SEA and Marine Debris

Before I get into the thick of post-5IMDC analysis, I want to first do a mini-post about SEA and marine debris. But first, some context…

Last week, during 5IMDC, I participated in a field trip to Pier 38 in Honolulu to see a fish auction. We got up at 5:30am and watched these guys go around in groups, buying fish. Yellowfin tuna, big-eye tuna, swordfish and more species that I totally forgot the names of. I was paying too much attention to the auctioneers! Never have I ever seen so many fish in one room, all freshly caught, literally right off the boat. It was great.

Mahi Mahi @ Pier 38 Fish Auction

But then, the day got BETTER. As we were walking over to the pier to tour a long-line fishing boat, I spotted something, and thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. There appeared to be two masts sticking up amongst fishing boat after fishing boat, and I thought…”no, it can’t be.”

Full Circle

It was. Turns out, the RC Seamans had just docked and was getting ready to take another batch of SEA students out for their 6-week cruise. I just about cried with happiness. This was the boat I had sailed on…and witnessed plastic pollution at sea. This was the program that had opened my eyes to this tragedy, but also gave me a goal, a purpose: to stop the pollution. It was such an awesome moment.

Here’s a write-up I did for the SEA Admissions peeps, and I think it summarizes my feelings perfectly:

When I went to college, I had this vague sense of “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” but it was still just an amorphous cloud of thought. I knew I wanted to do something related to ocean sciences…so, like most fledgling marine biologists I picked marine mammals as my topic of interest. Then, over the summer of 2008, I enrolled in the SEA program and everything changed. I joined the research group whose goal it was to track plastic pollution density over the course of the cruise track, from Honolulu, Hawaii to San Francisco, California. I can’t say what exactly drew me to this field of study but the idea of picking plastic out of the ocean was certainly intriguing. It turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. Not only did I get to sail with 26 other students, across the Pacific, I was able to see, firsthand, the havoc plastic pollution is creating on our oceans. It’s definitely there and it’s definitely not an island of trash twice the size of Texas. From this, I discovered that my true passion was marine debris and all that it encompasses; how it gets into the ocean, where it goes and ultimately, the effects it has on wildlife and humans. This curiosity and interest led to my second “experience of a lifetime,” participating in the 5th International Marine Debris Conference (5IMDC) This conference, held in Honolulu, HI, pulled together people from everywhere in the world; industry representatives, government officials, NGOs and grad students who were all united over the marine debris problem and devising solutions. The week turned out to be more than amazing. Research and ideas were shared and scientists sat with industry and communicated their concerns. It was groundbreaking and I feel humbled and honored that I was able to be a part of it all. Had it not been for the SEA program,  I would not be as interested in plastic pollution as I am today nor would I have had the 5IMDC opportunity. And the best part about the conference? Stumbling upon the RC Seamans docked in Honolulu, preparing for its next voyage. Talk about coming full circle!

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