Voyage To The Plastic Island Of Garbage

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 4, 2009 3:02 pm

_46155144_090728111255_babarco-1.jpgFrom Reuters:

LOS ANGELES, Aug 3 (Reuters) – Marine scientists from California are venturing this week to the middle of the North Pacific for a study of plastic debris accumulating across hundreds of miles (km) of open sea dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

A research vessel carrying a team of about 30 researchers, technicians and crew members embarked on Sunday on a three-week voyage from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based at the University of California at San Diego.

When Shifting Baselines announced the Rotten Jellyfish Awards for the top ten worst ocean decline stories of 2003, this artificial ‘plastic’ island came in at number 7. But in all seriousness, ocean currents have amassed so much garbage in the Pacific that there’s a collection of floating refuse estimated to be larger than Texas.

In other words, it’s past time for us to start to pay attention to this environmental disaster. You bet I’ll be following along

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservation, Marine Science

Comments (16)

  1. Is the research vessel really a three-master?

  2. Erasmussimo

    150 million years from now, when Rodentia Sapiens extends its mining operations to the deep ocean, they will discover the biggest ore body of a high-energy mineral rich in complex hydrocarbons. Having discovered smaller ore bodies with similar constitution, they will engage in furious debate as to whether it was created by natural forces or by God (who has a long snout and whiskers). (Oh, and their favorite cartoon character will be Mickey Monkey.)

  3. @1 William Furr

    Is the research vessel really a three-master?

    The ship pictured is the Kaisei, which left San Francisco today.

  4. Slowly But Surly

    Off topic; the Pfizer ads currently on the Discovery blogs (top and/or top right with annoying video) are evil — don’t click on/or even hover over it, as that will bring up a large dialog whose ‘X’ (close) control links to a full page add! I complained to the webmaster, no response.

  5. Blogger

    Surly, you need to use FireFox with Adblock plus.

    The only ad I see on this page is for the unscientific america book and’s energy forum.

    Sweet ship!

  6. Al

    Can you see it on google maps?

  7. Fitz

    So is there any evidence that an “artificial ‘plastic’ island” actually exists?

  8. Lowell

    Fitz, evidently that’s just part of effective science communication. Sometimes you have to make stuff up to get the hoi polloi interested.

  9. wjv


    There is no “island” of plastic garbage, by which I mean one that you could presumably step onto and hang out there.

    There is however an area of ocean roughly the size of Texas in which if you were to scoop up water you would invariably collect several grams of small plastic debris, ranging in size from microns to bouys and tangles of net (several meters wide).

    So don’t think of it as an island, but rather a texas sized plastic film resting on the ocean’s surface.

  10. If the ocean currents are going to concentrate it, it sounds like a good opportunity to scoop it up and dispose of it safely.


  11. James Randolph

    I have read several articles on this, and my skeptecism is on the decline I admit. The theme of all of the articles that I have read thus far however seems to be focused on what thy gyre actually is, where it is, and if it in fact “is”. Do you guys know of any serious agencies/endeavours to get started on either cleaning this mess up or figuring out how to get started cleaning it up? As a fish eater myself, I am very concerned and would like to help.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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