Ocean Science – gyres

Following the outstanding writing lesson with Joe Craig, Amy enthusiastically began planning her own adventure story. One of the issues in the plot is plastic pollution and the environmental impact on marine life so like a true author, Amy carried out some lengthy research on the matter, reading various articles and watching information videos.

A year or two ago we met a truly inspirational women in the field of marine biology – Emily Penn. We watched a talk she gave on the discovery and damage caused by large areas of plastic soup in the World oceans. She seemed to obvious choice for a further lesson on the subject so Amy prepared questions and arranged a Skype chat with her, as she took a break in port before embarking on her next all female trip across the Atlantic in the Pangea. As part of the trip the team will be carrying out research on gyres, thousands of square miles in size.
Lessons learned:
  • A wide range of equipment is needed to carry out the research on gyres. Emily explained that they use a ‘mantra trawl’, which is a piece of equipment dragged at the back of the boat. It collects samples of the plastic in the water. Sample are stored in glass bottles and examined in petri dishes. The team use microscopes in order to see the samples at microscopic level.
  • The gyres are a collective crime; there isn’t any one company to blame, although there are many big, well-known companies that produce large amounts of plastic and / or use microscopic amounts of plastic within products. The public is equally to blame because we use the plastic that is produced.
  • People should use less plastic, avoid buying it, recycle it and reuse it to help reduce the problem.
  • Plastic doesn’t biodegrade but is broken down by the sun and wind into tiny particles. These are then eaten by plankton and the problem enters the food chain at a microscopic level.
  • Birds and other sea life mistake small particles of plastic for plankton. The plastic contains toxins and they cannot digest it.

Emily was keen that Amy’s story helped to dispel certain myths, like the fact that there aren’t islands of plastic in the ocean, that people can walk on it! Gyres, often referred to as plastic soup, contain tiny particles, which can’t be scooped up by big boats. If this was a solution, the boats would also remove the microscopic organic matter and this would therefore be detrimental to food chains.

Amy is very keen to highlight the issue of plastic pollution in her story and her outstanding lesson with Emily Penn added depth to her research.