By: Maaike Smits (Trainee Masterskip), Lucas Visscher (Trainee Masterskip), and Jan Joris Midavaine (Plastic Researcher Masterskip)
16 June 2016
During the last weeks of the Atlantic crossing a planned ship takeover took place. The trainees took over the roles of crew and so Maaike Smits and Lucas Visscher became plastic researchers for four days. This was an interesting time for the researchers since a sample taken using the Manta Trawl was analysed and a presentation was given at the office of our partners of the Flemish Marine Institute (VLIZ), partners in the European Sea Change project.
Maaike (15) and Lucas (15) became immediately enthusiastic when students who had participated in the Masterskip programme in previous years presented their experiences at their school. Maaike said: “We wanted to experience it ourselves, dissect fish and to have practical lessons on biology. The ships takeover offered excellent opportunities to put into practice the things we learned”. The crew sailed from the Isle of Wright to Oostende allowing to visit our partners. On Wednesday 20 April they took the free ferry from the city center to the office of VLIZ. Jan Seys, head of communications at VLIZ gave a presentation on the sea. Also the new researchers Maaike and Lucas gave a presentation on science on board the Wylde Swan. Lucas said: “We presented our experiences, the ocean and plastic pollution. It was exiting, but also a lot of fun to be a researcher and presenting for a large audience, including people you do not know.”
In the last days of the trip, the research team analysed the first sample they took which was close to, but still within, the outside the limits of the North Atlantic Garbage Patch as predicted by Maximenko et al. (2012). Using a tweezers and a sieve they looked for the plastics. In total 23 micro plastics were found. Using this sample to calculate the amount of plastics per square meter ocean we used the following calculation. The net filters the 15 centimeters top layer and is 85 centimeters wide, which means ≈ 0,128m2. First we calculated the miles, using the coordinates and Pythagoras: square root 8 means we towed approximately 2,83 miles. 1 mile is the perimeter of the earth 40.000 kilometer / 360 degrees / 60 minutes ≈ 1851,85 meter. We took this number to calculate the towed distance in meter ≈ 5237,83. The amount of water which went through the net is 5237,83*0,128≈667,82m3. 23 pieces of plastic were found, which means 23/667,82≈0,034 pieces of plastics per m3. Or 23/5237,83/85*100≈0,0052 pieces of plastic each square meter in the top 15 centimeter ocean. Which is 5200 per square kilometer.
This number appears to be low. However if we use our imagination and link this area with something we know, like a soccer pitch, it might not seem so low. The size of an official soccer field is 68x105 meters. Now imagine the field is flooded with 1 meter ocean water. This amount of water would contain 2458 tiny pieces of plastic. Is this a significant number? It certainly is, especially when you consider the fact that about 60 years ago we still had relatively plastic-free oceans. Time has passed since then and a lot has changed. Urgent action has to be taken to rethink the use of a plastic and start to limit its production and re-use waste.
No. of plastic pieces found / (√(∆ N or S Coordinates)2 + (∆ W or E Coordinates)2) × P of the earth ÷ 360˚ ÷ 60 minutes × fishing net hole in m2
23 / (√(23˚37N - 23˚35N)2 + (64˚53W - 64˚51W)2) × 40.000 ÷ 360 ÷ 60 × 0,15 × 0,85
|Start Trawling||23° 35N - 64°53W|
|End Trawling||23° 37N - 64° 51W|
|Local Time||17:49 - 18:40|
|Time Trawling||51 minutes|
|Wind Speed||0 Beaufort|
|Cod-end ID number||4198|
Maaike Smits and Lucas Visscher calculating the amount of plastics in the Atlantic Ocean
Masterskip students analysing microplastics
23 pieces of plastics of cod-end 4198
Acknowledgements (by Jan Joris Midavaine):
Last but not least I would like to end this last blog with a big thank you to all of those who made it possible to join Masterskip Wylde Swan and those who made the research on plastic marine debris into a success. First of all I would like to thank my family and friends for their support. Jan Seys, Evy Copejans and Mieke Sterken of the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), Tanja Calis of AquaTT and other partners within the European project Sea Change. Ianthe Dickhoff and Francesco Ferrari of The Ocean Cleanup. Jeroen Dagevos of Plastic Soup Foundation and Marius Smit of Plastic Whale and our new friends João Frias and Isabel Gallagher of the Azores for their input. I want to thank Jeroen Peters captain of the Wylde Swan for taking the responsibility to bring 30 trainees and 16 crew members from St. Martin cross the Atlantic to Rotterdam. Besides, the crossing would not have been such a great experience without the complete crew and enthusiasm of the trainees.