Survey of Underwater Plastic
and Ecosystem Response

The Super Science Team

Chief Scientist Tara Clemente and Marine Science Educator Kimberley Weersing of the University of Hawai‘i led the SUPER science team.

During a 12-day transit from Honolulu, HI to Port Hueneme, CA, the science team collected marine debris to sample the microbial communities associated with plastic particles that have accumulated in the North Pacific Gyre. Lucy Marcus, a marine biologist and videographer, participated in the research cruise and maintained a daily blog about her experience.

Read more about the cruise in the Honolulu Star Bulletin, the LA Times, and Raising Islands.

SUPER flim title graphicLucy’s short documentary about the cruise is now available.

25 August – 5 September 2008

Objective: To examine the impact of plastic debris on marine microbes.


Microbes are the most abundant organisms in the ocean and they are vital to the earth’s habitability! They produce atmospheric oxygen, form the base of the marine food web, and help regulate the earth’s climate. During the Survey of Underwater Plastic and Ecosystem Response (SUPER), C-MORE researchers took the first steps to understanding how plastic debris in the ocean impacts this essential community of organisms.

Plastic trash in the North Pacific Ocean has been dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the Pacific Plastic Vortex. Although this area was discovered over ten years ago, there is much that we still don’t know about the composition, distribution, fate, and consequences of the refuse.

Some of the questions addressed during the 12-day cruise include:

  1. Do plastic particles provide a unique habitat for microbes?
  2. What kinds of microbes are associated with plastic debris?
  3. Does plastic waste affect rates of bacterial production and metabolism?
  4. Does plastic waste affect the distribution and cycling of nutrients in the ocean?
  5. Do plastic particles affect the absorption and scattering of light in the water?

A preliminary cruise report is available (see links at left). Additional information will be provided as analyses are completed and data become available.

Radio Interview

Before the start of the cruise, Marine Science Educator Kimberley Weersing was interviewed about the plastic patch for the Australian Broadcasting Corporations's “Radio Autralia”.

Wikipedia article

New! A Wikipedia article about the cruise is now available.

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