Scripps plays role in national research of sea trash

Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla will count plastic particles that were collected during an October voyage by scientists studying the impact of debris on marine creatures and humans.

Those on the expedition - sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - found the plastic and other items in the "great Pacific garbage patch." The Texas-sized mass of floating objects in north Pacific Ocean has attracted interest from researchers worldwide, including some in Indonesia who joined the NOAA voyage.

Scientists from Scripps, based at the University of California San Diego, have done their own research on the vortex of plastic and have talked about plans to search for plastic in the South Pacific Ocean. The northern gyre has included everything from detergent bottles to toothbrushes, though most of the items are microscopic.

Besides plastic, scientists on the October trip collected samples of plankton, small organisms that may have consumed plastic bits. The effort was intended to fill gaps in data from parts of the Pacific Ocean, such as the stretch between Guam and Hawaii.
"We need samples in these areas to better describe the diversity and distribution of plankton, so we may detect changes and better understand the plankton communities," said Michael Ford, a chief NOAA scientist.

After Scripps tallies the plastic pieces, NOAA scientists in Seattle will test them for chemicals such as the pesticide DDT and BPA, a substance used to make plastics. Both are considered harmful to living organisms.

This month, another group of researchers will embark on a separate journey that also will involve plastic pollution in the ocean.

Experts from the Santa Monica-based 5 Gyres Institute will sail from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town, South Africa, to show "you can't cross an ocean today without finding plastic pollution," said Anna Cummins, an institute co-founder.

Members of that team also hope to study whether the plastic poses harm to marine life.

Source: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/nov/03/scripps-analyzing-plankton-samples-pacific-garbage/

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