Sunday, April 6, 2014

Plane to see . . . .

Satellite image of debris in the open-ocean
For over three weeks the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 has been sobering not only for the plane and people that we haven't found, but also for what has been found - tons of manmade debris covering the ocean surface.  It is plain to see why there is an abundance of debris since the oceans are down hill from everywhere, rivers transport the debris in them out to sea then combines with debris either lost or discarded at sea, so all it CAN do is accumulate.   It is estimated that every year 6.4 million tonnes of manmade debris joins that which has been collecting over the past 50 years according to research done by the US Academy of Sciences.

 "According to other calculations, some 8 million items of marine litter have been estimated to enter oceans and seas every day, about 5 million of which are thrown overboard or lost from ships. Furthermore, it has been estimated that over 13,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square kilometre of ocean surface." (UNEP-
Plastic ends up in our oceans from runoff.
To test this study we challenge you to take a few minutes out of your busy schedule and go find a body of water, a river, a retention pond, stream, roadside gutter, and look to see if you find any plastic debris.  Once you see it, you will always see it near and in water because wind and rain drive debris to pools of water. Like the image game Magic Eye, at first you don't really see it, but once you really look for it, you will always see it.  And seeing it hopefully leads to the purchase of a grabber so you can get some fresh air and exercise by going out and picking it up.  It is just one way to help preventing the 8 million items that end          up in the ocean daily.

Erin Diskin sampling for plastic bottle leachates. 
There are so many ways we can look at plastics. Erin Diskin is a student at UNCWilmington and she is looking for the leachates in a BPA-free bottle.  She wants to understand if the company has really come up with a way to avoid chemicals that mimic estrogen or if what the company is substituting BPA with is more of the same.  In the process, she is learning how to freeze-dry her sample, then using solvents and evaporation,  will hopefully sequester any of the agents used so she can then learn how to GC Mass Spectroscopy the sample to see what chemistry was used to make the bottle.  This is hands on learning skill working with one of our finest professors, Dr. Pam Seaton. To be continued . .

M. Mangiacapre, S. Kennedy,
and S. Lyons learning FT-IR.
Typing plastic fragments on FT-IR
These students are learning how to use the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) It measures ultra violet light absorbed at each wavelength.  What they can learn from this is what types of plastic fragments are we finding in the open-ocean.  Furthermore, they hope to take it one step further to understand if chemicals leaching from plastics are triggering selective feeding on plastics by micro-zooplankton. Misty Mangiacapre learned how to use the instrument as an undergraduate.  Her research led to her discovery that plastics adsorb manmade pollutants and that those pollutants are then transferred to gastrointestinal sea turtle juices.
UNCW lab doing it right - recycle foil.

While taking pictures of our students working in the lab, I stumbled upon this  pleasant surprise.  Recycling all that we can reduces our over use of resources while creating a closed loop system.

And of course we can all help stop the flow of plastic marine debris if we reduce our use of single use plastics.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Critical Announcement - NC NOAA Marine Lab IS on the chopping block

A good way to argue there is no harm being done to the oceans is by shutting down the science that protects them as well as helps us appreciate them.  Is that why North Carolina's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) is scheduled to be shut down?

The House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee will be accepting comments for the record. Go this website

Deadline for submission of your comments is 31 March 2014.
call and/or email, to stop this nonsense.  Of course you only have today to do it conveniently.  Please voice your objection to shutting down the science that we ALL depend upon including our Sea Turtles!!!.



As we all recognize, the lab and its staff are so critical to the sea turtle program in North Carolina.  This is a very serious situation.  We may lose this laboratory. Please take a few minutes to raise your voice in support of the lab and its importance to us.  Thank you for considering this and for taking action!  


Here is information to aid in your response:


NOAA’s National Ocean Service’s Request to Close the Beaufort Laboratory


Issue – Long term cost of maintaining the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory (NOAA, National Ocean Service, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research)


“To strengthen NOAA’s coastal sci­ence in the long run, NOAA proposes to reduce its phys­ical footprint and fixed costs by closing the Beaufort, N.C. laboratory…” 

On this budget item, a NOAA spokesperson in Silver Spring was quoted saying:  “this aging facility requires infrastructure repairs and improvements exceeding agency budget resources..”   

