that skims the water’s surface daily.

Much like on SEA Semester voyages, his crew will pick through the nets’ contents for tiny pieces of plastic, collect them in vials, and log their findings. They will eventually send the samples and data back to us, adding to our 15 years of data from the Pacific Ocean and our knowledge about the distribution, degradation, and ultimate fate of plastics in the ocean. They will also set aside special plastic samples that we and our collaborators at Marine Biological Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will analyze as part of ongoing work on the presence of microbial communities on plastics, dubbed the “Plastisphere.”

Ben, who became the first person to swim across the Atlantic without a kickboard in 1998, expects his upcoming aquatic journey to California to take five to six months.

For More on Ben's Big Swim

You can track his progress through his website and Facebook page, and learn more about his impressive journey through The Longest Swim YouTube channel.

Categories: News, • Topics: research  plastics  research at sea • (0) Comments
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