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1. Are PlantBottles "better" plastic? #scichat #STEM #eco #plasticpollution

Usually I buy orange juice in cardboard cartons to avoid plastic bottles, but one day my grocery store didn't have any more cartons, so I turned to the plastic bottles in the refrigerator. One brand bottled its juice in a plastic PlantBottle, and it started me wondering. What's a PlantBottle? Does it biodegrade? Is it more sustainable than petroleum-based plastic? The label says its recyclable, but are recycling centers treating the PlantBottles differently?

First off, I have to say that my research for Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has made me skeptical of biodegradable plastics. What are the by-products of the degradation process? How long does it take to degrade? Biodegradable plastic might be good news for our landfills, but it's not a license to toss trash on the streets or on the beach.

According to a three-part audio program out of Florida State University's media station WFSU (Part IPart II,  and Part III), a Georgia-based company is making biodegradable plastic from locally-grown canola seeds. Oil extracted from the seeds is fed to bacteria that turn the oil into plastic polymers. Good news, right? Plastic from something other than petroleum.

The CEO of Meridian Holdings Group (MHG), Paul Pereira envisions a closed-loop system. For example, MHG grows canola and harvests the seeds to crush into oil. The oil is sold to Chick-fil-A to fry french fries. The used cooking oil is returned to MHG to make plastic cutlery, bags, and containers for Chick-fil-A. The used cutlery, bags and containers decompose on the canola fields to nourish the soil. Again, sounds good, right?

The oil industry is, of course, worried about their profits. Recyclers have questions about the plant-based plastic mixing with their petroleum-based items. If bio-plastic is mixed with petro-plastic, will the quality of recyclable plastic be downgraded? Will the recyclers' loads be altogether rejected? If that happens, then our recycling industry suffers.

The question remains: is bio-plastic far enough along to replace petro-plastic? Probably not. And most of the plant-based bottles, bags, etc. are blended with petroleum-based plastic. For example, my orange juice bottle says "up to 30% made from plants," which implies that sometimes less than 30% bio-plastic is used. So picture this:  the one-third PlantBottle bobs along on ocean currents. Thirty percent will degrade quickly, but we're still left with 70% polluting the ocean.

I'm going to stick with cardboard cartons.

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2. Marine Debris Removal 101 #plasticpollution #eco #scichat


Watch the trailer

Readers of Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch often ask why someone doesn’t try to clean up the ocean. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as it sounds, as explained in this previous blog post. The sheer size of the ocean garbage patches, the winds, storm, waves, and currents, and the marine life that either colonizes plastic or becomes entangled in it are just some of the difficulties plastic clean-up inventors face. 

In spite of these difficulties, some are trying to make their inventions work:

Baltimore's Trash Wheel
  1. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is home to a solar-powered device called the Trash Wheel. This new innovation picks up debris before it hits the Chesapeake Bay. Operating since May 2014, the wheel scoops up 25 tons of trash per day.  As of April 2015, the device has picked up 40,000 grocery bags, 84,000 plastic bottles, and 4.2 million cigarette butts.  
  2. Twenty-year-old Dutch inventor and entrepreneur Boyan Slat will attempt to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this coming August. The expedition, which sails between Hawaii and Los Angeles, will send 50 vessels to collect more plastic in three weeks than has been collected in the past 40 years. Behind each vessel is a compact surface trawl will catch smaller plastic pieces. The Ocean Cleanup will use a 100km-long floating barrier that allows ocean currents to collect the plastic themselves.  Through the three-week expedition, explorers will measure the total mass of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as well as the distribution of plastic across the surface of the patch. 

But the hands-down best way to keep the ocean clean is to make sure trash never makes it out to sea. A simple way to reduce debris is to cut out disposable plastic straws. A straw is used for 20 minutes on average. And although it spends les than half an hour in our mouths, it spends several hundred years in a landfill. For the past 25 years, the straw is one of the top ten items found on beaches around the world. If you must use straws, consider reusable ones made out of glass, stainless steel, bamboo, and BPA-free plastic. Pledge to Take the Last Straw Challenge, and when you eat out, ask your waiter to omit the straw from your drink.

Are you ready for a few other ways to reduce your plastic consumption? Try these equally easy solutions to keep trash out of the ocean:
  • When ordering a pizza to-go, ask the waiter to hold the pizza table. That little piece of plastic that keeps the pizza from sticking to the top of the box.   The plastic doesn’t enhance the pizza in any way.
  • Request a cone for your ice cream. You won’t waste paper cups or plastic utensils.
  • Use solid or powdered products. Bar soap is just as effective as liquid soap, but it doesn’t use bulky plastic packaging.

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3. Rethinking our relationship with plastic #eco #worldoceansday #plastic


Ever since the 2009 Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX) featured in Plastic, Ahoy: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, more scientists have followed the SEAPLEX lead.

A 2010 study found that 275 million metric tons of trash was dumped in the patch from 192 coastal countries all over the world. From South Africa to the San Francisco Bay area, 15% to 40% of waste ends up in the ocean. China alone dumped almost five billion pounds of plastic in 2010.

Karen Lavender Law, a research professor of oceanography at Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, opened up in an interview on Public Radio International’s Science Friday about plastic waste in the oceans. Due to the alarming amount of plastic floating in the world’s oceans, she raises an important question: Will we soon be swimming in a sea of plastic?

The biggest contributors to the plastic waste crisis are developing countries with growing populations, such as China and Indonesia. The second biggest contributors are high-income countries (such as the U.S.) with large coastal populations that contaminate surrounding waterways. In addition to common plastic waste (such as water bottles and food containers), plastic garbage from natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tsunamis, contribute to the excess litter. Micro beads found in toothpastes and face washes are too small to be trapped by waste-water treatment facilities and also find their way to our waterways.

The big problem is that plastic does not fully degrade. Instead, it turns into smaller and smaller bits, but the pieces don’t fully break down and disappear. Marine animals feed on plastic pieces that not only cause internal damage, but contaminate their tissues with harmful toxins found in the plastic. The plastic pieces also act as small sponges and absorb other toxins in the ocean. In addition, the plastic gives the animals the false feeling of being full.

