Friday, March 7, 2008

Message in a Bottle

Building on the tremendous momentum of our recent voyage across the North Pacific Gyre, The Algalita Marine Research Foundation is planning another epic sailing journey from Los Angeles back to Hawaii....


On a raft built of 20,000 plastic bottles.

The brainchild of Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Algalita's research and education director, the 3,000 mile journey will bring awareness to the issue of plastic marine debris.



Though undoubtedly an ambitious undertaking, the voyage is in good hands - Dr. Eriksen has a long history of experience building recycled bottle boats. In 2003, honoring a pledge he made to a fellow marine during the Persian Gulf War, Marcus built a raft out of 232 2 liter plastic bottles and sailed down the entire Mississippi River


This spawned the construction of numerous seaworthy bottle crafts:



Fluke, built with students from the Environmental Charter High School, sailed from Santa Barbara to San Diego raising ocean awareness along the way;





The Cola Kayak, also built with ECHS students rafted down the LA River;





The Plastic Poison, built in Juneau Alaska with partner organization Turning the Tide;








And the Potomac Attack - built with students participating in the Weather Channel's Forecast Earth summit, paddled across the Potomac River.









Saturday, February 23, 2008

Welcome home to ORV Alguita and crew!



ORV Alguita and crew have arrived safely in Long Beach, CA after a very successful month long research voyage!

Endings and beginnings

Our noon position: Almost home! Latitude: 35 55.923 North Longitude:118 45.508

Hola ORV Alguita friends, and Ship to Shore students,

A huge thanks to the students from West Lafayette, Lennox Elementary and Middle School, the Environmental Charter High, Animo Leaderhsip Academy, Brooksbank Elementary, Luis A Rivera School, Gilmour Academy Middle School, Burbank Middle School, George Washington High, Parker Middle School, Geilenkirchen Elementary, Programa Escuela a Bordo- Centro Aqua Sendas, Cowan Road Middle School, Edwards Middle School, Point Fermin Elementary, Winthrop Elementary, and the many friends and supporters


This is the final morning of our journey… and the beginning of new adventures for all of us. Including a big one for two of our crew members - Anna and Marcus were so enamored of their experience on board that they decided to spend a lifetime doing this..... together! We figure Anna is probably the only woman to be proposed to in the North Pacific Gyre, sitting atop the boom of a research vessel....or to receive a ring woven together from rope debris.


It’s been so great to have you all on board! Your support raised our spirits, and we loved reading your comments – something we looked forward to every day. We may have another equally exciting adventure coming up – so stay tuned. There will be opportunities for many of you to join in, and possibly even help us build a boat…..More about this later, so do keep in touch.


We had a tidal wave of questions from West Lafayette: Byrozoans are a subcategory of phyla called "Lophophorates", characterized by a whorl of feeding tentacles. Bryozoans are known as "moss animals", they have a moss like appearance, but they are more like worms. And often form their "homes" on floating debris, like you've seen in our photos.


You also asked about barnacle foam. As you know, we've been sailing in the ocean for 4 weeks without sight of land. Our strategy to keep afloat is to use a 50 ft. sailboat, but what strategies do other creatures in the gyre use? Some walk on water, like Halobaites, a water-strider and the only seagoing insect. Another is a small purple snail that makes bubbles to stay afloat. Then others, like the crabs, just swim until they find something to grab onto. But the Gooseneck barnacle, if it cannot find debris to cling to, will secete a foam that looks like styrofoam. A small colony of a dozen individuals will build a foam raft together about the size of a golf ball. These are just a few of the millions of specialized adaptations that marine organisms employ to survive in unique places, like the middle of the sea.


And a few of you wanted a quick summary of what exactly we were doing, and if we found what we were looking for, so here goes:


The purpose of this trip was to continue “documenting”, or gathering evidence, to answer some important questions about the health of our oceans, and ultimately our own:


· How much plastic debris is there floating on the surface of the North Pacific Ocean?

· Does the amount of plastic debris outweigh the amounts of plankton? How might this be affecting the marine creatures that feed on plankton?

· Are marine creatures like seabirds, fish, salps etc. eating plastic debris, mistaking it for food?

· If fish are eating plastic contaminated with toxic pollutants, and we are eating fish…..how might this be impacting our health?


