Floating Ocean Ecosystem Tracker

Help our scientists collect and study marine organisms living on plastics that can travel thousands of miles at sea! 

We know that plastics harm marine organisms by ingestion and entanglement, but what roles do plastics play in moving animals across oceans? Our scientists are trying to figure that out and you can help!

 

The What

Photo by The Swim

The Marine Invasions lab studies plastic pollution in our oceans. Plastic pollution is a known danger to marine wildlife as they can become entangled in or eat plastic, causing injury or death. However, did you know that floating plastic can also carry marine animals and plants from one place to another? Scientists have found that some coastal species, carried from land to sea on plastic litter, can survive for not only weeks or months, but even years on these plastic rafts! Our scientists are identifying these animals and plants and are trying to figure out plastic pollutions’ role in carrying organisms around the world.

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Citizen Science

The Why

Photo by Russ Johnson, SV Blue Moon
Photo by Russ Johnson, SV Blue Moon

 

Plastics can float really well and are slow to break down, so plastic litter makes new places for marine plants and animals to grow and be carried from one place to another. Marine animals and plants from our coasts, like mussels, barnacles, and seaweeds, can settle on plastic pollution and circulate in the ocean for years, in some cases traveling far enough to reach new shores. Hitchhiking species introduced to new areas can cause local ecosystems to become unbalanced, by taking over the resources that local species need to survive. Therefore, our researchers are trying to figure out how floating plastics provide homes for coastal marine animals and plants until they reach new lands.  

 

 
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Citizen Science

How to Get Involved

Do you have a boat, live on the West Coast or Hawaii, and want to join our team in collecting plastics to help identify ocean drifters?

 

Learn how to register and get involved HERE!

 

If you have any questions, please contact SERCoutreach@si.edu.

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Citizen Science

Register Here

Thank you very much for your interest in the Floating Ocean Ecosystem Tracker project. This project works with a great community of collaborators to study the animals and plants living on floating plastic litter in the open ocean.

Our citizen scientists collect floating plastic in an area of the Pacific Ocean commonly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. If you have a boat and plan to cross the Pacific from California to Hawaii or vice versa, you may be able to join in the effort! While on your journey, you would collect floating plastics and sample the attached animals and plants following a provided Smithsonian protocol. If you would like to participate, please answer the questions below. Once we’ve received your response, we’ll contact you with more information.

Does the boat have a smaller craft that can be launched easily? (ex. dinghy) *