Despite, plastic trash in the ocean, many people are taking the first steps towards a cleaner environment. Currently, sixteen restaurants in San Diego, CA have eliminated plastic in exchange for paper goods.

  • Instead of drinking water from plastic bottles, try Boxed Water; the BPA-free packaging will most likely decompose faster. 
  • In addition readers can challenge manufacturers to produce less plastic and to make their packaging more sustainable by writing letters and signing petitions. 

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4. Ocean ed resources help us help the ocean


When it comes to using plastic, kids and adults can help the environment. And there are several resources at your disposal--from hands-on activities to educational documentaries.

Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a compelling educational film that makes viewers want to make a difference. Director/writer Angela Sun is also an environmentalist with a particular interest the world’s oceans.  Growing up in California, she realized just how much debris is really in the water. Sun made a journey to the Midway Atoll, an area in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is located halfway between the West Coast of the U.S. and the East Coast of Japan. A “garbage patch” exists in this area that some people claim is two times the size of Texas, although it’s never been scientifically measured as such.

Plastic in the Pacific Ocean kills marine birds and mammals. Bottles, cups, crates, shoes, toys, and even computer monitors all made of plastic live in this habitat. Large pieces of plastic that end up in the ocean photo degrade into smaller pieces that animals use for their next meal. While plastic is killing off animals, the problem is also passed on to us. When we eat fish, we run the risk of digesting harmful plastic chemicals.

Plastic contains several hazardous chemicals:  PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon), PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl), and DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) to name a few.  PAH, an oil and coal byproduct, can cause birth defects, childhood asthma, premature birth, behavioral problems, and heart malfunctions. PCB is a coolant/insulator that can cause cancer, miscarriage, low sperm count, premature birth, and cognitive impairment. DDT is a pesticide that causes cancer. Plastic nets found in the sea are another hazard for sea animals since the nets can trap and entangle them, killing the animals. While Plastic Paradise gives a grim, yet realistic and moving, outlook on the current states of many of the world’s oceans, there is still hope.

In addition to watching Plastic Paradise, there are numerous ways you can get involved:
  • Allow second-graders to be hands-on in their efforts to protect the ocean! Show young kids the hazardous effects of plastic in the oceans through two marine debris projects.  Humans are very connected and through two projects, students can connect their lives to animal lives. The first project demonstrates an animal’s entanglement in marine debris.  The second observes the ingestion of marine debris by teaching kids how plastic in the oceans have a deadly effect on sea life.
  • For middle-school students, a great interactive game allows them to virtually clean up Kure Atoll by collecting debris in a set time limit.  This helps kids understand the way debris affects the earth and get them to act off the computer.
  • High school students can see the detrimental effects of plastic ingestion by virtually dissecting Laysan albatross. Students can see how animals mistake plastic for food and the detrimental effects plastic has on sea life.
  • Perform these Trash Traits experiments to examine whether trash floats, blows in the wind, or washes away. Analyze the effects of characteristics on marine debris.  
  • The Litter Matching Game gets kids to match descriptions of marine debris to their images.
  • AllTangled Up examines and simulates wildlife entanglement through rubber bands.
  • A Degrading Experience allows learners to experiment with how different types of marine debris degrade in the sea. 

  • Visit Azula, an environmental website, with news on animals, humor, lifestyle, news, and video.
  • The Ocean Service website finds fish hotspots and maps coral reefs. The website also maps the Caribbean’s sprawling coral reef ecosystem.

 The most important lesson conveyed in the documentary and the activities is that there is still a bright future for the ocean. Despite the trash in the ocean, everyone can make an impact for the future by rethinking plastic and making sure that trash doesn’t hit the water in the first place.

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5. World Oceans Day is coming! #STEM #scichat #edchat #healthyoceans


June 8 marks the 14th annual World Oceans Day celebration. And everyone can get involved with these simple games, crafts, and clean-up activities from The Ocean Project!

One way to honor our ocean is by keeping the coasts clean. Plastic pollution is a huge threat to ocean animals, as they often mistake plastic goods for food.  As a result, they can choke and die because of the hazardous material. And the problem doesn't end with animals. Chemicals in plastic consumed by fish can travel through the food chain and land in human bodies.

According to Plastic Ahoy: Investigating The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, scientists found plastic in nearly one out of ten fish. Fish in the middle depths of the North Pacific eat approximately 12 to 24 thousand tons of plastic each year. Unfortunately, 80% of the plastic comes from land, especially from litter. And U.S. businesses and government spend a total of $11.5 billion dollars on keeping the coasts clean by picking up litter.

Simple changes to your habits can benefit the oceans:

  • Keep the coasts clean by not littering or cleaning up trash in or around the water. 
  • Limit the amount of plastic that you purchase and used in the first place. 
  • Replace plastic with more permanent products. For example, use metal washable utensils instead of plastic ones. Purchase reusable water bottles and refill them instead of purchasing plastic bottles that can end up where they shouldn't. Plastic, Ahoy! talks about similar strategies to reduce plastic waste. 
  • Carry washable storage containers to restaurants for leftovers. And use other washable utensils such as non-plastic mugs. 
  • Collect empty soda cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles. Take them to the recycling center for a nice payday. 
Recycled crafts are great ways to reuse trash. Teens and adults can make crafts from used plastic bottles, glass bottles, aluminum foil and paper. Trashed bottles can be turned into crafty vases with paper decorations.

World Oceans Day promotes The Better Bag Challenge, which asks people to stop using plastic bags for a full year. Reuse cloth bags and cut down on plastic ones. Click the link to make your own pledge!

Making small changes to the way you use plastic greatly benefits the ocean.  Refuse and rethink plastic before it hits the water.

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6. Rally Ss to take action against ocean plastic. Read Plastic, Ahoy! #ibpyp #ibmyp #ocean #plastic #edchat #scichat

Did you miss my Nerdy Book Club essay about how Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch morphed from children's book to call to action? 


Sac Bee, T Aug. 4, 2009 A11 (1)I didn’t plan to write a call to action. I planned to write a science book for kids about plastic accumulating in the North Pacific. But the project surprised me partway through, and took me in a new direction.
The idea for Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch began with an article in my local newspaper about graduate students who organized a research trip called the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX). They wanted to study the growing plastic problem in the North Pacific Central Gyre—a massive area of open ocean surrounded by circling currents. SEAPLEX was one of the first expeditions to gather data from the gyre, and its story showed how science could be fun and relevant. The nonfiction author in me wanted to know more.
It's not too late (click here for more).