We were specifically researching a massive region – a weather system in fact – called the North Pacific Gyre. You can read more here about the Gyre. It’s like a HUGE whirlpool- stretching from California to Japan that keeps trash circulating around in its currents for decades.


We know this plastic trash is a problem. We know it doesn’t belong here, thousands of miles from land. We know its not good for marine creatures to be eating it, and that its morally wrong for us to be fouling up their home.


But in order to get the world to pay attention, and start making changes, we need to PROVE it. We need accurate data, and real hard numbers, so we can bring this information to governments, industries, and the public, and show them just how serious this issue has become.


And what did we find? If you’ve been reading the blog, by now you should have a pretty good idea of what we found……lots of plastic. We won’t know exactly how much until we get all of our samples to the lab and start processing them, but we can tell you for sure that the amounts have increased significantly since Captain Moore began studying this area ten years ago. In fact, one of our crewmates, Jeff – our youngest on board, will be working directly with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to help process these samples. Over the coming weeks, he may be able to share this with you – take you inside our lab, and tell you a bit about how we process our samples. You can all see what its like to be a scientist!


Did we find what we were looking for? We gathered a ton of information, but our research is far from over, and we still have many, many questions. We do have enough information though to know without a doubt that the flow of plastic trash to our oceans has got to stop now, and that we will need governments, industries, the media, and all of you to get involved with making some big changes!


And addressing one final, critical question from Jeff’s father, who clearly empathized with our food cravings… No sooner did we hit land yesterday –stopped in Morro Bay for a key refuel – then a few of us bolted for the nearest market in search of FRESH PRODUCE. We found a little health food store, and bought what we thought was a good quantity of veggie matter – kale, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, red peppers, and a bunch of fruit…We inhaled a few peppers and apples on the walk back to port, tore through the raw kale standing in the kitchen, and last night wolfed down a huge salad with the remaining veggies. In this case, our stomachs were bigger than our eyes! Your son spoke wistfully about doughnuts…


All in all, this trip has been a culinary wonder, with three avid chefs on board, we enjoyed superlative cuisine daily. Much food for thought, in many, many ways.


Thanks again for your support, and as always, a final Aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of the ORV Alguita!


Hola estudiantes del Ship to Shore!
Y muchisimas gracias a todos ustedes – de Los Angeles, Houston, Chile, y Puerto Rico su apoyo fue importantisimo, y nos animo un monton. Cada dia nos emocino leer sus comentarios!

Estamos hoy en el dia final del viaje….y la empieza de unas aventuras nuevas para todos nosotros. Tenemos previsto otro viaje posible, uno que sera muy, muy intereante, asi que quedense con nosotros. Haran opportnidades por muchos de ustedes de hacer un papel importante con ese viaje, hasta ayudarnos con constuir la embarcacion…..les cuento mas despues, asi que nos mantengan en contacto.

Unos estudiantes querian un resumen del motivo y los conclusiones de nuestra investigacion:

El motivo era seguir con documentar, o juntar pruebas para contestar unas preguntas importantes sobre la salud de nuestros oceanos, y tambien de nosotros:

· Que cantidad de plastico hay en la supericie del oceano Pacifico Norte ?

· Pesan mas que el plankton los desechos de plastico en el medioambiente marino? O sea, hay mas plastico que plankton? Y como puede afectar eso a los animales marinos que se alimentan con plankton?

· Los animales marinos como aves, peces, salpas, etc. se equivocan el plastico por comida y se lo comen?

Si los peces comen plastico contaminado con toxicos, y nosotros comemos pescado, como puede afectar a nuestra salud?

Nosotros nos enfocamos para nuestra investigacion a un region enorme – un sistema climatico que se llama el Giro del Pacifico Norte. Pueden leer mas en el internet respecto al giro. Es como un remolino gigante – extiende desde California hasta Japon – que sigue circulando la basura por anos y anos.

Ya sabemos que es un problema grande. Sabemos que no tiene lugar aqui, muy muy lejos de nuestra tierra. Sabemos que es peligroso por los animales, y que no es justo que ensuciemos su hogar.

Pero, para que el mundo preste attencion, y eimpiece hacer cambios, nosotros debemos probarlo. Necesitamos datos precisos y numeros exactos para mostrarlos a los gobiernos, las industrias y el publico, y demonstrales que el asunto ya es muy grave.

