Marine scientists, including Santa Monica researchers Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, set sail earlier this month for the first part of a global study of plastic marine pollution.

The study’s maiden voyage, from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands through the Sargasso Sea, is part of the “5 Gyres Project,” which plans to launch a second sail across the South Atlantic in August.

Eriksen and Cummins, who are directing the project, have worked with Capt. Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, documenting the growing accumulation of plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre widely known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”

Eriksen and Cummins said they will work with the Algalita Marine foundation to deepen their previous research focus of quantifying floating plastics, including micro-plastic fragments consumed by fish. During the sail, the couple will collect samples of the ocean’s surface, seafloor sediment and fish for stomach content and tissue analysis.

“Plastic particles at sea act as magnets for chemicals like DDT, PCBs, flame retardants and other pollutants,” Cummins says. “The Five Gyres Project is now working to advance our previous research with targeted testing to determine if these chemicals accumulate in fish, travel up the food chain and end up on our dinner plates.”

The 5 Gyres Project is a collaboration among AMRF, Livable Legacy and Pangaea Explorations. The project’s title sponsor is Blue Turtle.

On January 28th, the scientists will sail on the 72-foot sloop Sea Dragon for the Azores through the Sargasso Sea, an elongated region in the middle of the North Atlantic surrounded by ocean currents which form another oceanic gyre. Cummins and Eriksen expect to return to Santa Monica by mid-February.