In the Pacific, just one word: plastics - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

In the Pacific, just one word: plastics

The research vessel SSV Robert Seamans The research vessel SSV Robert Seamans
Emelia DeForce Emelia DeForce
Zora McGinnis Zora McGinnis
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Scientists have just returned from a voyage through the Pacific, and what they found - according to one researcher - is heartbreaking. It includes plastic pieces, big and small and possible evidence of tsunami debris from Japan.

The research vessel SSV Robert Seamans set sail 39 days ago. The trip can be summed up in just one word: plastics.

"We found over 70,000 pieces of plastic on this particular expedition," says chief scientist, Emelia DeForce.

The 38 crewmembers on board documented and are studying the effects of this type of marine debris on the ocean's eco-system. They traveled to the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch for clues, and one thing they know: it's not just a big floating island. It's more like tiny, confetti-like pieces of debris.

DeForce adds, "96% of the stuff that we found out there are these little tiny shards of plastic."

The crew spent a month on board this ship - sailing 2,500 miles from San Diego here to Honolulu. Hawaii Pacific University graduate student Zora McGinnis spent much of that time observing. At one point, she saw thousands of pieces of plastic - too many to track.

"It's pretty heartbreaking," she says.

When she could, McGinnis would document the debris - recording GPS coordinates, time, date, and description.

"We need to stop using things like disposal grocery bags, disposal water bottles," says McGinnis. "If we're going to buy something, we need to keep it. We need to wash it. We need to reuse it. We need to recycle it."

The crew also discovered debris with Asian markings - even a refrigerator with Japanese characters. While they can't definitively say it's from the 2011 tsunami, it sure looks that way.

McGinnis says, "We managed to actually break into one of the drawers and pull out food that was from Japan and that has expiration dates and barcodes and things like that. So we're going to see if we can get those things translated and see when those foods were made."

It could give scientists even more data on the effects of debris on our oceans. The researchers will take the debris back to the lab for study and hope to publish their findings in scientific journals.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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