Response – Urge proposed closure of NOAA’s Beaufort Laboratory be removed from the NOS budget

Inaccurate, outdated information that overstated the costs of maintaining the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory was used in the analysis that lead to the request to close this facility.


In recent years, NOAA has invested approximately $14 million in new construction and renovations at the Beaufort Laboratory. 


An updated engineering report (2014) documents the condition of the facility is not structurally unsound. There have been substantial improvements to the facility.

Facilities Upgrades

2006  $7 M   Administration Building replaced (NC NERRs contributed $1M)

2007  $2.1 M         Bridge replaced – cost shared with Duke University

2008  $0.86M   Maintenance Building replaced

2009       $0.5M   Air conditioning / Air handler replacement and mold abatement

2009       $1.0M     Sample Storage/Chemical Storage/Haz-Mat buildings consolidated and replaced

2014       $1.65M  Seawall repair, electrical upgrade and State of NC funded storm water control


Current Staffing at NOAA’s Beaufort Laboratory

71 Full time federal staff members, 40 National Marine Fisheries staff, 31 National Ocean Service staff

33.5 Contract positions and 8 NC NEERs staff


The National Ocean Service, in initiating the closure request, understated the NOS staff and did not account for the more than 40 National Marine Fisheries Service staff or the 8 staff members of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve (Rachel Carson) co located at the facility. In total 108 staff and contractors will be directly affected by this closure.


Desired Outcomes

  • NOAA’s Beaufort Laboratory closure proposed in the 2015 President’s Budget Request should not be included in the NOS budget.
  • Congress should inform NOAA that requests for closure of NOS laboratories will not be entertained in the future.
  • Congress should direct NOAA to restore staffing, operational support and funding for science to full operational levels to utilize the capacity of the NOAA Beaufort Laboratory.
  • NOAA should provide a report and a timeline to Congress with a strategy to address these concerns.


Science Issues - NOAA’s FY 15 Budget Summary


Issue - While the National Ocean Service, NOAA is calling for the closure of the Beaufort NC laboratory, it is requesting an increase of $4M to another center to support Ecological Forecasting of Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), Hypoxia, pathogens and Species Distributions.



It is ironic the budget initiative for FY2015 requests increased research funding for coastal ocean issues , including harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and coastal ecosystem management at the same time it is proposing to close the Beaufort Laboratory, which has both well-established expertise and facilities required to address many of those very same issues.  .  


The Beaufort Laboratory has established an extraordinary record for scientific excellence in its research. NOAA has repeatedly recognized individual researchers, research teams, and the Laboratory as a whole for the outstanding quality of the work performed there.  The laboratory’s excellent research capabilities and reputation also attract support, both from other branches of NOAA and from other organizations which have recognized potential benefits of the Laboratory’s studies, and long have augmented the support provided by NOAA.  



The House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee will be accepting comments for the record.  Go this website


Deadline for submission of your comments is 31 March 2014.




Jean Beasley

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center

Topsail Island, NC



For all of the wildlife on earth their future must depend upon the conscience of mankind.

Dr. Archie Carr

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Finding Hope Among the Doubtful

I've been texting with an old high school friend lately from landlocked Elmira, NY.  Many of my friends and family are not quite sure about this work that I do.  Number one, I spend many weeks of the year out on the open water collecting surface samples, and two, that I actually think I am going to make a difference in plastic consumption.  He commented on how the debris field that was mistaken for the missing Malaysia plane should make people realize how much trash is in the ocean, though he added, "Its not going to change unless people stop being selfish gluttons . . ."  I responded, "That's why I work with little people on up to college students because they are the only hope for change."
Studying biofilm on plastic
I sometimes wonder myself, out of all the issues in the world, why would I try taking on something as popular as plastics and inadvertently the chemical and petroleum industry.  Couldn't my time and money be spent better on more worthy causes like child or animal welfare?  I don't have to think about it long before I get back into the saddle since the work that we are doing is for BOTH child and animal welfare.  Because only a small percentage of the over 80,000 chemical compounds in production has ever been tested for safety, it is vital that independent research groups make sure the plastics we use for our beverage and food containers are safe for the sake of our children.  Furthermore, we lose 300,000 sea birds and over 100,000 marine mammals annually due to plastic ingestion and/or entanglement.  We've got a lot of work to do to slow down these numbers and why we are committed despite the challenges.

