(This article was originally featured on the Algalita website. It has been reprinted here with permission.)
Noon Position: 36 36.903 N 128 24.432 W
I got the sea anchors stowed and we’ve finally hit good sailing winds and are breezing home toward Long Beach at five to seven knots under main and genoa. During this summer’s voyage to the North Pacific Central Gyre we collected education samples for Katie Allen, Algalita’s wonderful purveyor of educational materials including samples to teachers of today’s youth for them to use in their classrooms. Our education samples are manta trawls taken over a thousand miles of travel in the “Eastern Garbage Patch.” I rinsed several of them from this voyage and transferred them to glass jars of ethyl alcohol. To me, these samples are stunning in their ability to convey the reality of the trashed ocean. Samples of this degree of contamination by plastic evoke the urgent need to do something about the problem in whoever sees them.
Back in 1995, not long after starting Algalita Marine Research Foundation, the Board of Directors thought it wise to hire a consultant to help us position ourselves in the research community and direct us toward funding sources and possible grants. The consultant produced a voluminous report, replete with possibilities. One problem she saw, however, was with our name. It was unclear whether we wanted to fund the research of others, or obtain funding for doing our own research, as the term “foundation,” is normally associated with funding the work of others. As a fledgling organization, with a mission to study, protect and restore the marine environment, we wanted to do both. We did fund some research by others, and then after our second year, facilitated the field work of underfunded scientists by discounting the charter fees for Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita.
Bruce Monroe, an early Advisor to Algalita and then Board Member, encouraged us to make an outline of “Research and Restoration Priorities in the Four ‘Ocean Resource Zones:’ 1) The Inland Watershed Zone, 2) The Enclosed Waters Zone, 3) The Near Shore Ocean Zone, and 4) The Offshore Ocean Zone.” Bruce, a resident of Seal Beach who will be remembered as a fierce defender of the environment, both marine and terrestrial, recently passed away after a long and productive life. In reviewing the document he initiated, I note 35 priorities under the first 3 headings, all close to home as it were–“near shore”–everything from “Treatment and Recycling of Urban Waste Water and Contaminated Sediments,” to “Kelp Forest Restoration,” and “Charged woven wire arrays to precipitate calcium carbonate and form artificial reefs and fill holes in existing reefs.” In category 4, “The Offshore Ocean Zone,” there were only 7 priorities, none of which were related to plastic pollution–although we did obtain “water of extreme purity” from the deep ocean which was very useful to Rich Gossett, the current director of the Institute for Integrated Research in Materials, Environments, and Society (IIRMES) Lab at CSULB, which was used for comparison with coastal samples. Now Rich is helping us look into water samples filtered during this voyage for minute plastics only visible with an electron microscope.
Two decades have passed since our founding, and Algalita has evolved to be the organization that discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” and focuses on “the impact of plastic pollution.” We have found our niche! The current Board decided a name change was in order and at first went with “Algalita Marine Research Institute.” After living with the name for a few months, they realized that we were more than producers of dry scientific reports, we were also leaders in educating the public about the perils of plastic pollution and so we became “Algalita Marine Research and Education,” which more accurately reflects the Algalita “brand.” (I hate that everything these days has to be “branded,” thus assuming the form of a commodity that can be bought and sold) Anyway, we are now officially AMRE on our 20th anniversary.