Our search for plastic pollution in the Chilean fjords continues. The Sea Dragon and its crew — including yours truly, thanks to a sponsorship from Electrolux — have been toughing out some pretty intense weather in Patagonia but we’ve been eking in some science in between fighting the waves from the sailboat rails. I had a chance to help Anna Rotander of the MTM Research Center at Orebro University in Orebro, Sweden take some fish samples to bring back to her lab in Sweden yesterday and got to know a bit more about the history of the boat from our Skipper. Read on to see what I learned.
Anna is taking water samples to analyze the levels of fluorinated, chlorinated and brominated chemicals — also known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). “These chemicals are everywhere and we can analyze them at very low levels, because we have very sensitive instruments. We will probably find most classes of POPs [in fish in a Gyre] but I would assume you would find them at lower levels here because we are far from point sources.” In the research her lab does they’ve taken samples from many places around the world and she noted that she could guess at the levels anywhere but they are doing research for a reason, because, “really you never know, if you knew exactly what you would find you wouldn’t have to do anything.”
Anna’s group is hoping to study these chemicals in very remote places — like the Chilean fjords in Patagonia, where we are now — in order to see how far and wide the chemicals travel. They think that by recording levels of these pollutants in remote waters they will be able to better understand how they are distributed and how long they persist. For now our fish sample is sitting in Anna’s perfectly cooled refrigerator waiting for its scientific debut.
When we land in Valdivia she will bring the sample back to her lab in Sweden. “It will be prepared in our lab and will be analyzed. The muscle will be analyzed for POPs and the liver for fluorinated chemicals. POPs tend to accumulate in fatty tissue whereas fluorinated chemicals are mainly found in blood and liver tissue.” As our skipper Clive told me earlier, though it may just be one fish, it is the first scientific research of its kind. “The work that we are doing is baseline data, it is not as comprehensive as it could be. It is a first study, it is a first stab at trying to quantify the amount of plastic in all oceans in the world.”
Post sponsored by Electrolux
Inhabitat Writer and Video Producer Brit Liggett was chosen by Electrolux to be a crew member on the latest 5 Gyres expedition. She is traveling along the southern coast of Chile helping the crew of the Sea Dragon study plastic pollution along the Chilean coastline. This post is sponsored by Electrolux