Carl Safina – Lead Scientist on Alaskan Gyre Expedition

GYRE Expedition: Hauling Trash off an Alaska beach.

Scientists, Artists and Educators Explore Marine Debris Crisis; Museum Exhibition Followed

On June 7, 3013 an international team of scientists, artists and educators launched an expedition to study the global marine debris crisis from one of the most breathtaking places on the planet: southwest Alaska.

The Gyre project was a collaboration between the Anchorage Museum and Alaska SeaLife Center, in partnership with several national and Alaska-based organizations.

The Research Vessel Norseman departed from Seward on Friday, June 7, and traveled 450 nautical miles west from Resurrection Bay along the Kenai Peninsula coast, then crossed the Kennedy Entrance channel to Shuyak and Afognak islands. Along the way, the crew stopped to observe, document and collect shoreline trash. The expedition ended with an intensive cleanup of Hallo Bay in Katmai National Park, a remote area that has experienced an influx of debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

Howard Ferren of the Alaska SeaLife Center headed the expedition, along with lead scientist Carl Safina, Founding President of The Safina Center (formerly Blue Ocean Institute) and Research Professor at Stony Brook University in New York. The expedition also included representatives from the Smithsonian Institution, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Geographic, Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation, Anchorage Museum and Ocean Conservancy.

“I had strongly mixed feelings about this expedition,” says Carl Safina. “I was hugely looking forward to a trip-of-a-lifetime to some of the planet’s best remaining places with some of the planet’s most committed people. It has been such an honor. On the other hand, how sad it is that garbage and debris are what called us to wild shores, that massive windrows of trash have become the new sirens. How tragic that civilization has not yet made a better deal with the world. But we have done our job, which is to bear witness. And to witness bears. And to say what is, and offer a vision of what could be.”

This expedition was the first phase of the Gyre project. Phase two culminated in a 7,500-square-foot “Gyre” art and science exhibition on view at the Anchorage Museum from February through September, 2014. The exhibition will tell a global marine debris story through the work of more than 20 artists from around the world, including Los Angeles’ Cynthia Minet, who re-purposes plastic containers into life-size animal sculptures, and San Francisco’s Susan Middleton, who photographs the effects of marine debris on animals.

An exhibition section specific to Alaska features the 2013 expedition’s resulting scientific discoveries, as well as art created from trash gathered on Alaska’s beaches during the journey. The exhibition incorporates content from the Burke Museum’s “Plastics Unwrapped” exhibition, offering a scientific and cultural history of how plastics are used in our daily lives.


Carl Safina’s Dispatches from the Expedition

GYRE Website

The Anchorage Museum

The Alaska SeaLife Center

Marine Debris Overview – The Safina Center

GYRE – Marine Debris Fact Sheet