Anchorage Museum
Expedition Members

Pictured: first row, from left, J.J. Kelley, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Jane Rabadi, Kip Evans, Julie Decker, Kate Schafer, Josh Thomas, Odile Madden, and Carl Safina; second row, from left, Carissa Turner, Michael Fitz, Mark Dion, Karen Larsen, Nicholas Mallos, Monica Garcia-Itchoak, Howard Ferren, Dave Gaudet, Peter Murphy, Pam Longobardi, Andrew Hughes, Diane Chung, Leslie Skora, and Tahzay Jones. Not pictured: John Maniscalco. Photo by Kip Evans

EXPEDITION Q AND A

Click on the names below to learn what some members of the Gyre Expedition Team have to say about what they do and how you can help our oceans.

Andy Hughes
University/College Lecturer and Artist

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
I enjoy teaching and lecturing. It's a two-way process between mentoring and finding pathways for a better life. Making art and photographs in particular allows me to experience the world and its rich texture with a sense of purpose.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
Howard Ferren and Pam Longobardi got in touch a few years ago, partly they had seen and read my book about plastic waste and the beach/ocean. It has been a great honor to be involved and to work with everyone involved.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
If you live and spend time by the coast, have been swimming or surfing in the ocean, or have just walked along a shoreline you will have most likely noticed varying amounts of trash and plastic waste in the sea. You might have wondered, how does it get there, what damage does it cause to marine life, ecosystems and inevitably to all the creatures on planet earth including ourselves. Connecting the dots between land, the sea and all manner of human activities that flow into the ocean needs serious attention across all kinds of human endeavors.

What can students do to help?
Read about the issues, become active and choose to turn away from buying single use items such as plastic coffee cups, reuse stuff, buy secondhand, take your water with you, think carefully about where the things you buy come from and where they end up after you throw them away.

Carl Safina, PhD
Founding President, Blue Ocean Institute, and Research Professor, Stony Brook University

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
Everything I work on feels worthwhile. My work has a mission; it's not just a job. And I have been able to see some of the world's most exciting remote places and greatest wildlife, and tell their stories.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
Howard Ferren of the Alaska SeaLife Center called me and I thought the idea was terrific – teaming scientists and artists for more visible impact on the issue.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
Ocean trash is wrong. It hurts animals. It spoils wild beauty. We need to understand where it comes from to try to stop it, and we need to create new materials as useful as plastic but truly biodegradable.

What can students do to help?
Learn more about plastic and about wildlife. Talk more about the ocean plastic problem. Use less plastic. Recycle.

Dave Gaudet
Director of Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
My favorite thing is being able to visit remote and beautiful coasts and in a small way to help to preserve their health.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
Since 2003, the Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation has conducted more than 100 marine debris cleanups removing more that 2.5 million pounds throughout Alaska. We also surveyed much of Bering Sea and Alaska Peninsula coasts. We have an understanding of the overall problem in Alaska.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
Through identification of the type of trash, its origin may be determined and perhaps a means of reducing or preventing it from happening again.

What can students do to help?
Students living along the coast can participate in marine debris cleanups and note what types of items are found and think of how they prevent it from reoccurring. Students living away from the coasts can examine the waterways in their areas to see if they are contributing debris that will eventually end up in the oceans.

Howard Ferren
Director of Conservation, Alaska SeaLife Center

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
Our oceans define what we call earth, the blue planet. Conserving the health and vitality of our oceans is essential for life on this planet. As Director of Conservation at the Alaska SeaLife Center my role is to help maintain healthy and vibrant oceans for future generations.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
I conceived the Gyre project as a way to tell the science of our global marine debris problem through art. I also helped select and build the Gyre team and lead the expedition aboard the vessel Norseman.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
Ocean trash is predominantly composed of plastic items. More than 280 million tons of plastic are used annually in products that in part end up as trash in our oceans. Plastic may last in the environment hundreds of years impacting animals by ingestion, entanglement, entrapment, absorption of toxic compounds and disruption of habitats. We must do all that we can to understand the source of the problem, its impacts, and how to stop adding plastic to the marine environment.

What can students do to help?
Encourage people to not use single-use plastics. Recycle plastics. Take reusable bags to the grocery store and don't use the plastic bags they want to put your groceries in or other products you purchase. Work with your schools to reduce the plastics used in your cafeteria and classroom. Don't bring your sandwich to school in a plastic baggy that you then throw away. Begin a recycling program at school. If you live near a stream or lake or river or the ocean, participate with groups to clean up the shoreline. Ask your teacher if you can do a science report about plastics in our oceans and the impacts they cause to marine mammals, sea turtles, birds and fish and invertebrates.