Por haber leido nuestro blog ustedes ya se enteran de los hallazgos nuestros…mucho plastico. No sabremos exactamente cuanto hasta que el laboratorio termine con analizar nuestras muestras, pero con toda seguridad podemos decirles que las cantidades se han aumentado bastante desde que empezo estudiar ese problema Capitan Moore desde hace diez anos.

De hecho, nuestro Jeff – el mas joven de la tripulacion – va a trabajar con el lab para ayudarles con analizar las muestras, asi que el les puede contar en las semanas siguientes del proceso. El les lleva dentro del lab y les explica del trabajo, para que ustedes tengan una idea de como es trabajar como scientifico!

En fin, juntamos mucha informacion y muchas muestras, pero tambien nos queda mucho trabajo. Y mas preguntas….sin duda, tenemos lo suficiente para entender que el corre de basura plastica al oceano debe parar ya! Y que se require la cooperacion de todos, incluso ustedes, los ciudadanos mundiales del futuro.

Pues por favor, que sigan con sus pasiones por proteger el medioambiente, y que nos mantengan en contacto, seria fantastico que puedan venir en otros viajes con nosotros!

GRACIAS Y SALUDOS DEL CAPITAN Y LA TRIPULACION DEL ORV ALGUITA!!!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Meet the crew: Anna and Herb

Our noon position: Latitude: 35 13.230 North Longitude: 123 06.940 West


We’re two days away from our final arrival, a fine time to tell you a bit about our last two crew members. You’ve “met” them many times in the blog, through photos and stories….but here’s a few words directly from Anna and Herb.


Anna is our blogger, she’s been writing up most of the posts here (including writing this one about herself, which is kind of strange, writing about yourself in the 3rd person…) and is also the only female on board. Which hasn’t been nearly as rough as she imagined!


Here’s Anna, to say a few (more) words:

“For me, the opportunity to join Captain Moore on this voyage to the gyre, strange as it may sound, was a dream come true. I’ve been fascinated by this issue since joining Captain Moore on a research trip to Baja California in 2004, to collect stomach samples from Laysan Albatross on Guadalupe Island. Every single sample we collected contained evidence of plastic ingestion. Here, far from civilization, these beautiful creatures were suffering because of our irresponsibility. When I returned to Los Angeles, I started a campaign called “Bring Your Own” www.bringyourown.org, to encourage people to cut back on unnecessary plastic waste by replacing single use disposables with reusables – bags, cups, utensils, etc. We desperately need top down solutions such as policy changes, changes in the way we produce and dispose of our waste, and more responsibility from industries that manufacture plastic products. In the meantime, there are many small shifts that we as consumers can make simply by being more mindful of our consumption habits.


I’m hoping on this trip to gather more first hand experience with the issue, as well as to help Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Algalita’s Director of Research and Education collecting educational samples to distribute to schools, legislators, and the media. We believe that this issue has largely been the result of an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, and one powerful way of combating this is to put the evidence directly into peoples’ hands. We are planning an educational tour this coming fall, to travel from Seattle to Los Angeles, on two amphibious bikes capable that can cross rivers and lakes, to distribute samples, and talk to schools. We think that when people see directly what plastics are doing to our oceans, they will be moved to action.”


And now here’s Herb,our resident physician, our weather fax guru, and our veteran sailor. Herb is a man who really “knows the ropes”, and always keeps his good cheer, no matter how rough the conditions.


A few words from Herb:

“I’m a Sailor, Organic Horticulturist, and Emeritus Professor at the University of California (UCLA) School of Medicine. I regard this mission as a unique opportunity to gain valuable insight about the workings of one of the grandest of our planetary features. After years sailing around the periphery it’s exciting to visit the great central Gyre.


Today we encountered a floating coil of discarded rope. Beneath and in the interstices of this flotsam mass was an entire ecosystem of marine creatures. It’s fascinating to view the generative capacity of the Ocean. Patiently waiting for this fortuitous island to drop from a passing vessel, then populating it from its rich repository of biologic potential. It was a very impressive message.”


By morning, we will see land for the first time in WEEKS!

