Two environmental research and advocacy centers, 5 Gyres Institute and the Algalita Marine Research Institute, are offering nine places on a 72-foot research yacht for $13,500 to $15,500 per person to view– and research– the ocean debris fields of Japan’s tsunami.

The expedition’s first leg will sail from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands through the area of the North Pacific Gyre commonly referred to as the “Western Garbage Patch” where little research has been conducted on plastic pollution.  The trip’s second leg will travel due east from Japan to Hawaii through the gyre, a vast vortex of ocean currents where plastic debris accumulates, to cross the “Japan Tsunami Debris Field.” Of great interest to the researchers is how fast the plastic trash is traveling across the gyre, how quickly or slowly it is decomposing, how rapidly marine life is colonizing on it, and whether it is transporting invasive species.

Algalita and 5 Gyres have been selling crew positions on their voyages for a few years. There is a theory that experiencing environmental ills (or joys) has the ability to deeply affect environmental values. Though there is ample and well-deserved debate over whether disaster tourism creates or reinforces environmental values enough to turn people towards life-long behavior change or leadership, in this case, “tourists” become crew members and part of a scientific team. Not only will participants develop concrete skills in sailing and trawling for debris, but they will become an inextricable part of a system of producing knowledge about international plastic pollution. In other words, participants graduate from “Tourist” to “Expert.” This is one of the more promising sides of what we might call rigorous disaster tourism.

The trip runs from May 1 through July 1, 2012. The voyage is open to anyone 18 years or older, and participants are expected to help crew the ship and work along scientists.

The full call for participation is here.