J.J. Kelley
Filmmaker, Dudes on Media and National Geographic

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
I love the interesting places my job takes me. Often, I'm in a new country experiencing a culture that I would have otherwise never had the chance to witness. It's hard being away from home as much as I am, but I have a very supportive network of family and friends who always welcome me back.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
There is a lot of television and film out there that does little good for the planet. There is also a lot of environmental programming that is a bit dull. I thought this expedition was the perfect opportunity to create a film that's both benevolent for our oceans and engaging on an editorial level. For me, it was the perfect mix.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
The condition of our oceans is a reflection on us as a society. Everyone knows that it's not healthy to live in filth. If we fill our oceans with trash, it will inevitably derogate our own lives.

What can students do to help?
Make your own film, take photographs or write. Better yet, do all three. Tell the story of our planet, every interesting and shifting detail.

John M. Maniscalco (not pictured)
Research Associate, Alaska SeaLife

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
Learning new things about our natural and unnatural world

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
I am a researcher with plenty of boating experience and local knowledge about the marine environment in the northern Gulf of Alaska.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
Ocean trash is compromising the integrity of marine ecosystems, and we need to find ways to remove it effectively and stop it from entering in the first place.

What can students do to help?
Spread the word, teach fellow students, help organize cleanups, and practice what you preach.

Karen Larsen
Artist and Graphic Designer, Creative Space

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
I like to make things.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
I was asked to create a piece for the exhibition. Going on the expedition was a chance to connect with individuals, learn more about trash and see the impacts in Alaska. It was a one-week intensive in which I became immersed in trash and plastics and really got the opportunity to think about my piece that I would create.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
Our oceans are not what they used to be. There are many things impacting them. Plastics in our ocean will take a long time to break down. Every year more and more plastics are building up on our beaches. If we continue at this rate, our beaches and the whole ecosystem will not be healthy.

What can students do to help?
Start thinking about everything that is put in your shopping cart (or your parent's cart). Try to stop using single serving plastic containers, straws, and drinking bottled water. If everyone starts making small changes, the overall impact will lessen.

Kate Schafer
Biology and Environmental Science Teacher, The Harker School

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
I really enjoy teaching students about all the amazing aspects of biology and environmental science.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
I got connected with Howard Ferren through Dolan Dworak, a student at my school with a passion for reducing marine plastics. Howard was looking for a teacher to participate in the expedition, and I was so fortunate to be invited to be that teacher.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
We have already learned a lot about ocean currents by studying the patterns of trash accumulation on beaches. We still have a lot to learn about the degradation of plastic once it gets into the ocean and the impact of this degraded plastic on wildlife. Once we understand these impacts better, we can focus on eliminating the particularly damaging items and work to create a cradle to grave plan for these items.

What can students do to help?
Students can be mindful about the waste that they create. Choose to carry a reusable water bottle instead of drinking bottled water. Only purchase items that you need and know that you will use, and select items based upon their packaging. Students can also help to clean up the waste that ends up on our beaches to prevent it getting into the oceans. Finally, work with the facilities department at your school to contact the trash collection service for your area. Make sure that your school is sorting waste and recycling properly to minimize the amount ending up in the landfill.

Kip Evans
Professional Photographer and Filmmaker, Kip Evans Photography/Mountain and Sea Productions

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
I love exploration, pushing boundaries, and creating images that can be thought provoking. I especially love documenting wild places and knowing that my photographic contributions are helping to not only shape public opinion, but drive change.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
I joined this expedition because I wanted to document a problem that is affecting almost every body of water on earth, including Alaska. Having spent so much of my life along the coast or at sea, I've seen changes to our global ocean that needs to be addressed. As the expedition photographer I wanted to show the world that even Alaska is not immune to the threat of marine trash.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
Plastics are polluting the world's ocean. They are suffocating marine life, destroying habitats and infiltrating our own food supply. If we want to help raise awareness and create a platform for change, we must study how ocean trash moves, effects wildlife and ultimately our own lives.

What can students do to help?
Students can have a huge influence with social media today. I would start small and create a specific call to action. For example, if you live near the ocean, a creek, or river, you could post daily or week images showing plastic trash landing on shore.

Mark Dion
Visual Artist, Mark Dion Studio Inc.

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
Being an artist allows one a great deal of freedom to explore ideas and materials. I can write my own job description each morning I wake up.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
I have been working on the subject of the culture of nature and environmental politics for many years.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
The place of trash in the ocean is important because it jeopardizes the health of the ocean, and that puts us all at risk.

What can students do to help?
Never drink from a plastic bottle ever again.