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7. What if it costs more, not less, to purchase a non-recyclable item built from a waste-based process? #scichat #Pledge4ThePlanet #IBMYP @thew2o

Consuming less plastic and recycling what we use are common refrains in the ongoing battle to clean up our ocean. But a recent World Ocean Radio broadcast, "Bad Trash to Good Cash," sheds new light on the subject.

As Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory, so elegantly states, "What if we built a new economy on a recycling ethic, a price or tax structure built on the inherent value of re-use, the concept that an item is more valuable if it can be used longer or it can be re-used for a process and production that exploits and affirms its economic basis again and again in a cycle of maximum utility and return? What if it costs more, not less, to purchase a non-recyclable item built from a waste-based process?"

Just, think--perhaps with Neill's model in place we wouldn't have to pay more for recycled printer paper or recycled paper towels.

We can start small by stretching our creativity and thinking before we throw items away. How many different uses can we find for yogurt cups or tennis ball cans? I recycle nearly all of the plastic that comes through my life. Check out the list of recyclable plastics in your area. It's probably longer than you think.
Shopping bag made from recycled newspaper courtesy of an
artist in Czech Republic

I also take inspiration from an independent artist in the Czech Republic who made her own shopping bags from recycled materials instead of purchasing plastic bags. And from Maxime, a French exchange student visiting the U.S., who made a kangaroo-like pouch out of his t-shirt when his host family left the reusable grocery sacks in the car. According to Maxime, everyone in France carries their own shopping bags. Stores don't pack the food in plastic or paper bags. “If you forget your bags, then you just don’t shop or you carry the food in your arms,” he says.

Flip flop sculpture by Ocean Sole
Next, we could applaud (and buy from) cottage industries, such as Ocean Sole, which support recycling and sustainability. Ocean Sole packs a one-two punch because it re-purposes thousands of flip flops that wash up on Kenyan beaches each year into beautiful sculptures. The organization also helps it employees rise above subsistence-level living with secure jobs.

On an even larger scale, we applaud those with the ingenuity to create common objects from waste, such as Mike Biddle who strips plastic waste to its essence and re-purposes it to electronics and appliance manufacturers.

Peter Neill's economy based on a recycling ethic is achievable. How many other examples can you find where plastic waste is re-used and recycled to its maximum utility?

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8. 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in ocean? New study drives home sobering point #eco #OurOcean2014 #scichat

Watch the trailer
In Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch I introduce readers to three pioneering female trash detectives who journeyed to the North Pacific Central Gyre to study plastic. Their 2009 Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX) expedition was one of the first of many to set sail to study the plastic problem that poisons and entangles marine life.

In a recent study published December 10, 2014, scientists accumulated data from 24 such expeditions--a combination of 680 net tows and 891 visual survey transects. They estimate a startling total of 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our world ocean that swirl around with the help of prevailing winds and surface currents. The pieces measure from .33 mm to over 200 mm.

A few other facts from the study:

  1. Scientists expected to see higher plastic counts in the northern hemisphere because of years of shipping and the litter associated with people moving across the ocean. Surprisingly, the amounts are about the same for the southern and northern hemispheres. Perhaps plastics are moved from gyre to gyre more easily than previously thought. Or perhaps additional sources of plastic pollution exist in the southern hemisphere that have not been accounted for.
  2. The authors of the study say, "The ultimate fate of buoyant microplastics is not at the ocean surface." A large proportion of plastic is lost from the surface as it becomes more and more fragmented.  Plastic may wash up on beaches, sink because organisms attach themselves to the surface and make the fragments heavier, or organisms may eat it. See "Miriam's Hitchhikers" and "Charting the Answers" in Plastic, Ahoy!
  3. The study focused on plastic on the surface of the ocean. Further research is necessary at a variety of depths to determine how smaller bits of plastic are moving deeper in the water column.
"Plastics are like a cocktail of contaminants floating around in the aquatic habitat," said Chelsea Rochman, marine biologist at the University of California, Davis, and Plastic, Ahoy! trash detective. "These contaminants may be magnifying up the food chain." [Source:  NY Times]
    Plastic counts.  Source:  PlosOne

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9. Plastic bag mockumentary -- a perfect way to kick off an ocean unit #scichat #STEM #5thchat #6thchat

Are you a Planet Earth fan? Richard Attenborough's clipped English voice? Fantastic video footage? Then you're in for a treat with The Majestic Plastic Bag -- A Mockumentary. I've included a link to this little gem in the back matter of Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but it bears repeating hear.

Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons narrates, and opens with, "The open plains of the asphalt jungle. Home to many creatures great and small, and the puffing ground for one of the most clever and illustrious creatures, the plastic bag."

Wouldn't the video be a great way to kick off a science unit on the ocean, and ocean plastic in particular? Enjoy! (I see cross-overs to Language Arts, too, on introducing satire.)

[Produced by Heal the Bay, a non-profit group dedicated to cleaning up Santa Monica Bay in California.]

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10. Rally students to take action against ocean plastic #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat #scichat @LernerBooks

Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not simply a children's nonfiction book, it's a rallying cry to readers to become part of the solution. During school and Skype visits, I've found that readers want to help, but they are unsure how to go about it, so I've compiled a list of ideas and resources that might help get you started.

But first, some inspiration:  First grade readers at W. E. Striplin Elementary School in Alabama decided to reduce the amount of Styrofoam in their lunchroom. The students received permission to switch to reusable trays for several weeks to understand how much Styrofoam first graders alone could eliminate. The lunchroom produced an average of eight garbage bags of trash a day. The first graders cut the garbage output by two bags per day with reusable trays. Now their focus is to eliminate Styrofoam in the lunchroom for all grades.

Your rallying cry can be something as simple, such as:

  • Carrying reusable bags to the grocery store.
  • Refusing Styrofoam take-out/left-over containers (ask for foil instead, which can be recycled after you use it).
  • Drinking water or coffee out of reusable bottles or mugs.
  • Take a selfie for the sea, in which you show yourself doing something for the ocean.
  • Create recycled plastic sculptures to increase awareness of plastic waste.
  • Celebrate Earth Day and World Oceans Day or participate in an International Coastal Cleanup. 
Are you looking for something to do in a classroom setting? I suggest a waste audit to see just how much plastic trash comes through your life in a day, a week, and a month (see page 18 of my teacher guide for instructions and the necessary chart).

