Marine Debris Mapping In California

serviceatsea…from The GIS Institute and Service At Sea

We have been partnering with SeaLife Conservation in their efforts to raise awareness of marine debris, its sources, and its ill effects on ocean creatures and ecosystems. The main offices of SeaLife Conservation are the 65′ sailing vessel, Derek M Baylis, built specifically for research and conservation work. While running an experiential program called “Science Under Sail” with The Monterrey Bay Aquarium, the crew began removing plastic from the water while they discussed ocean issues with participants. By the time we met them in 2007, they were marking location of the debris with GPS as it was removed from the water, and SeaLife volunteers began producing basic maps of the debris fields. In 2008 we facilitated a GIS software grant from the ESRI Conservation Program, and we donated a laptop to run the GIS software on. This year, with the help of Douglas Scott from Avalanche Mapping (Boulder, CO), we configured Trimble Nomad GPS receivers with a custom interface to simplify data collection, reducing the time, labor, and skill involved in maneuvering to, netting, and collecting debris data as it is spotted in the bay.

The Science Under Sail program informs the way people see and think about marine ecosystems, and plastics. Plastics do not break down – they only break apart. Thus in the oceans, no matter what size, shape, or color, plastic resembles some living creature, which means some other living creature eats it, and eventually dies with indigestible plastic in its body. Another major problem addressed in the program is entanglement of animals in plastics and other derelict fishing gear. If you are in Monterrey, this half-day trip is really worth your time. Find more info, and see a cool video of Science Under Sail on the Monterrey Aquarium web site.

The efforts of SeaLife Conservation are now shifting – to raise awareness of where debris (mainly plastics) are coming from. SeaLife was responsible for convincing all the food vendors in Monterrey to stop using Styrofoam containers, as that was the most common debris found in the bay a few years ago. Now they are involved in several plastic bans in the multi-county San Francisco Bay area.