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Posted by on Apr 7, 2010 in Environment, UK, US |

Tracking Plastic to the Source with Sealife Conservation

Dave Robinson has a date with some trash under the Golden Gate this week. When? On the outgoing tide.

Derek M. Baylis, the WylieCat 65 that Sealife Conservation uses as its research vessel

Derek M. Baylis, the WylieCat 65 that Sealife Conservation uses as its research vessel

Dave Robinson has a date with some trash under the Golden Gate this week. When? On the outgoing tide.

As managing director of Sealife Conservation, Dave will be onboard their WylieCat 65, the Derek M. Baylis, conducting trash surveys this week.  Using GIS mapping hardware and geo-tracking technology, Sealife has developed a database of over 120 distinct debris types that make it possible to map exactly how much of what is flowing out of San Francisco Bay and into the Pacific.  They’ve been studying the outflow under the Golden Gate since 2007, and last year they created the map shown below.  This week’s visit will take place during the same tide cycle.

“We hope to gather more information to support our educational efforts on marine debris,” Robinson wrote in a recent blog post.  “We’ll be sharing our data with scientists from NOAA’s Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the Romberg Tiburon Center. These findings will also help lawmakers understand the threat that marine debris poses to marine life.”

A map of debris flowing out of San Francisco Bay on the ebb tide

A map of debris flowing out of San Francisco Bay on the ebb tide

And that’s the difference between Sealife Conservation and some other green organizations: in addition to capturing data and educating the public about reducing plastic use, Sealife Conservation is also helping communities to pass bans on Styrofoam takeout containers and plastic bags. An estimated 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources, and seeing where it originates sends a powerful message to lawmakers and consumers alike.

Dave Robinson, of Sealife Conservation

Dave Robinson, of Sealife Conservation

Based in Santa Cruz, California, the Derek M. Baylis spends summers exploring the rich aquatic environment of Monterey Bay.  Visitors to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium can join naturalists or take a turn at the helm, getting a firsthand look at some of the creatures also on exhibit inside the Aquarium.

Sealife Conservation’s goal is to increase the awareness of marine debris, and to inspire individuals to take direct action to reduce it.  “What can you do? Bring your own bag to the grocery store and refill your own waterbottle,” Robinson says. “If lots of people make a small change, it will have a big impact on what we’re seeing in the ocean.”

Robinson also reminds us that the seafood we choose to eat can have a long-term effect on ocean conservation.  “When you avoid endangered seafood, you discourage exploitation of those species. Buying sustainable seafood directly supports fishermen. Simple steps, but they have tremendous impact on the natural world.”  A list of endangered seafood is available on their website.

—Carol Newman Cronin

Editor’s Note: If you’re in the San Francisco area and would like to join Robinson on his date with the Bay’s outgoing tide, contact him through Sealife Conservation.