Perhaps you want to contribute in a bigger way, like the first graders at Striplin Elementary:
  • Teens from Granada Hills High School designed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to take video evidence of plastic pollution for Captain Charles Moore on his July 2014 expedition to the North Pacific Central Gyre. 
  • Form an environmental club at school or in your community, such as the students from Team Marine at Santa Monica (CA) High School who created the video below. 

Other resources:  To learn more about marine debris, contact Katie at Algalita's Ship2Shore program for activity kits on Debris Science and Mapping Plastic Marine Pollution. 

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11. 10 plastic waste facts to curl your hair #2014Cleanup #environment #6thchat #5thchat

Did you know:

  1. .
  • 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2012 (EPA).
  • Only 9 percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2012 was recovered for recycling (EPA).
  • The U.S. uses over 2 MILLION plastic bottles every 5  minutes (Sierra Club).
  • It takes 1,500,000 barrels of oil to make plastic water bottles used in the U.S. per year (U.S. Council of Mayors).
  • The U.S. airline industry uses 9,000,000,000 (that's BILLION) plastic cups annually--roughly 1,000,000 plastic cups every six hours--and they do not recycle (several sources)
  • Americans use and dispose of 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year. At least 12 million barrels of oil are used each year to make those plastic grocery bags (The Wall Street Journal).
  • 240,000 plastic bags are used throughout the world every 10 seconds (Popular Science).
  • At least 267 different species either ingested or were entangled in plastic marine debris (WorldWatch Institute)
  • Over 650,000 volunteers collected nearly 13,000,000 pounds of trash in the Ocean Conservancy's 2013 International Coastal Cleanup (Ocean Conservancy).
  • The majority of e-waste and plastics continue to be processed improperly in the developing world (Popular Science).

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12. One man might free the world from new plastic. Forever. #2014Cleanup #ocean #eco

What if we could manufacture new products out of recycled plastic? Mike Biddle, the CEO of MBA Polymers, is trying to do just that. "We get so concerned with how our products are made, but we don't seem to care how we are unmaking our stuff," he says.

Mike not only recycles plastic, he strips it down to its essence and reprocesses it into the basic building blocks–or nurdles if you’ve read Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–which he sells back to manufacturers of electronics, coffee machines, and vacuum cleaners, to name a few.

Profiled in the March 2014 of Popular Science, Biddle's vision is to create a worldwide market for high-grade recycled plastic. Most recycled plastic becomes a lower-grade plastic. i.e. a recycled water bottle never becomes a water bottle again, but might show up in a polar fleece blanket or your carpet. 

With Biddle's model, plastic from a laptop is reduced to its purest form and sold back to an electronics company to make another laptop. 

MBA Polymers recycles more than 125,000 tons of trash a day. His plant shreds, cleans, and grinds the waste plastic into confetti-sized bits. These bits then travel through a secret closed-loop recycling process that removes ferrous and non-ferrous metals; sorts the material by weight; sorts plastics by chemistry; and sorts plastics by color.

In 2007, Biddle was named an Earthkeeper Hero, an honor previously awarded to Jacques Cousteau, Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall. He is also the founder of the Plasticity Forum, an influential dialogue on our world of plastic.

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13. Kids care for polar bears to learn to be eco-friendly #5thchat #4thchat #scichat #STEM #plasticpollution

For the last several weeks on this blog, we've discussed plastic debris floating in the five gyres in the world's ocean and the need to reduce our single-use plastic consumption. (Need to catch up? Visit the Ocean Plastic discussion.) But how do we demonstrate for children that our real world actions have consequences for the environment?

A game, of course! In this case, HABITAT -- a touch-based game for Android and iOS phones and tablets that shows kids, ages 8-12, how their everyday actions can protect the environment. 

In the game, kids care for a polar bear in Glacier Park, the fictitious world of HABITAT. Similar to the Tamagotchi persistent-play model of the '90s, kids feed, groom and provide enrichment for their bear to keep it healthy. But HABITAT is unique because it encourages an actual change in behavior that promotes environmental responsibility.

Kids perform real world missions that help reduce their water consumption and carbon emissions, and preserve native habitat. The missions are categorized as "Speedy Missions" or "Five Day Missions." Speedy missions might include turning off unused lights or turning off the tap while brushing your teeth. The environmental benefits of these real-word choices are calculated with algorithms from the Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) team in the School of Physics at Sydney University in Australia. The team at the Centre for Research on Computer Supported Learning and Cognition (CoCo) investigates the ways in which learners use the game.

After you read Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to your kids or students, download the HABITAT app. Using HABITAT children will see the link between their actions and our environment, which may in turn make it easier to convince them (and you!) to reduce plastic consumption.

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14. "Devil" creatures riding plastic. Are they killing coral reefs? #scichat #STEM #enviroed

If you've read Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Millbrook Press) you know that plastic from rivers and beaches flows to sea on currents that distribute plastic all over the ocean. In the Pacific, that means the plastic is trapped in the North Pacific Gyre or perhaps deposited on the tropical beaches of Hawaii. Miriam Goldstein, one of the trash detectives profiled in Plastic, Ahoy!, studied the rafting community or the marine organisms that hitchhike on floating debris. This debris could be natural, such as logs and feathers, or man-made, such as plastic.

"Devil" pathogens that infect coral
After her 2009 SEAPLEX journey, Miriam calculated 100 times more plastic in the ocean than there was in 1970. The sheer abundance of plastic in our ocean creates increased opportunity for marine organisms to travel to places they don't belong. 

