Mapping the Plastic Seas

Ocean currents carry floating debris into the 5 subtropical gyres. This computer model uses drifter buoy data to predict the accumulation zones in the 5 gyres.

Learn more read:
"Tracking Ocean Debris"

Learn About the 5 Gyres

*Click on Gyre to see research

South Pacific Gyre

Plastic Pollution Research

Floating marine debris surface drift: Convergence and accumulation toward the South Pacific subtropical gyre
lodie Martineza, Keitapu Maamaatuaiahutapua, Vincent Taillandier

South Atlantic Gyre

Plastic Pollution Research

Plastic Debris in the Surface Waters of the South Atlantic
Robert J. Morris

Indian Ocean Gyre

Plastic Pollution Research

Natural and Plastic Plotsam Stranding In The Indian Ocean
David K.A. Barnes

Plastic pollution accumulates in oceanic gyres

Tracking Ocean Debris
Maximenko, 2008
The Quantitative Distribution And Characteristics Of Neuston Plastic in the North Pacific Ocean
Day, 1989
Marine debris collects within the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone
Pichel, W.
A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre
Moore, 2001
Plastic Particles in Surface Waters of the Northwestern Atlantic
Colton, 1974
Plastics on the Sargasso Sea Surface
Carpenter, 1972
Floating marine debris surface drift: Convergence and accumulation toward the South Pacific subtropical gyre
lodie Martineza, Keitapu Maamaatuaiahutapua, Vincent Taillandier
Plastic Debris in the Surface Waters of the South Atlantic
Robert J. Morris
Natural and Plastic Flotsam Stranding In The Indian Ocean
David K.A. Barnes

Plastic pollution dominates marine debris

The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review
Derraik, 2002
Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments

Plastic degrades at sea

Environmental Degradation of Plastic Under Land and Marine Exposure Conditions
Andrady, 1989
International Research Workshop on the Occurrence, Effects, and Fate of Microplastic Marine Debris
NOAA Conference in Tacoma, WA, 2008
New contamination derived from marine debris plastic
Saido etal., 2009
Fouling and Degradation of Polycarbonate in Seawater: Field and Lab Studies
Artham and Doble, 2009

Plastic absorbs and releases chemicals

Transport and release of chemicals from plastics to the environment and to wildlife
Teuten etal. 2009
Plastic Resin Pellets as a Transport Medium for Toxic Chemicals in the Marine Environment
Mato, 2001
Potential for Plastics to Transport Hydrophobic Contaminants
Teuten, 2007
A Brief Analysis of Organic Pollutants Sorbed to Pre and Post- Production Plastic Particles from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel River Watersheds
Moore, 2007
Persistent organic pollutants carried by synthetic polymers in the ocean environment
Rios, 2007

Animals eat or tangle in plastic pollution

Plastic in the North Atlantic. Oceanus, vol. 30:61-68
Wilber, R.J. 1987
Plastic ingestion by Laysan Albatross chicks on Sand Island, Midway Atoll, in 1994 and 1995
Heidi J. Auman et al. In Albatross Biology and Conservation, pp239-44, 1997
Leatherback turtles: The menace of plastic
N. Mrosovksy et al.
Ingestion of Plastic by Teleost Fishes
Hoss and Settle
Biological effect of pollutants for the northern fur seals and sea birds, and bioaccumulation process of pollutants
Norihisa Baba
Bringing Home the Trash: Do Colony-Based Differences in Foraging Distribution Lead to Increased Plastic Ingestion in Laysan Albatrosses?
Lindsay C. Young, Cynthia Vanderlip, David C. Duffy, Vsevolod Afanasyev, Scott A. Shaffer
  1. "Is plastic pollution accumulating in the 5 major oceanic gyres?"
  2. "Knowing that some plastics float and sink, and that ocean waters move, how is plastic pollution distributed around the world vertically, horizontally and seasonally?"
  3. "Knowing that plastic pollution photodegrades, chemically degrades, and mechanically breaks into smaller fragments, where do the smallest particles eventually go?"
  4. "Knowing that plastic pollution can be a sponge for many hydrophobic pollutants, do these pollutants desorb, and bioaccumulate inside fish that ingest plastic pollution?"

The research we are doing

The 5 Gyres team collects samples of the oceans surface to quantity the mass, size, color and type of plastic pollution floating in the gyres. We are also collecting fish to study the ingestion of microplastic particles.

See our master timeline

“What is the abundance of plastic pollution in the 5 Subtropical Gyres”

We will use a manta trawl to collect 50 surface samples from each of the North and South Atlantic gyres. The trawl, towed behind the vessel at 2.5-3.5 knots, will collect surface debris greater than 333 microns. These samples will be sorted into size and type of plastic. Finally we will measure the total weight of plastic pollution compared to the area and volume of the sea we sampled.

“Are surface foraging fish in the Sargasso Sea ingesting micro-plastic particles?”

Foraging nocturnal fish caught during our expeditions are dissected to analyze stomach contents. Stomach contents will be sorted and weighed. Tissue samples will be preserved for future analysis for persistent organic pollutants.

“How do we analyze our samples?”

Sea surface samples are returned to the lab for analysis. Marine life is separated from plastic pollution. The plastic is divided into different size classes, and further separated by type and color. Each of these groups is then counted and weighed. This data is then used to publish descriptive research papers.

Have Trawl- Will Travel

In order to understand if plastic pollution exists in the 5 gyres, we have built 5 trawls to loan to vessels of opportunity. If you’re sailing through one of the 5 gyres, considering borrowing one of our small research trawls to collect scientific samples. Our new “Suitcase Manta Trawl” and “Winged Trawl” include easy protocols, which can be used by anyone to get valuable data. The objectives and methods are simple:

Step 1. We send you a trawl with easy instructions
Step 2. You sail, collect samples and dry them out according to our protocols
Step 3. You mail the trawl to the next sailor somewhere in the world
Step 4. We process the samples and import data to


The Suitcase Manta Trawl

The Suitcase Manta Trawl has a 60cm wide mouth that dips 25cm into the sea surface. Tow it behind your vessel for a few miles at 2-3 knots. The removable sock at the end of the net captures what we’re looking for. For shipping, the wings are removed, and the entire trawl is packaged in a medium-size suitcase.

The Winged Trawl

The Winged Trawl has a 40cm wide mouth that dips 25cm into the sea surface. The procedures are all the same. This trawl is easier to transport and store on a sailboat. It can be deployed from the side or rear of the boat, as long as it remains outside of the boat’s wake. Contact us for more information about our protocols and loan program.

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