Sorting  N. Atlnatic surface samples with students
On the flip side,  plastic marine debris provides such an array of research possibilities. I cannot think of a better way to spend my time than having undergraduates learn scientific method in the field while they observe beach dynamics through the collection of beach samples.  Others learn sophisticated programs besides Excel, like Grapher, and ArcGIS, all of which look good on their resumes.  Because plastic marine debris is visible, it does not necessarily require complicated instruments like what is needed to study mercury, PCB, or DDT and allows for students from many disiplines to participate in the research.  Plastic marine debris serves as a tool for students to observe, form hypothesis, quantify, and formulate conclusions based on the data they collect.  That said, some of our students do preform chemical analysis. One of our students proved that PAHs transfer from plastics into sea turtle gastric-intestinal juices.  Other students are setting up an experiment to see if micro zooplankton will selectively feed on plastic particulates while another student is attempting to answer the question, "Do plastic water bottles leach chemicals into their "ultra-filtered" water?"
Found in an upsidedown cup and released

Though we are making strides in answering these questions in our lab, it requires adequate funding, and with small donations we could do so much more.  Currently, Jack Johnson is donating $2,500 as match funds.  But without donations, we will not be able to collect the funds desperately needed to continue the educational work that can lead to better conservation efforts.  Please consider a $5 donation

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What do Project Aware and Jack Johnson have in common?

Titled Plastic Ocean in honor of Charlie Moore's book
The traveling art show using plastics collected from the open-ocean and mid-ocean islands started out as just a simple idea.  Take the image of the Japanese art, The Great Wave of Kanagawa, and add the plastics I've collected from my research to illustrate what is now a very different ocean than what Katsushika Hokusai  saw when he created his art less than 200 years ago.  Not a very long time in planet years for humans to have physically change the composition of the sea.  But we have, and hence, the purpose of the art show.

This image launched the proposal to our UNCW campus art gallery that was accepted and then morphed into 25' of canvases. That was in 2011when it was displayed for a month in the Boseman Gallery.  While I was taking the exhibit down, the curator asked what I was going to do with it.  Without really thinking about it, I said, "I would like to take it around the country, you know, like the Memorial Aids Quilt."  Even I was shocked to hear that came out of my mouth.  I hadn't really thought about it, but after that, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  We just lacked the means necessary to make it happen.  It took two years, but the answer came after receiving an international grant from Project Aware.  

Our oceans though vast and furious, have become increasingly vulnerable to human impacts.  What many of us do not realize, nor did I until I started this research, is that half of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, fish is vital to many cultures for food as a main source of protein, and the health of that food chain relies on the health of the entire ecosystem, not just a select few.  And while we are fishing out billions of pounds of fish each year unsustainably, we are also competing with plastics that kill marine life from the apex predator down to the base at the microscopic level.  Fascinating that something humans started mass producing less than 100 years ago could be so proliferating.  

But it is not completely hopeless.  Thanks to Project Aware, actions around the world are being taken to improve these conditions in our oceans.  People in Fiji, Thailand, South Africa, and Peru all received funding from Project Aware that focus on marine life protection, like sharks and rays, to ocean cleanup projects both above and below the sea, and Plastic Ocean Project, covering the US bringing awareness to both the problems and solutions to plastic pollution.  

Like Project Aware, Jack Johnson is also putting dollars behind action with his campaign.  The Jack Johnson Foundation recognizes that individual actions by millions adds up to global change.  His foundation is matching donations to Plastic Ocean Project, Inc. (POP, Inc.) so every dollar donated is worth two that will supports our efforts to educate and motivate people to reduce their use of single use plastics an essential theme to the art exhibit, "What Goes Around, Come Around."

Bellamy Masion - 503 Market St. Wilmington, NC 28403
Awesome Project Aware and the Jack Johnson Foundation for paying it forward.  By doing so our dance card for the traveling art exhibit is starting to fill up.  Next weekend Sunday February 16, local friends of POP, Inc. can see the exhibit at the Bellamy Mansion downtown Wilmington from 1pm to 4pm.  The event is free and open to the public.  The irony of having our art exhibit at the mansion (a manmade structure that requires arguous effort to mantain and procure juxaposed with our plastic ocean trash that we cannot get rid of)  makes for an interesting conversation.

