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Microplastics Polluting Ocean Waters

Ethan Edson from Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center in Nahant spoke with Rob about how he discovered and researched plastic pollution out in the ocean aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer, in Woods Hole and currently at Nahant.  Using a neuston net towed through surface waters, Ethan found parts of the ocean that looked clear, but were actually full of microplastics, bits of plastic smaller than the eraser on the end of a pencil.  Realizing how expensive it would be to collect these data, Ethan has set out to build an autonomous underwater sampler, called MantaRay, to sample and record levels of microplastics in ocean water.

Many questions remain unanswered.  How are plastic bits distributed in the ocean, do they sink or float, or remain neutral buoyant?  Where are they in the water column?  Do plastics form “wind rows” on ocean surfaces as do seaweeds?  Do seaweeds cause microplastics to congregate together? How much of flotsam and jetsum is plastic?  No one knows unless they observe and conduct research. MantaRay was designed and built to investigate microplastic pollution and help us find indicators and perhaps answers.

Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) has submitted the S.756 Save Our Seas Act of 2017.  This is essentially a bill to reauthorize and amend the Marine Debris Act to promote international action to reduce marine debris.  Senators Whitehouse (D-RI), Booker (D-NJ), Coons (D-DE), and Peters (D-MI) are cosponsors of the bill.  With remarkable statesmanship, Senator Whitehouse, successfully reached across the aisle.  Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has joined this group of initial co-sponsors of the plastics pollution bill.