In a new paper, Miriam and her colleagues studied hundreds or organisms gathered on the 2009 cruise. They counted organisms from 95 different taxa and 11 phyla (some great vocab for science students!). The scariest by far is not a scaly sea monster with pointed teeth, but a single-celled ciliate called Halofolliculina. In a blog post for Deep Sea News Miriam describes the creature as "about the size of a sesame seed with teeny tiny devil horns. (They are actually pericytostomial wings, not devil horns, but I won’t tell if you don’t.) My collaborators Hank Carson and Marcus Eriksen found these little buggers living on plastic debris floating way offshore in the western Pacific, which wouldn’t be terrifying in itself since a lot of strange critters live on plastic debris But Halofolliculina is a pathogen that causes skeletal eroding band disease in corals, and this piece of debris was headed towards Hawaii." Skeletal eroding band (SEB) disease damages the coral's outer tissue and exposes the fragile skeleton. It has been reported in 82 species of corals according to the Global Coral Disease Database.

Goniastrea edwardsi with a small focal lesion caused by
the ciliate 
Halofolliculina corallasia, which is eroding
the tissue and skeleton. The black specks are
embedded loricae or tests of the ciliate.
Photo: Andrew Bruckner
Global Coral Disease Database]
There is no direct evidence to indicate that plastic brought skeletal eroding band disease to Hawaii, but it remains a possibility. Equally unsettling is our lack of information on how the various hitchhiking organisms affect the open ocean. As I say in Plastic, Ahoy!, "Miriam wondered if these hitchhikers could change the food chain--the who eats whom--in the gyre. Zooplankton are a critical link in the food chain. But they are not naturally plentiful in the gyre. What would happen if there were not enough to go around?"

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15. "Science is getting to poke at cool things." An interview w/ocean plastic trash detective #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

Watch the trailer
To celebrate World Ocean Day, I caught up with Miriam Goldstein, head trash detective in Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Soon after the SEAPLEX expedition chronicled in my book, Miriam graduated with her Ph.D. from Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Where is she today?

Patricia Newman:  How did the 2009 SEAPLEX voyage affect your career in science?

Miriam Goldstein:  SEAPLEX pretty much launched my science career. It was an enormous privilege to be able to organize and lead such a huge project while still a graduate student. SEAPLEX data formed the base of my Ph.D. research, and continues to be used in Scripps plastic pollution research. I have also used SEAPLEX communications - the work that Annie and Mario did throughout the voyage - to show how excellent communication could get the public involved in scientific research. And also, it was on SEAPLEX that I fell in love with the open ocean, and with the North Pacific Gyre in particular. 

PN:  In your opinion, what are the next steps to studying ocean plastic?

MG:  We now have a much better idea of just how pervasive plastic pollution is throughout the world ocean, and of the many organisms that are affected by it. I think the next step is understanding how the vast quantities of plastic floating around in the ocean are affecting the ocean's chemical cycling. Does plastic change how the ocean takes up carbon, or how nutrients move around the food web? 

PN:  You left the sea for a stint as a legislative fellow for Knauss/SeaGrant. How did that work relate to ocean plastic? And where do you hope that work will take you?

MG:  After I finished my graduate work on ocean plastic and got my Ph.D., I moved to Washington DC to work as a Sea Grant fellow on ocean, fishery, and wildlife issues for then-Congressman now-Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. I discovered that I really loved working on policy for Congress, so when my fellowship was over at the end of January, I was delighted to have the opportunity to join Congresswoman Jackie Speier's office as a Legislative Assistant. Congresswoman Speier represents the southern part of the San Francisco Peninsula, with the Bay on one side and the ocean on the other, so it's a great place for a marine biologist. I don't do very much work directly related to ocean plastic, but almost everything issue touches on the ocean in one way or another. For example, energy issues touch on climate change, which is having a profound effect on sea life through rising temperatures and through ocean acidification. I don't know where my career path will ultimately lead, but I am certainly enjoying the ride!

PN:  What is the most important finding (in your opinion) to come out of your SEAPLEX voyage since PLASTIC, AHOY!’s publication?

MG:  As of now, six scientific papers have been published using SEAPLEX data, and one more - the one about the hitchhikers featured in PLASTIC, AHOY - is undergoing scientific peer review and will hopefully be published soon. I think the most important finding, which is not unique to SEAPLEX but that SEAPLEX research supports, is that plastic pollution is profoundly changing the ocean in unexpected ways. Just one example is our work on sea skaters, a little insect that lives on top of the ocean's surface. We didn't go to sea expecting to find that plastic was changing the way that sea skaters lay their eggs, but that is what we eventually found once we knew the right questions to ask. What other questions aren't we asking yet?

PN:  What encouragement would you give to elementary, middle, or high school students interested in science?

MG:  Science is getting to poke at cool things for a living, and it's fantastic! It takes a lot of work to discover something new, that no one has ever known before, but it's worth it. 

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16. Become a virtual trash detective. Join @Algalita's Ship-2-Shore program to ask scientists your #plastic questions

Watch the video trailer
One of the goals I established for myself when writing Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was to bring the science of trash closer to students. What is it like living and working aboard a research vessel 1,000 miles at sea with no land in sight? What do scientists do on board the ship for weeks at a time? What are they finding? And how does it affect me?

Beginning in July, we can communicate directly with the research vessel Alguita as the Algalita Marine Research Institute sets sail on a 30-day research expedition into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. "Ship 2 Shore is an interactive, web-based education program that links classrooms [and individuals] from around the world via satellite with scientists conducting cutting-edge research on plastic marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre."

That means you and I can follow daily updates from the research team and interact directly with scientists by sending questions and comments! Register today to get a front row seat on the excitement (remember, you don't have to be a teacher to register). 

And teachers, don't worry that your classrooms will miss out over the summer--Algalita is planning a fall extension.

Some important notes:
  1. R/V Alguita is scheduled to depart from Long Beach, California on July 1 (barring weather or mechanical delays).
  2. According to Marieta Frances, Algalita's executive director, "The return date is expected to be sometime around the end of August."
  3. Trash detectives will use drones to locate accumulation zones.
  4. A remote operated vehicle (ROV) built by high school students will be deployed on the voyage.
  5. Data from three previous expeditions will be compared to the 2014 samples to study how plastic moves through the water and new ecosystems that live on the floating plastic.
  6. Data from all four expeditions will be merged to study long term trends.

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17. Clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch? Not as easy as it sounds! #STEM #eco #ocean #plastic

When I first read about the Pacific Garbage Patch, my knee-jerk reaction was, "Why can't we clean it up?" Several other have had the same reaction, such as Dutch engineering student Boyan Slat (featured in a 2012 TED talk) and a retired UC Davis professor who wrote to me. 

