Did you know that plastic items like those you probably use every day can end up in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles from land? Plastic is one of the most abundant marine debris found in beach cleanups and open ocean samples. As plastics travel, they are weathered, become irregular in shape and break down to form microplastics.
Defined by NOAA, microplastics are plastic pieces less than 5mm long. Due to the size of microplastics, it is hard to define their point of origin and how long they have been out at sea.
From mid 1980s, Sea Education Association (SEA) scientists and students have been collecting and archiving data on plastic marine debris. Over the years, they have collected the longest and most extensive data set in the open ocean for the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea.
Kara Lavender Law, research professor at SEA, studies this data set. Her interests include understanding how ocean physics determines the distribution of marine debris and the deterioration process, primarily UV degradation, of various plastics when exposed to the ocean environment.
As part of her research, Kara and her collaborators are deploying three different types of plastics into various marine environments around the U.S. and observing how they degrade over time.
On October 12, SECOORA joined Kara, University of South Florida Coastal Ocean Monitoring and Prediction Systems (USF COMPS) and Canterbury School of Florida oceanography class as they deployed plastic samples in a tidal creek on their campus. Kara spoke to the class via Skype, giving them background information on the project. USF COMPS Research Associate, Jay Law, helped the students deploy the samples. Every four to six months the oceanography class will mail plastic pieces to Kara’s lab to be observed under a microscope and tested for their mechanical integrity.
Learn more about Kara’s research here: https://vimeo.com/51997119