Plastic debris in Antarctic waters

September 19th, 2011
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The Tara research vessel sailing under a full moon on its way to Hawaii. Photo by J. Girardot/Tara Expeditions.

The Tara research vessel sailing under a full moon on its way to Hawaii. Photo by J. Girardot/Tara Expeditions.

The Tara,  a 118-foot schooner and research vessel, is arriving in Honolulu today, just as scientists reported findings of plastic pollution in Antarctic waters, meaning that plastic pollution has found its way to even the most remote parts of the globe. Tara is heading this way after a stop in Tahiti.

The TARA Foundation for Marine Research and Algalita launched a new three-year voyage in late 2010, including the Antarctic Ocean.

During this leg of the voyage, scientists on board the Tara gathered samples of material filtered from the Antarctic Ocean. Every sample taken from the Antarctic Ocean contained plastic with the count of between 956 and 42,826 pieces per kilometer collected at or near the ocean's surface.

At every sampling station, a special surface net will be lowered into the water for an hour and half to collect particles of plastic.

Algalita will analyze the data collected by Tara, focusing on the impacts on marine life as well as human health. Of particular concern is how floating pieces of plastics in the ocean absorb toxins, which then enter the food web. Scientists will also study the effects of global warning on coral reefs.

Tara heads to San Diego and New York next, following its stop in Honolulu, and will continue to monitor the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

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