Tag Archives: Pollution

Innovative Cleanup Techniques – Boyan Slat

We are all familiar with the impending issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. The exponentially growing dilemma is approaching levels of no return and without positive human intervention, we could witness the ocean fall victim to catastrophic collapse. Plastic is a dangerous pollutant because it takes a REALLY long time to degrade; the very first piece of plastic ever created is still in existence today and will be for another 1000 years. Plastic in our ocean is broken down by the sun into microscopic pieces that are so small, that our smallest oceanic organisms (plankton) can ingest them. What does that mean? That means that most of our marine organisms like whales, tuna, turtles, anchovy, seagulls, and even humans. Yes, humans have tested positive for trace amounts of polyethylene (most common plastic) in our blood. Enormous levels have been found, today we have roughly 5 trillion pieces of trash drifting around in our oceans, massing roughly 250,000 tons. That’s scary. But there is hope. There is a large group of young, inspired leaders lining up to solve this problem. Leading the charge is 22-year-old Boyan Slat, a Dutch innovator that is developing a system that will attempt to solve this plastic problem.

The Ocean Cleanup is Slat’s project, an enormous engineering/social hybrid experiment that is working on installing systems that float around and collect large quantities of plastic. Slat is convinced that his system can remove half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years, an ambitious claim with research to back it. The project uses what look like giant floating barriers to capture debris at the surface as if it is an artificial coastline. Slowed by an anchor, the drifting systems will travel slower than the plastic and allow the plastic to catch up. These barriers concentrate the plastic in the center where it will remain until collected. Although simple, this project seems effective and could quite possibly work. However, there are plenty of sceptics, most with valid arguments. The most common critique is that it is hard to imagine this simplistic system withstanding huge waves, strong currents, and high winds that come with intense Pacific storms. With prototypes already in the water, it will not be long before we find out how effective Slat’s project is.

In the meantime, we cannot sit back and watch. It is our duty to continue thinking, creating, and acting to solve this global dilemma. Slat’s project is just one way to contribute to the ocean cleanup, however, we also need to stop producing plastic to halt the constant flow of pollution into our ecosystems. It is up to us and there is hope. If you have any ideas, big or small, that could contribute towards winning this war, share it with us. Comment below and share this story, you never know who it could potentially inspire!

Written By: Nick Smilie


TRASH: The Ocean’s Dirty Little Secret

Plastic milk jugs. Soda Cans. Balloons. Cigarette butts. What do these items all have in common with each other? They are sadly some of the mostly found marine debris items to be seen washed up on beaches or floating in the ocean. Even more frustrating is this is just to name a few! It’s no joke that our oceans are becoming more and more polluted every single day. Just recently we have had some storms that brought so much trash 26 miles across the San Pedro Channel to our Island. But how did all this trash get here? This happened due to some very strong down-slope winds known as the Santa Ana winds that originate from the inland part of California and end up affecting coastal southern California. These winds caused huge swells across our channel bringing in loads and loads of trash from the Los Angeles River.

Our beach isn’t the only beach that experiences marine debris. Worldwide thousands of beaches and parts of our oceans suffer from pollution and trash. Luckily many people work and volunteer to help keep our ocean clean and free from debris. But what happens to many items that don’t get saved from our oceans and beaches? Not only does our marine life become affected by this trash, but it can also take hundreds of years for it to decompose! Check out some of these statistics below.

It’s crazy to see from the chart above how long certain items can take to decompose. With all that being said, just keep in mind this friendly little reminder to help pick up trash on the ground whenever you see it, and maybe little by little we can all continue working together to make this world including our oceans a better place.

For more: https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/discover-issue


Written By: Brooke Fox

One Man’s Trash another 9 Mens’ Lifetimes

Here at CIMI, we’re seeing red! We’ve had two sudden invasions of bright red, shimmery, buoyant things just offshore in our coves. The first is pelagic red crabs, Pleuroncodes planipes, that swarmed northward from warmer waters as El Niño brought an unseasonable winter to the tropics. Can you guess what the second is? Just a few days after Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped Mylar balloons are showing up everywhere! Unfortunately, a gift to surprise a sweetheart for just one day can take many years to degrade in the ocean. So how long do other household objects take to break down in the sea? Check out the charts below.

