5 Gyres Research on Microplastic in Palmyra Atoll

Four microplastic samples, and large fragments of Styrofoam for SFSU.

On November 5th, a Baum Foundation supported expedition led by Dr. Jennifer Caselle of The Bren School returned from a four day trip from a pristine Atoll named Palmyra, owned by The Nature Conservancy.  Attending the trip was Baum Foundation President Glenn Bucksbaum, photographer Michael Garland, and 5 Gyres President Marcus Eriksen.

Dr. Marcus Eriksen with a blue-footed booby on Palmyra Atoll.

5 Gyres co-founder Dr. Marcus Eriksen conducted research while at Palmyra and collected microplastic samples from a region of the ocean poorly understood in previous research.

There were three primary research objectives for Marcus Eriksen while at Palmyra. First, he wanted these data to show that global circulation is moving small, neutrally-buoyant microplastics around the world. His nonprofit organization, 5 Gyres, recently collected similar samples in the Canadian Arctic at 72° north, and found abundant microfibers sub-surface. This information is unknown from equatorial regions, like Palmyra Atoll. Second, he will use this information from Palmyra to help build the dataset for the next global estimate of plastic pollution distribution.  In 2015 the 5 Gyres Institute published the first global estimate of 5.25 trillion particles from 269,000 metric tons of plastic floating in all oceans. With this new data 5 Gyres can give a more accurate update. Third, in addition to the global distribution of fine synthetic particles, there are also marine organisms that are using debris to expand their ranges to new territory via migrations or ocean currents.  The sample large fragments of plastic debris from Palmyra will be given to Ed Carpenter at the San Francisco State University to look for colonies of cyanobacteria.

Marcus Eriksen stated, “We anticipate having the samples analyzed by late spring 2017, and will then begin writing a research paper for publication. In addition to Louisiana State University, this partnership includes SFSU, The Nature Conservancy and US Wildlife and Fisheries. Without the contribution of funding and support from the Baum Foundation, this collaboration and research would not have been possible.”

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