From there it travels to University of North Carolina February 22 to March 9th and will be on display for the Blue Heron Bowl (National Science Ocean Bowl) in Jordon Hall on March 1st, thank you Janelle Fleming for feature our art in this educational event.  I will be there for Q and A at noon.  Thanks to Barbara Prince, we will be touring New Jersey with day events from March 11th to March 13. (see below) with an extended stay at Rutger's University starting March 15th.  More details to follow and please help keep the show on the road by donating to the Plastic Ocean Project,Inc.  With every dollar donated, the Jack Johnson Fundraiser will match it up to $2,500. 

11TH Tues afternoon
12:30 Johnson Elementary, Cherry Hill, NJ

12th Wednesday:
8:30 AM Urban Promise, Pennsauken 
1:15Kingston School, Cherry Hill
7:00 PM Camden County Environmental Center, Cherry Hill 

13th Thursday:
9:00 AM Haddon Heights, tentative
1:00 PM: VanSciver Elementary School
7:00 PM Scout Night/tentative
Haddon Township Environmental Center

But the art exhibit is only one small part of what POP, Inc. provides. Through our education program at UNCW, joint collaboration with toxicologists, oceanographers, marine scientists, and non-profits, we are gaining momentum.  And that momentum would not be possible without the support and guidence from our president Paul Lorenzo and point contact Tricia Monteleone.   POP, Inc has been morphing over the past five years and our team of visionaries believe, If we can walk on the moon, we can clean up the plastic ocean through outreach, technology, industry, and international leadership.  We do not think small.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What does a chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia have to do with plastic?

Last weekend I traveled north to meet up with Dr. Bill Cooper to put pen to paper writing up our data from four years of open ocean research in the North Atlantic gyre.  When I finally arrived 6 hours later, I was pretty stoked to begin something that has been hanging over my head for years now - attempting to get our data published in a peer reviewed journal.  But anyone that knows Cooper, understands how four hours later I would find myself in Charleston, West Virginia.  He has a knack for getting into uncharted waters and I was in tow for yet another adventure.  What was the urgency?  Unfortunately, the chemical spill that contaminated fresh water for some 300,000 residents of Charleston, WV had not only left the residents without water, but equally important, with a loss of trust in the governing body in that region.

Several researchers reached out to Cooper, who now works at National Science Foundation (NSF) in DC, to apply for a RAPID grant to help make sense of this senseless situation.  Fortunately for the Charleston residents, the not yet funded Andy Whelton, PhD, University of South Alabama, packed up supplies, four students, and the Chair of his department and traveled over 800 miles to collect samples and to interview the folks to learn some important lessons from this serious accident. Utilizing Facebook, local non-profits helped Dr. Whelton find people willing to allow his team into their homes to take samples, to encourage them to flush out their pipes, and to survey their experience through this horrible ordeal.  I witnessed first hand how the efforts of this group has helped restore some confidence to the community and Whelton's personal page provides information for the residents as well as a forum for them to ask questions.

Imagine not trusting your water.  Not to even wash your hands, clothes, babies, dishes, nor drink or cook with it.  I observed in silent horror as residents shared their stories about the smell of black licorice coming out of the pipes, the water an odd color blue, and leaving a white powdered ring in their tub basins.  They told us how some friends got sick, while others had rashes, how they were told the water was fine, only to be told later pregnant women, and children under age three, should not ingest it.  And to add insult to injury, Freedom Industries full knowing the chemical tanks were in dire shape, within feet of the river without a containment wall, filed bankruptcy.  The fear had gotten so great, that people would not flush out the pipe systems worrying that the fumes released into their homes might hurt them, their children, and animals.  I listened to Dr. Whelton explain to the residents that they must flush their pipes because if the contaminated water is left in the pipes, especially plastic pipes, the chemicals could potentially adsorb into the pipes and then as time goes on slowly desorb into their water.  Wait, what?  I knew that plastic acts like a sponge adsorbing chemicals that are lipophilic in the open ocean, but it never occurred to me that the plastic pipes in my house might do the same thing.  In fact, Dr. Whelton has published several papers on this very topic.  Imagine, the chemical spill in West Virginia has taught me another potential issue about the industrious uses of plastics. I didn't see THAT coming from something that seems so far removed from the problems with plastic pollution.

