Biology professor ventures to explore plastic pollution

Santa Monica College professor Garen Baghdasarian is venturing on a ten-week expedition around the South Atlantic Ocean to find and observe potentially hazardous plastic particles in the ocean. "At some point, you've got to say ‘you know what? Am I going to be part of the solution or part of the problem?'" said Baghdasarian.

Baghdasarian is a marine biology teacher at SMC, where he has taught for ten years. He lives in Santa Monica with his wife, Sara, who will join him on the expedition.

He is a member of an organization called 5 Gyres, which works to evaluate the plastic pollution occurring in oceanic waters and find its effects on marine life.

Along with about ten other people from 5 Gyres, Baghdasarian will travel on an approximately 72-foot boat called the Sea Dragon.

"The idea is to bring attention to this problem," said Baghdasarian.

Based on 5 Gyres findings, action could be taken and brought to the community's attention depending on the status of the problem and its impact on sea life and the food chain.

Baghdasarian will measure and collect samples of chlorophyll, salinity, pH, and more. He also plans to find out what effect the plastic is causing on the phytoplankton living in these waters at a global level.

"Globally, there was a 40 percent drop in phytoplankton levels," said Baghdasarian. "It's slowly getting out there. There's some resistance. Political lobbies, for example, are pushing against it," he said.

The group will travel from Valdivia, Chile to Tahiti, with a one-week layover on Easter Island where Baghdasarian will conduct samples in a laboratory.

The group leaves on March 10thand expects to return May 21stor 22nd.

SMC is providing Baghdasarian $9,000 in funding for the trip. $5,000 comes from the SMC Foundation's Chair of Excellence program, $3,500 from the SMC Global Citizenship Council and $500 in professional development funds. Baghdasarian also received a $5,000 Foundation "Margin of Excellence" grant for equipment.

Aside from this expedition, the Baghdasarian's actively study plastic pollution in the local community. Sara has begun a test called "The Daily Ocean" where for 365 consecutive days she visits the beach to clean and write about her findings whether it be plastic spoons, cherry pits or tire irons.

There arent's any SMC students accompanying  him on the March trip, but Baghdasarian would like to consider taking students on a future expedition.

Baghdasarian mentioned Hawaii as a prospect to examine the plastics in the water there. Also with the global warming issue in Taiwan, he would also like to take students there to study how coral reefs are being bleached by something unfamiliar in the water as well as studying the warming of the water.

"I don't know what I'm going to find. You go out there with no pre-conceived ideas. I have my hypothesis and I am going to go out and test my hypothesis," said Baghdasarian.