**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
The 5Gyres Institute is on a mission to educate the world about the downside of its reliance on single-use plastic. The Institute documents the prevalence of marine plastic pollution in major oceans around the globe by traveling to the large, circulating, oceanic systems called gyres, which tend to collect floating plastic.
In June, I joined a team from the 5Gyres Institute on a sailing expedition to document changes in the density of plastic pollution between the sub-tropical gyre and sub-polar gyre in the North Atlantic Ocean. A few months before the voyage, staff at 5Gyres had inquired about my graduate work and the methodologies I used to investigate beach litter in the Monterey Bay region and subsequently they strongly encouraged me to apply to join their next expedition from Bermuda to Iceland.
Bermuda happens to be located in the middle of a sub-tropical gyre and I was shocked to see the large quantity of plastic fragments deposited and actively stranding on a beach as we pulled up to the beach survey sites on moped scooters. Organizations such as the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and volunteer stewards with Keep Bermuda Beautiful were happy to work with the 5Gyres team to conduct surveys, even lending us a small boat to help get the job done.
After wrapping up the beach surveys, we departed on the sailing vessel the Sea Dragon from St. George, Bermuda. The crew was made up of 14 volunteers with various backgrounds in environmental conservation, all eager to meet the challenge of reducing plastic pollution. Using three separate trawls; a surface manta trawl which comprised of a 4 foot rectangular metal mouth piece and 15 foot net; a surface high speed trawl which was a smaller version of the manta; and a multi-level trawl which sampled multiple depths below the sea surface, we found numerous pieces of plastic just a few miles out from Bermuda. In all, the research expedition took 20 days and a total of 37 trawls were deployed from Bermuda to the harbor in Reykjavik, Iceland. I achieved my goal of seeing the extent of ocean plastic pollution firsthand and observed that nearly every single trawl sample yielded plastic particles or pieces. I also found out that the ocean is vast beyond description, scary, thrilling, sacred, and deserves to be respected and protected.