Nicholas J. Mallos
Conservation Biologist, Marine Debris Specialist, Ocean Conservancy

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
My work has taken me to some of the most remote beaches and ocean environments on the planet. Each time I visit these places, I witness the unintended impacts of disposable plastics on animals like albatross and turtles. Once you stand eye-to-eye with an albatross and witness their splendor, my motivation to eliminate this unnecessary threat from beaches and the ocean takes on another level of urgency.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
The scale and magnitude of Alaska's marine debris problem is unlike any other place I've visited. The remoteness of the Alaska coast underscores the fact that even the most isolated areas of our planet are not immune to the problems of ocean trash.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
Each item of beach litter has a story to tell like where it came from, who manufactured it or its potential to harm animals. This information, along with the stunning wildlife encounters the expedition granted, presents an unparalleled opportunity to convey the severity of the ocean trash problem to the general public. What's evident in places like Alaska is that just because trash is out of sight does not mean it's off the beach or out of the ocean.

What can students do to help?
Going out with your friends and/or family to clean your local beach or river is a great way to get exercise while making a real difference; however, cleaning trash up is only the first step — we have to start preventing it from reaching these environments from the start. So the next thing you can do is make simple changes in your daily routine like packing a trash free lunch for school or asking your parents to send you to sports practice with a reusable water bottle. Lastly, whether it's the lake, the park or the beach, always leave the places you visit a little better than how you found them by picking up any items of trash you find.

Pam Longobardi
Artist and founder of Drifters Project and Professor of Art, Georgia State University

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
Being an artist is one of the hardest jobs one can do, one of the most rewarding, and one of the most important. The world needs all of its artists right now, the seekers, the visionaries, people pushing the envelope of awareness. Artists are like antennae and can see things coming, oftentimes before it reaches mass awareness, and can point towards cultural change. Sometimes artists are ahead of their time, and this can be a lonely place, but when artwork hits a particular zeitgeist of the moment, there's an amazing amount of synergy.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
I was the first artist contacted by the founder of the project Howard Ferren, and he had me onboard from the first conversation. In the beginning, it was just the two of us. I feel like he and I worked so well collaboratively “birthing” the idea of this project, and then with Howard's tenacious energy and drive, the whole amazing team was assembled, starting with the first real allegiance and support through Julie Decker and the Anchorage Museum. I am so honored by his invitation to play a part in inviting the team, and forever grateful to the world-class artists and scientists that were able to make this voyage together.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
I believe the ocean is communicating with us through the products of our own making, communicating through the tangled webs of nets, the deformed objects, the ghosts of our consumption that we have “toxified” the world with, and that the ocean is now vomiting back up for us to look at. It's our chance to turn this ship of human impact before we smash everything to smithereens. We are on a looming collision course with our own wastefulness, and we have about a minute or two to save ourselves, and the creatures of the earth.

What can students do to help?
Stop buying and using any single use disposable plastic. You can find alternatives for almost everything, and if you can't, write the company and demand they package their products in less toxic materials! Choose glass, cloth, metal or paper over plastic whenever possible. Never take those horrible plastic bags! If you forgot your cloth bags, make yourself carry your groceries without a bag, you'll never forget them again! Decrease the amount of seafood you eat, but if you must eat it, know where it comes from, how it was fished, what its mercury levels are, and only support small-scale, local or sustainable fisheries. That goes for all animal products. Factory farming and factory fishing is just about the worst thing you could participate in, for your body, for the environment and for sheer horror of how this food is produced. Watch the films: “End of the Line,” “Earthlings,” and “Food, Inc.” before you take another bite.

Peter Murphy
Regional Coordinator – Alaska, NOAA Marine Debris Program

Favorite thing about your job or why you chose to work in this field:
My favorite overall thing is how diverse the challenges of marine debris are, and the opportunity to help address those challenges – everything from workshops, data analysis, to getting out into the field and problem-solving a cleanup or data collection challenge. It helps immensely to have a first-hand understanding of the challenges of marine debris research, removal, transport and disposal that groups tackle in Alaska. Learning those challenges and differences helps me do a better job, in the field or at my desk.

How or why did you become part of this expedition?
The Expedition team invited NOAA to participate in collecting data on debris concentrations on the trip. This was a great opportunity to get on-the-ground data in remote locations where we wouldn't otherwise be able to go, and, even more, a great chance to dialogue and share experience and perspective with artists, scientists, and the groups that go out and clean these remote beaches.

Why is studying ocean trash important?
Marine debris is an everyday, global problem that can have big impacts on natural resources, the economy, navigation, and even human health and safety. But it's also a solvable problem where people can make a difference with simple choices about what they use, how they use it, and how they dispose of it.

What can students do to help?
Learn about the environment and our impact on it, get involved, and make sustainable decisions in what you use! All kinds of choices big and small – reusing and recycling plastics, volunteering to help clean a beach or stream, or even doing research on ways to make what we use better – can add up to big improvements for our marine environment.