Image Credit: World Ocean Review (http://worldoceanreview.com/en/wor-1/pollution/litter/); NOAA (http://thehigherlearning.com)

As you can see, oil-based products take by far the longest to degrade, with fishing line, plastic bottles, and 6-pack plastic rings predicted to take as long as 600 years to break down fully. Keep in mind, we’ve only been using plastic for about 100 years at all!

Microplastics, Mega Problem!
Once these plastics are subjected to prolonged sunlight, waves, currents and tides, they are broken into tiny fragments thinner than a human hair, called microplastics. Being so small, these particles can easily enter the food chain through filter feeders such as shellfish. Many cosmetics companies also put small beads of plastic in products such as exfoliating soaps, until recent research reported that enough of these microbeads to coat 300 tennis courts were entering watersheds and oceans daily. These findings, combined with more recent research spotlighting the harmful effects of accumulation of microplastics in sediment, the water column, and the tissues and bodily fluids of marine animals, has led President Obama to sign a microbead ban, preventing these companies from using this ‘indestructible confetti’ in their products. Many plastics contain chemicals such as solvents and softeners, and could cause severe poisoning effects in marine food webs, including humans.

Image Credit: ecowatch.org

A Gyre Situation
Due to large-scale circular wind and current patterns called gyres, much of the ocean’s trash ends up concentrated in specific places. The largest of these is a giant “soup” of trash in the Pacific Ocean northwest of Hawaii, known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (GPGP) or the “Pacific trash vortex.” A great majority of this trash is actually tiny micro plastics, making the water look cloudy in satellite imagery. Many of the larger items, including sneakers, electronics, and larger plastic items, may have sunk underneath the Texas-sized floating island.

Image Credit: NOAA (http://marinedebris.noaa.gov)
Creative Clean Up

Since the GPGP is so large and so far from any nation’s borders, no one government is willing or able to provide the funding and labor needed to clean it up. However, the scale of the problem has inspired many organizations and individuals to launch expeditions and brainstorm creative ideas for cleaning it up or preventing it from growing. Boyan Slat, a crafty 19-year-old from Holland, is currently collaborating with aerospace engineers to design a floating robot to collect the larger pieces of trash, while others propose introducing plastic-eating bacteria or other marine microbes to begin to break down the plastics of all sizes. In 2010, a team of explorers at Adventure Ecology built a 60-foot catamaran called the Plastiki using 12,500 recycled plastic bottles. The Plastiki‘s crew voyaged from California to Australia to raise awareness about the durability, usefulness, and permanence of used plastic products.

TT5 (1)
Image Credit: The Ocean Cleanup (see link below)

Image Credit: Australian Museum Blog (http://australianmuseum.net.au/blogpost/science/plastiki-a-solution-to-waste)

Be an Ocean Hero!
Here are some easy ways you can be an ocean hero and make sure our trash doesn’t outlive us!

  1. Reduce, reuse, recycle, especially plastic products!
  2. Take a reusable bag to the store instead of getting plastic grocery bags…
  3. and if you do, reuse them for something in your home like trash bags!
  4. Pick up trash you see on beaches, streets, and in waterways — but don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards!
  5. If you go fishing, make sure you pack out all the gear you packed in — especially nets and lines!
  6. Cut the rings on plastic can holders before you discard them so wildlife can’t get stuck in the openings!
  7. Look for cosmetics with natural alternatives to microbeads!

and finally, on Valentine’s Day, birthdays, and other special occasions…

  1. Skip the Mylar balloons, and SAY IT WITH CHOCOLATE! We’re not sure about you, but around here, it’s gone in about three seconds!

Want to learn more about microbeads? Check out the Story of Stuff’s website at http://storyofstuff.org/plastic-microbeads-ban-the-bead/.

