Shailene Woodley and UF researchers saw sperm whales, a single flip-flop and thousands of microplastics in the middle of the ocean.
Nerine Constant and Alexandra Gulick, 29-year-old UF doctoral students who study sea turtles, participated in a sea research expedition as part of the Greenpeace Protect the Oceans campaign with Woodley, an activist and “Divergent” actress. The goal of the expedition is to study how climate change affects the ecosystem.
The campaign pushes for a Global Ocean Treaty to protect open oceans that are offshore from any country’s national waters because they lack protection and oversight, Gulick said.
The yearlong expedition, which began in the Arctic and ended in Antarctica, started in April. The UF duo, who joined the expedition from July 29 to Aug. 12, researched free-floating algae that congregates into thick mats in the Sargasso Sea.
Woodley joined the expedition, which researched key locations and ecosystems in the high seas. She wrote an article for Time magazine detailing her experience. The expeditioners’ goals are to highlight threats to the ocean.
The Sargasso Sea has a diverse ecosystem and could potentially be a part of the ocean where discarded waste collects, Woodley wrote.
“Staring at the vast blanket of blue ahead of us, the baking sun tanning our legs, the fresh, clean air filling our lungs, its difficult to imagine this paradise being declared a ‘climate emergency’,” Woodley wrote.
The UF students’ research is focused on if algae acts like incubators for baby loggerhead sea turtles. The UF students’ research is focused on if algae acts like incubators for baby loggerhead sea turtles. The warmth from solar radiation causes increasing temperatures in algal areas, which may help growth rates.
Turtles get caught in the currents that surround the Sargasso Sea, and they end up in the algae mats, Constant said.
The algae are a developmental habitat for young turtles as they stay in the open waters for five to 10 years, Gulick said.
Expeditioners saw plastic in the open water more than 200 miles from shore.
Gulick said everyone on the trip reflected on their use of plastic. One of the scientists on the expedition grabbed a patch of seaweed and shook out thousands of microplastics.
“Even though we were aware that there was a plastic issue in the ocean, that’s a huge problem,” she said. “There’s just something about it once you go out and see it.”
Constant and Gulick said Woodley helps raise awareness about issues in unregulated waters.
“She didn’t just show up to the expedition for the photo ops. Even now that the expedition is over, she’s really trying to maintain the presence in the press and in the public eye to really raise awareness,” Gulick said.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the impact of solar radiation on sea turtles, which may help their growth rates. The Alligator previously reported different.
Shailene Woodley joined UF researchers Nerine Constant and Alexandra Gulick on a Greenpeace expedition to the Sargasso Sea. Woodley wrote a TIME article detailing her experiences on the expedition and how she will continue advocating for protecting the oceans.© Shane Gross / Greenpeace
Alexandra Gulick holds a juvenile green turtle that has been tagged as a part of a long-term monitoring project conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service at Buck Island Reef National Monument. Kristen Hart, USGS Research Ecologist
Nerine Constant holds a juvenile green turtle captured as part of permitted research in Abaco, The Bahamas. Elizabeth Whitman, Florida International University