The first Plastic Busters expedition was carried out in the historic vessel Amerigo Vespucci, kindly made available by the Italian Navy for this exciting trip. The beautiful vessel crossed the Pelagos Sanctuary area (Italy–Monaco–France) over a period of 5 days, following the route from Leghorn (Italy) to Toulone (France).The Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals is a marine protected area covering about 90,000 square kilometers in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. A remarkable cetacean fauna, consisting of 8 species including the baleen whale Balaenoptera physalus, coexists in the sanctuary despite very high levels of human pressure. Coastal tourism, recreational and commercial fishing, marine vessels, and marine industries are all sources of plastic litter that can directly enter the marine environment, posing a risk to the fauna and flora of this precious region.
During this first trip of the Plastic-Busters project, researchers on board took samples to analyze the presence of plastics in the sea. Three main scientific activities were conducted:
a) Collection, counting, and sorting of micro-plastics and planktonic organisms in superficial neustonic/planktonic and water column samples, was undertaken along the entire route;
b) Detection of phthalate concentrations in superficial neustonic/planktonic and water column samples.
2) Direct monitoring of macro-debris
A quantitative system to assess floating litter (surface water) from ships was used during the expedition.
3) Cetaceans direct monitoring
This expedition also represented an opportunity for interaction with stakeholders in the main harbors reached.