 Once the residents understand this, they are more than likely to flush out their pipes, but without the involvement of some outsiders, many of the folks would not have understood nor taken action.  Dr. Whelton has teamed up Krista Bryson, a student working on a full-length documentary on the water crisis in West Virginia and she is helping him get this valuable information to the community.

Research is so vital to understanding how we can improve our uses of chemistry while treading gently on the planet protecting all living things on it.
If you would like to help support Dr. Whelton's research for the sake of the Charleston folks, please visit:

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Plastic Art Exhibit Critiqued at Friend School of Wilmington

Three days after learning our traveling art exhibit won a grant from Project Aware, the art show debuted at  Friends School of Wilmington (FSW).  With two presentations back to back, one for 3rd to 5th and the other to 6th through 8th, these students wowed me with their conservation astuteness.  This was a shared learning experience.  Kudos to FSW, Cameron Francisco, and the Head of School Brenda Esch, the students were extremely informed about environment issues and the impacts of plastic pollution.  I was especially surprised by the 3rd to 5th graders. When I asked if they had heard of the North Pacific Garbage Patch, readying myself to explain, many of their hands went up.  One child explained it in such great detail I thought to myself, "I need him on my team!"

I watched with appreciation as the children looked over the art identifying pieces of plastics hidden in the waves and talking amongst themselves expressing which canvas was their favorite.  They especially took to the last two monstrous looking waves.  What I like best about presenting with the art show is the ability to engage with the audience instead of lecturing using a PowerPoint.  It helps tease out what people do and don't know about plastics.

My big take home was during a game I shared with them using one time use plastics.  The game was "Which Item is a Better Choice? (if you HAVE to use single use items)"  For the most part the students got it, but I did stump them a few times like when I held up in tandum a plastic soda bottle and a Styrofoam cup.  They shouted, "the Styrofoam cup would be better" and when I asked why, they replied, "Because Styrofoam isn't plastic."  Interesting.  It might stand to reason why they would think that.  It doesn't feel like any other kind of plastics.  What an awesome opportunity to clear that up and explain that out of all the plastics we use, Styrofoam readily leaches chemicals so we really shouldn't eat or drink out of Styrofoam if we want to error on the side of safety.  This exercise gave me the opportunity to explain, if you have to choose between the two, take the plastic bottle and make sure it gets into a recycle bin.  Styrofoam is not typically recyclable especially here in Wilmington, NC and it isn't sturdy enough for multiple uses.

Lastly, I shared with them a bin of plastic fragments collected off a beach in Hawaii. The fragments are the remnents of plastics that either washed out or got lost at sea that became embrittled due to the sun photo-degrading the plastics and the waves busting them up into pieces.  If I had a camera on me, I would have loved to have gotten a shot of all the little hands in the bin of "plastic sand."  Like me, they could not resist studying the fragmented plastic pieces as they tried to identify what some of the pieces might have once been.  With such enthusiasm, I think this research has a future!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thank you Project Aware and Voters, "What Goes Around, Comes Around" Wins Grant

It is rare when one non-profit will provide a contest that helps support another non-profit. This speaks volumes for Project Aware.  Over the past 10 days Plastic Ocean Project's science through art traveling art show has been in an international voting contest.  The votes have been tallied and thanks to so many of you for voting and sharing, POP will have the funding for gas to drive from the east coast to the west, stopping a cities along the way and sharing our What Goes Around, Comes Around exhibit. This show, created out of the plastics collected from nearly 10,000 nm of open ocean research, is full of educational information as well as ideas on what can be done about plastic pollution..  All of the contestants had stellar projects - believe me there are no losers in this competition. Project Aware, we are honored to be included in this contest. We were the only American project selected!

Since our show is to create a wave of awareness across the US, being handpicked encourages us even more that this is a worthy endeavor.  Thank you all for your votes, continued support, and membership to our blog.

On another generous note, where the unexpected financially supports another, please check out an article written about our junior ambassador Annelie Miller in the Mill Valley Patch Newspaper. Read how she not only voluntarily fundraised for Plastic Ocean Project, raising more than $700 for our work, but has been an activist in her school. Thank you again Annelie. You have made a big difference and you are only 12! We are stoked to see such hope through your generation