The Ocean Cleanup by Boyan Slat
Boyan Slat's idea features a number of T-shaped collectors anchored to the sea floor that use the ocean's natural waves and currents to concentrate plastic. Instead of nets, Slat proposes a barrier-like boom that allows currents to pass under while capturing buoyant plastic. He estimates that each of the five ocean gyres can be cleaned in five years. 

Retired environmental chemist James A. Singmaster suggests, "Floating plastic in the Pacific Gyre could be scooped up and taken to, say Hawaii, where pyrolysis, the process to make charcoal, could be applied to it once dried, perhaps with a little pre-water washing to remove salt.  Pyrolysis will convert about 50% of the carbon present to inert charcoal with the other 50% being expelled much like a light oil well fluid.  That fluid can be burned for energy or refined like oil to get chemicals used to make drugs, detergents, glues, etc."

Any effort to address the plastic problem is worthy of congratulations, but not all ideas are created equal. I asked the three scientists featured in Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch what they thought about these proposals. Miriam Goldstein and Chelsea Rochman referred me to a guide they co-wrote for Marine Affairs Research Education (MARE) for would-be plastic cleanup inventors. In part, their guide advises:
  1. The surface area of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is approximately 20,000,000 square kilometers. Traversing the entire area would be a monumental undertaking. Addititionally, "in even the most densely polluted regions of the subtropical gyres, microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm in size) are frequently present at concentrations of less than one piece per square meter, requiring extensive areal coverage to recover just one kilogram of plastic. Furthermore, average water depth of the open ocean is 4,000 meters (2.5 miles); therefore, any cleanup system relying upon moored structures must account for this extreme depth."
  2. Winds, storms, waves and currents mix the plastic below the surface of the water--a few meters in calm conditions to 150 meters in extreme conditions. Surface collection systems must account for this subsurface mixing.
  3. One of the goals of capturing plastic should be preserving marine life around it. "Most zooplankton, for example, do not survive being caught in a standard net, never mind spun in a centrifuge where they lose critical appendages like their antennae and feeding apparatus. A system that relies on nets or centrifuges will require engineered solutions to avoid or minimize these effects." Additionally, indirect environmental impacts, such as fuel from clean-up vessels or incinerators at sea, should be considered.
  4. Entangling sea life/sea birds in cleanup systems is not acceptable.
    Velella velella jellies and microplastic
     (Photo by Annie Crawley)
  5. Cleanup systems must withstand extreme weather conditions all too common in the open ocean.
  6. How will ocean cleanup systems be maintained? How will companies promoting ocean cleanup systems address the organisms who "raft" on the mechanisms (much like they hitchhike on floating logs, feathers, or plastic).
  7. The recycling value of the plastic collected may be low, because the chemical components degrade in the ocean over time. Upcyclers are few and far between.
  8. "There are extensive laws and regulations governing the deployment of equipment at sea. For example, structures cannot be a hazard to navigation or a threat to protected species. In the U.S., multiple permits from state and/or federal agencies may be required for cleanup devices. The permitting process is lengthy, onerous, and expensive, and may require specialized legal consultation."

Of course, the best way to clean up the ocean is prevention--keep plastic from reaching the marine habitat. Read 10 Ways to Reduce Ocean Plastic This Earth Day and Everyday

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18. 10 ways to reduce ocean plastic this #EarthDay2014 (& everyday) #saveourseas #marineconservation

Several million tons of plastic trash floats in the ocean. Chemical additives on the plastic leach into the water. Marine creatures eat the plastic junk food and starve. The search for Malaysian flight #370 was hampered by ocean garbage. Let's make Earth Day 2014 the day we change our habits! Start with these easy suggestions:

1.  Instead of cracking open another plastic water bottle, purchase a stainless steel bottle that you can refill from the tap (or water cooler at work) each day.

2. Need a doggie bag at a restaurant? Ask for foil or a cardboard box (which can be rinsed and recycled)  rather then Styrofoam (which cannot be recycled).

3. Shopping for clothes? Say NO to the plastic bag. Ask for paper or bring your own bag. Better yet, carry the item(s) to your car without a bag.

4. Plastic bags are the default at grocery and discount department stores. Say NO! Bring your own reusable bags. 

5. Purchase products made from upcycled materials, such as purses, flip flips, and even recycle bins. (Read my blog post about upcycled materials.)
Watch the video trailer

6. The weather is finally warming up. Rather than reaching for plastic plates and utensils for your cookouts, celebrate with compostable picnic supplies (plates, cups, and utensils, napkins).

7. At parties, provide a large pitcher of water and reusable (or compostable) cups rather than plastic water bottles.  

8. Are you taking advantage of your county/city recycling program? If you are, your recycling container should be more full than your trash container!

9. Ditch the plastic cup and lid on your morning Starbucks run. Bring a reusable mug.

10. Read Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the lowdown on ocean plastic.  

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19. Is PLASTIC, AHOY! made with plastic? #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

In early February, I received the following question from a reader:
Hello Patricia! I got your book, PLASTIC, AHOY! and like the fact that you're bringing awareness about plastic to kids around the world! Just what I've always wanted! (No, really!) The book is wonderfully written. (I love the Soda Machine) However, as I set the book down, I noticed that the cover has a plastic case around it. This seems very strange, considering what the book is about! Please think about changing this! Thank you very much for your time (and books!),Charles
So I did a little research (something nonfiction authors never tire of!) before responding to Charles:
The book carries a reinforced binding which makes it suitable for school and public libraries, and therefore, requires a hard cover. Assuming you are not reading a library copy (which is sometimes protected by an extra acetate covering), I queried my editor who queried the production manager. Here's what we found out from the production manager:  "Regarding the book's cover, it's a petroleum/nylon based product.  All hardcovers have a film laminate applied by squeezing the paper and plastic through a heated roller.  The plastic is applied as a wet coating and dried by ultraviolet light so that it hardens on the printing and protects it from scuffs.  The industry hasn't developed any environmentally friendly alternatives to the coating we use to make the books last.  We can print with soy based inks and make sure our paper is FSC certified, but the ink would just scratch off without the laminate or UC coating."
So, unfortunately, yes the book is coated in a thin film of laminate for which there is currently no alternative. I guess the good news is books aren't usually considered single-use items that are tossed as soon as they are read (at least I hope so!) I also someday the industry will come up with a more eco-friendly way to protect books.
My plastic consumption for three weeks.
Milk containers, tennis ball cans, yogurt cups,
contact lens solution bottles, pasta bags,
strawberry containers.  Cereal box liners. Yikes!
Where does it end?
Thank you for your concern--and for providing me with material for an interesting blog post!
Nearly everything we use has some plastic in it. My goal in writing Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was to help decrease the amount of plastic we use one time before tossing (or hopefully recycling). Plastic for single-use water bottles. Styrofoam used for school lunch trays. Plastic "doggie bags" in restaurants. Plastic cutlery. In order to change habits, we need to create awareness.

