Adventures With Algalita

Yes, they took me to the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the summer of 2011, but since then they’ve also let me hang out at their office and lab and taught me a ton about plastic pollution science and education. As I wrap up another session of fieldwork with the Algalita Marine Research Institute, I thought I’d share some of the most memorable moments from the past year.

1. Heathwood Hall Visit

Being part of the team leading a week of student research at the lab helped me realize just how much I’ve learned about the science of plastic in the ocean. I even got to go out sample collecting on the Alguita with Captain Moore and help make this awesome video documenting the research process. The students insisted on including my brief, yet highly embarrassing appearance circa 1:00. And now I know exactly how ridiculous I look when teaching.

2. Trash-hunting


From landfill tours to checking trash booms on local rivers and watching Katie rescue runaway 6-pack rings from the marina behind the office (while waiting for the Endeavour flyover), I’ve learned a ton about how plastic moves through the local watershed. Like the little duck, plastic continues to sneak past barriers and head out to sea. Not only do I now have plastic-vision super powers (I see it EVERYWHERE), I have developed a habit of bringing garbage home: there’s a pretty decent collection of plastic curiosities growing on my shelf.

3. Youth Summit at the Google Office

Plastic Ocean Pollution Solutions - Regional Youth Training 2012


Inspired by people half my age twice as articulate, I found my cynical academic-self challenged make peace with optimism. Maybe reusable bags, straws and sporks really do lead to something bigger, especially in the hands of youth upset about the global problems they’ve inherited. I learned a thing or two about public speaking (no crossed arms, tell a story), and got to eat pizza cooked by a dragon before helping to scrub google’s shiny counters free of flour.

The big events are easy to highlight, but it’s really all the little everyday things that make them and my research possible. Like microplastics at sea, the things that matter are not always the most photogenic. A giant north pacific subtropical gyre-sized thank you to Algalita for always, always making me feel so welcome. And don’t worry, I’ll be back for more adventures!

Sea Dragon Reunion















I spent a happy past weekend helping out with Algalita special events at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. In addition to extra big display tables and a lecture and book signing by Charlie, the Sea Dragon and crew were docked for tours.

After seven months apart, I weave through buildings with the tall mast as my guide, approaching the boat with excitement and slight trepidation. Would the Sea Dragon look the same? Would the crew remember me from the July expedition? Would stepping aboard bring back the nausea?

And there she is, all white-clean and shiny from a winter of refurbishments. A brand new mainsail replaces the one splitting at the seams last summer, the shiny paint on the now-white hull not yet chipped by sampling equipment hand-hauled on and off deck in open seas.

I descend into the cabin (facing forward, swinging from the deck rather than safely backwards as directed of course), and it feels like the same friendly boat with new clothes. There’s some fancy wood shelving, brand-new seat cushions, and everything moveable stowed clean out of sight. I admire the new electrical system, especially the individual sockets for charging laptops in each bunk space. But the second I see ‘my’ bunk there’s a tiny flashback to the first rough days of the expedition, a mini wave of nausea. Or maybe it was just skipper Dale sneaking up behind me to rock my shoulders while chanting “woooeeeeweeeeooo.”

This was a test. The visit held the answer to a question I keep asking myself: would I do it again despite the first rough days, the close quarters with people that start as strangers, weeks without land in sight?

YES! Absolutely. If only I had funding.

If you’d like to join the Algalita-Sea Dragon families on the science adventure of a lifetime, a few guest crew spaces remain for both the Western Pacific Garbage Patch and Tsunami Debris Field expeditions coming up this May.