To learn more about current estimates of quantities of trash in the ocean, and see an awesome 3D animation of how plastics break down in detail, check out National Geographic’s story here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150109-oceans-plastic-sea-trash-science-marine-debris/.

To learn more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and play with an interactive map of other places trash converges, check out http://education.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/.

To learn about Boyan Slat’s cleanup robot design, check out this story on TakePart: http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/06/12/ocean-clean-machine-invented-19-year-old-could-pick-half-pacific-garbage-patch.

To learn more about the voyage of the Plastiki, check out Adventure Ecology’s website at http://theplastiki.com.

Water in Motion: The Freshwater Cycle

Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water that is constantly in motion. The total amount of water in the world never really changes, it just takes on new forms and moves to new places, from sky to sea to ground. This process is called the water cycle, and it is the reason we have clouds, rainfall, rivers, groundwater, and an ocean teeming with life.


One of the things that makes water such a unique molecule is that all of its stages (ice, liquid, and gas) can exist naturally on Earth. As one water molecule travels through the water cycle, it may pass through all three of these stages. During the process of evaporation, the water that gets collected in oceans, lakes, and rivers heats up at the surface and turns into a gas, sending gaseous water particles into the atmosphere. Humidity increases as more water vapor accumulates in the air.


As water vapor rises into the atmosphere, it begins to cool down, condensing back into a liquid phase. Water molecules are polar, so they are attracted to each other. When water droplets clump together in the sky, they form clouds.


When enough water vapor condenses in the atmosphere to make water droplets heavy enough to fall back down to Earth, precipitation occurs. Precipitation can come in many forms: rain, snow, hail. It can be caused by both rises and falls in temperature. When the temperature decreases, more water vapor condenses into a liquid. If it gets cold enough, the water freezes as it falls from the sky, creating snow or hail. Conversely, when the temperature increases, evaporation also increases. This brings more water into the atmosphere, causing rain. That is why warm, tropical places get so much rainfall. Precipitation of all kinds helps replenish freshwater reserves on Earth, like lakes, rivers, and groundwater.


As precipitation occurs, some of the water gets soaked up by the land, while some flows over the land’s surface and feeds into rivers and streams. This is called runoff, or surface runoff. The physical geology and topography of the land plays a big role in determining where the water will run. For instance, water is more likely to run quickly over something impervious, like a road, versus porous soil. It also likes to flow downhill and into previously-made canyons and gullies. Many years of runoff in the same place will cause erosion, carving out the land into channels where the water likes to run until the landscape is forever changed. That is how the Colorado River created the Grand Canyon.


The water that falls to Earth and does not flow over the land gets absorbed by the ground. An aquifer is an underground layer of permeable rock or sediment where groundwater gets stored. The water table is the level underground where this water sits. Eventually, groundwater can reenter the water cycle by seeping into other bodies of water or by getting pumped out of the Earth by humans.

It is possible for the same molecule of water to remain in the water cycle for over 100 million years before it gets broken apart by photosynthesis or other natural processes. That means that the same droplet of water that passed through a dinosaur’s body could be passing through your own body right now. Because of the interconnectedness of the water cycle, every dam we build, every well we dig, every piece of trash we drop on the ground has the power to affect water sources hundreds of miles away. And eventually, almost all water ends up in the ocean. That is why it is so important to be aware of how our actions can affect the environment around us, because everything we do has the potential to impact the resources that we all need to survive.

Check Out this Cool Interactive Watercycle: http://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycle-kids-adv.html


We would like to thank you for visiting our blog. Catalina Island Marine Institute is a hands-on marine science program with an emphasis on ocean exploration. Our classes and activities are designed to inspire students toward future success in their academic and personal pursuits. This blog is intended to provide you with up-to-date news and information about our camp programs, as well as current science and ocean happenings. This blog has been created by our staff who have at least a Bachelors Degree usually in marine science or related subjects. We encourage you to also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, and Vine to see even more of our interesting science and ocean information. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or share our blog with others. Please visit www.cimi.org for additional information. Happy Reading!