I would love to hear what you are doing to decrease your plastic consumption!

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20. PLASTIC, AHOY! trash detective: Science creates knowledge #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

Chelsea and I spoke at length while I was writing Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but I took a moment to catch up with her last week--over four and a half years after the SEAPLEX expedition. Chelsea earned her Ph.D. in marine ecology and ecotoxicology (that's a good word for students to look up) and currently works for the Aquatic Health Program at the University of California, Davis. 
Patricia Newman:  How did the 2009 SEAPLEX voyage affect your career in science?

Chelsea Rochman: I feel very lucky to have been granted the opportunity to be part of the SEAPLEX cruise. It was hugely invaluable from an academic standpoint, but also from the standpoint of a person passionate about the environment. For me, it was the beginning of a string of opportunities to travel the world and share my knowledge with people globally and gain collaboration globally. 

The SEAPLEX cruise brought a lot of attention regarding the science of plastic debris to a mass audience. It helped spring an interest in scientists, non-profits and government agencies globally. As such, I think it helped me receive funding to carry out my science on this topic throughout the whole of my PhD and beyond. I was also granted opportunities to be involved in policy meetings and advise and collaborate with non-profit organizations on the issue. I personally did not collect any samples that were part of my dissertation research on this cruise, but truly believe that this trip laid a large part of the foundation for my career and for that I’m incredibly thankful. I also gained some great friends and collaborators. To this day, I am great friends with Miriam and continue to work with Doug Woodring. In addition, it was an opportunity of a lifetime to be aboard a vessel in the middle of the ocean and experience nature so far from the influence of humans. At the same time it was heartbreaking to see our waste so far from land and realize the influence we can have even in such remote places on Earth. This will always motivate me to continue on in my field for decades to come. 
PN: In your opinion, what are the next steps to studying ocean plastic?
CR: I think it has become clear that plastic debris contaminates the environment and wildlife globally. What is less understood is the impact this debris has on the biosphere (i.e. ecological impacts, effects on human health). These are the next big research questions.
PN: How does your current work relate to ocean plastic? Where do you hope that work will take you?
CR: I am currently doing research investigating how chemicals from plastic debris move through the foodweb and magnify in animals at higher trophic levels. I am funded as a postdoc under NOAA’s Marine Debris Program to do this work. In September I will become a Smith postdoctoral fellow for the Society of Conservation Biology where I will study the sources, sinks and impacts of plastic debris in large urban watersheds. I hope my work will continue to open doors to further research on this topic and that the knowledge will be used to inform policy and help mitigate the contamination of plastic debris in the environment.

PN: What is the most important finding (in your opinion) to come out of your SEAPLEX voyage?
CR: SEAPLEX was hugely influential in the policy and activist arena. I understand that very important findings were created, i.e. publications regarding the distribution of plastic debris in the region and ingestion of plastic in fish. However, I think the most important outcome of this cruise was the flurry of concern it created around the issue in policy-makers, researchers and non-profit organizations. Thus, Plastic, Ahoy! is part of that success story and will continue to help us reach a larger audience. Education is crucial and I believe it makes a difference. This book will fall into the hands of our future scientists, policy makers and activists. That is hugely important.
PN: What encouragement would you give to elementary, middle, or high school students interested in science?

CR: Follow your heart and reach for your goal. It will not always be easy, but remember that if you put your mind to it, WORK HARD and are persistent, you can get there. Science is fun, rewarding and influential. I encourage any young person to come and expand our knowledge. There is something very powerful about creating knowledge!

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21. Student Valentine's Day Challenge: show the ocean some love #3rdchat #4thchat #6thchat


In celebration of Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I'm issuing a Valentine's Day Challenge to to my readers. Show the ocean some love on Friday and make it a plastic-free day. No plastic utensils, no plastic bags, no plastic water bottles. 

Send me a picture (with a short write-up), a poster, or a video of your idea. The individual or class with the most unique plastic-free idea wins a large Priority Mail Flat Rate box FULL of Valentine's goodies.

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22. Documenting ocean plastic: PLASTIC, AHOY! photographer @AnnieCrawley shares her story

Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch photographer Annie Crawley sailed aboard New Horizon to the North Pacific Central Gyre with SEAPLEX scientists Miriam Goldstein, Chelsea Rochman, and Darcy Taniguchi--the lone photograher/videographer on the expedition. Her job? To capture the cutting-edge study of plastic in the Pacific. I'd like to share with you how she prepared for the journey--here's her story in her own words:
"I left my offices at 8:00 am to drive down to San Diego as the only person joining the SEAPLEX
Annie with 7 bags of photographic equipment, and one
tiny suitcase of personal items!
expedition as photographer and filmmaker. I had a lot of equipment to organize: 7 cases of equipment and one small bag of clothes and personal items! For this end of the journey keeping the number of bags down was not crucial, but when we returned we were going to be landing in Oregon and I was going to have to fly home. I could not even imagine flying with all of my equipment on my own."  Read more of Annie's story.

