Jennifer Fry: March 25, 2012 Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette
March 12 – March 26, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 25, 2012


The plankton net is towed alongside of the ship. Scientists have collected what appears to be synthetic material in the tows. These are examined by scientists using a microscope.
The 1 meter oblique plankton net collects marine debris that is analyzed in the lab.

Microplastics Operations

NOAA scientist, Louise Giuseffi  heads the microplastic study aboard  the Sette.  She is monitoring plastics in the waters of American Samoa by conducting trawls both on the surface and at depth using several types of plankton nets:

  • The Manta Net is a smaller unit that collects plankton and plastics at the surface.
  • The Issacs Kidd is a larger surface net that filters greater volumes of water.
  • The 1-meter ring oblique net collects throughout the water column down to approximately 230 meters.

She hopes to conduct qualitative studies on plastics asking the question, “Are plastics present in the South Pacific Gyre?” Back in the lab, she plans to analyze each sample to conduct quantitative studies asking, “How much plastic is in the ocean?” In addition, she’s also looking to answer the question, “Are fish consuming plastic?” She will answer these questions by collecting plankton tow samples and analyzing stomach contents of fish caught in American Samoan waters.  Back in lab, she will determine if fish are in fact consuming plastics as part of their diet.

The theory is that different plastics have different densities depending on their chemical composition. If the plastic is less dense than salt water, it will float in the ocean. If the plastic is denser than salt water, it will sink. In this way, plastics are not necessarily at the surface. Plastics photodegrade and break into smaller pieces from sunlight and the elements.  It is important to note that plastic will never breakdown into its original chemical components.  Plastic will not biodegrade.

She hopes to find if there is a presence of plastic in the South Pacific Gyre, and bring awareness to the world-wide problem of plastics in our oceans and in our food chain. “To date we have found synthetic debris in nearly every sample using visual analysis.   There are pieces of debris that appear to be plastic, however this will need to be confirmed by  further investigation in the lab,”  says Louise.

Louise’s studies are on the cutting edge, and she is forging a new path in marine microplastics  studies.  To date, there is very little information on debris in the water of the South Pacific Gyre and Louise is attempting to expose the presence of plastics in the oceans as a world-wide problem.

For more information about marine plastics and debris go to:

NOAA’s Marine debris site:

Five Gyres Institute :

Charles Moore website:


Animals seen:

hatchet fish


These sculpin fish and other deep water fish were caught in the Cobb net deep water trawl conducted in the early morning hours.

tang fish

Silver lancet fish

This silver lancet fish was caught during small boat fishing in the waters off American Samoa.
This lancet fish was caught today during small boat operations.

Personal Log:

My time on NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette has been such an incredible learning experience for myself  personally, and for what I will bring back to my students.   My profound gratitude goes out to the dedicated science team, NOAA Corps, and crew aboard the  Sette  for all they have taught me.

Wishing you fair winds and following seas.

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