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23. Upcycling re-values & re-purposes trash. Artists who give the ocean a voice #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

My research for Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch opened my eyes not only to the work in the scientific community, but to the artists who give the ocean a voice using upcycled materials. Here's a short list of just some of the talented people creating environmentally-friendly products and works of art by reusing plastic:

  • Earth It Up -- a nonprofit organization founded to divert waste and upcycle it for the benefit of
    Earth It Up's Capri Sun bags
    charitable organizations. Earth It Up takes items that would otherwise end up in landfills or the oceans and converts them into useful, interesting purses, totes and lunch bags. These include a line of Capri Sun lunch bags for school children and sophisticated Peet's and Starbuck's coffee purses that are carried by stylish, environmentally conscious women throughout the nation. Unlike some other organizations, Earth it Up! does not ship materials offshore (creating a larger carbon footprint), or use any 'sweatshop' manufacturing techniques. All of their products are hand sewn in California.
  • Trash for Peace -- Portland, Oregon native Laura Kutner went to Guatemala on a Peace Corps mission. Mountains of plastic trash littered the streets. Laura decided to build schools with it, motivating the community to band together and clean up it streets. A partner organization has since built 25 additional schools. Back home in Portland, Laura started a nonprofit organization that builds recycling bins from upcycled plastics. Trash for Peace also visits local schools to teach students about the plastic problem.
Trash for Peace recycle bin
  • During a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium I saw the work of two artists who are increasing awareness of plastic waste through their art by revaluing and re-purposing discarded plastic items. Alison McDonald's Message in a Bottle sculptures "create a dialogue about the negative and positive effects of plastic on our natural world." Sayaka Ganz created Laysan Albatross from cast-off remnants plastic. According to a plaque at the aquarium, "Ganz spent her early years in Japan, where Shinto beliefs teach that every object has a spirit, and an object discarded before its time weeps at night inside the trash bin."
One of the 12 Message in a Bottle 
sculptures by Alison McDonald at the 
Monterey Bay Aquarium. "The empty
space created by the cutwork kelp
suggests a negative impact, while 

the emerging kelp evokes hope for 
the oceans."
Laysan Albatross by Sayaka Ganz

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24. A reading suggestion for Earth-conscious students #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

Celebrate Earth Day with an author
Skype and save the ocean, too!

Details here.
Children's authors tend to be an Earth-friendly group, and my newest title, Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is in good company with others that demonstrate how human activities encroach upon the natural world with disastrous consequences.

While Plastic, Ahoy! focuses on plastic pollution in our ocean and its affects on marine life, Abayomi the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub by Darcy Pattison and Kitty Harvill illustrates how habitat loss effects Brazil's endangered cat. The human desire for more cars, more roads, more buildings, more food have decimated rain forests. Pumas, who in Pattison's beautiful prose "only walked abroad at night on silent paws," regularly come into conflict with humans raiding chicken coops or other livestock. A farmer traps the offending puma but grows impatient waiting for the proper authorities to safely transport the puma to another locale. This impatience leads to the death of the female puma with nursing cubs.
Darcy Pattison and Kitty Harvill
Mims House, 2014

Abayomi ends on a happy note, but human-wildlife conflicts are growing more popular in the rain forests of Brazil and Indonesia, and on the plains of Africa. Conflicts in which the animals almost always lose.

Pattison closes her story with startling facts about our increasingly urban world and the importance of establishing wildlife corridors to protect animals and plants. Lastly, Pattison provides young readers with links to some of these groups in addition to suggestions for further reading.

Do you have a favorite Earth-friendly title? Please share it with me.

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25. "Make science relevant and relatable," says PLASTIC, AHOY! trash detective. #scichat #5thchat #6thchat #GirlsinSTEM #STEMchat

I had the opportunity to catch up with one of the scientists in Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Darcy Taniguchi graduated with her Ph.D. from Scripps Institute of  Oceanography soon after Plastic, Ahoy! went to print. Where is she today? What's new in her scientific world? Read on to find out.

Watch the video trailer

Patricia Newman: How did the 2009 SEAPLEX voyage affect your career in science?

Darcy Taniguchi:  SEAPLEX was a wonderful experience that influenced me in many ways.  It made me more aware of always trying to make my science relevant and relatable to other scientists and to the public at large. It also helped me gain valuable experience performing work on board a ship in a moving laboratory and working with an amazing group of people.

PN:  What are you currently working on?  

DT:  I'm currently a postdoctoral researcher, having been awarded the NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship. In this position, I'm looking more closely at the interactions and dynamics of plankton, particularly the single-celled organisms (called microzooplankton) that eat phytoplankton. My ultimate goal is to implement my knowledge of plankton interactions in a global model that includes both biological and physical factors and examine the distribution and abundances of plankton all over the globe.  This research has implications for how the base of the food web may change under various different climate conditions.

PN:  How did you feel about having to put aside your SEAXPLEX data in favor of a different course of study? Do you know if anyone at Scripps has studied your SEAPLEX data?

DT:  While I am very interested in my current research and the course my work has taken, I am also saddened that I was not able to pursue my SEAPLEX research, given all the effort that was put into setting up this great expedition and collecting the data.  I don't believe any one else is explicitly using the SEAPLEX data that I collected, but I remain hopeful that someone someday may be able to or that I can myself sometime in the future.

PN:  What is the most important finding (in your opinion) to come out of your SEAPLEX voyage? Since Plastic, Ahoy!'s publication (say Feb. 2013 which is when the manuscript was completed)?

DT:  One of the most important things to come out of SEAPLEX is the general attention it has created concerning our oceans. SEAPLEX has not only brought into the public eye that the oceans are being polluted but also that it is due to human actions and that we can make a difference, either for better or for worse. There has been so much outreach associated with SEAPLEX, not the least of which is PLASTIC, AHOY!, that helps send a message to a large audience about the impacts we humans have on our oceans, no matter how remote or vast they may seem. The realization of the influence this expedition has had was recently emphasized during my new research position. I was told that the plastic accumulating in the Pacific was the focus of a demonstration at an outreach event associated with MIT, and that they would like to continue that demonstration this year as well.  (I fully intend to help out as much as I can and help share my experiences.)  Even though this anecdote may seem small, it helped me realize that this voyage has had far-reaching influence.

PN:  What encouragement would you give to elementary, middle, or high school students interested in science?

DT:  I would like to tell aspiring scientists to never forget that science is fun, important, and relevant.  Those interested in science should pursue the field and maintain their enthusiasm. Whenever that excitement begins to lessen, they should remind themselves that science is interesting and has the potential to influence how we think about the world and what impact we have on it.

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