Aloha and gracias from the Captain and crew of the ORV Alguita.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

72 hour countdown

Our noon position: Latitude 35 19.77 North Longitude 125 50.314

As the photo above shows, we're donning our foul weather gear – our days of shorts and tanks seem a distant memory, while the lure of hot showers, and fresh produce become a close reality…

The questions about solutions continue - we continue musing as we approach land, contemplating the work ahead. Changing behavior is a monumental undertaking. And eliminating plastics from our lives would be impossible – plastic packaging touches just about everything we consume. Nor are we suggesting that all plastics are bad – in the medical, aerospace, and even ironically the boating industry, plastics are an invaluable material. The problems arise with our inefficient, excessive consumption, and our highly flawed plastics recycling system. The concept of using durable, petroleum plastics – designed to last for thousands of years, to say, carry our groceries home, or seal a sandwich for an hour, is ludicrous.

So, in answer to your question Daharja, disposable plastics are one of the biggest problems, one we can dramatically reduce by replacing single use disposables with reusable items. A few products you can banish from your consumer repertoire:
  • Water bottles – a big one. We see plastic bottles everywhere, as well as their ubiquitous sidekick caps – these we even see in seabirds stomachs. The quality of tap water is often superior to that of bottled water anyway, so both your pocketbook the ocean are better off if you fill your stainless steel water bott le (link to klean kanteen) with tap water.
  • Plastic bags – not just the bags you use to tote your groceries home, avoid the produce bags as well. Bring your own.
  • Plastic toys for children, disposable utensils, excess packaging – we could keep listing indefinitely, instead, here are a few approaches you can try on:
  1. Avoid disposables altogether by bringing reusable containers to coffee sh ops, farmers markets, and restaurants.
  2. Limit wasteful packaging – purchase products in bulk.
  3. Discard the notion that recycling plastics as currently practiced is a viable solution to the issue. Our plastic recycling system is fraught with problems - confusing, highly inefficient, and possibly more damaging than helpful in some cases. More about this to come.
Now a few words from our crew. Here’s Jeff, to answer his father’s question about colder water temperatures and the ocean’s specific gravity:

We actually made really good time yesterday so I’m assuming the noon position from the day before was accidentally posted, but I don’t know what day that was so the best your going to get is our current position right now at 1940 hours Feb 19th which is 35 09.756N 124 45.678W. Our current water temp is 15.8 Celsius and the air temp isn’t a whole lot warmer than that, so yes, warmer clothing had become a necessity.

As for the relationship between seawater's specific gravity and temperature, there is a correlation and as water cools it does become slightly denser. However, this changes as water gets within a few degrees of its freezing temperature (remember sea water freezes at a slightly lower temperature than freshwater because of the dissolved solids i.e. salts), at that point the hydrogen bonds between water molecules start to take on a more crystalline form and organize in a manner that makes the m less dense than their liquid state, which is why ice floats. The temperatures we experienced in the middle of the gyre ranged from low 20s to high 17s Celsius so a 2-3 degree drop as we approach the coast really doesn’t provide enough of a change to make any real difference. If anything a slightly more dense sea would have the effect of making plastic objects float a little higher in the water, but the effect would be negligible when put into perspective with the other changes that occur as you travel from the oligatrophic gyre ocean water to the nutrient rich cold water upwelling that feeds the west coast of North America. That isn’t to say that sea surface temperature doesn’t provide valuable information to someone looking to model the movement of plastic or project areas of high density or residence time. In fact, the 18 degree isotherm that seems to correlate with increased primary production in the north pacific was also a major component of the DELI (debris estimated likelihood index) that has helped in beginning to understand how long lived material at the surface of the ocean such as plastic behaves and coalesces.

And here’s Joel to answer a few:

Kaisa and the students from West Lafayette wondered about what its like to spend so much time at sea:
In 2004 I spent four months at sea collecting marine debris in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. If you’re doing something you love the time goes by fast. Plus it helps if you can get along well with the other people on the boat and have a good cook. You might think that each day would be similar to the one before it, but when you are collecting samples and diving almost every day you’ll see new and unique things every day.

In answer to another question: It is more proper to call starfish “sea stars”. Not only do they not live in the sky with stars but they aren’t fish. They are echinoderms. So from now on you can call them sea stars and avoid a lot of confusion.

Hi Mom I’ll call you when we get back on land on Friday.

A couple more posts from the ORV crew and we’ll be wrapping up our journey. Tomorrow we’ll let you know about the crews future plans – we’ll all take what we learned on this voyage out into the world…
Aloha and gracias from the captain and crew of the ORV Alguita.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Questions lead to questions

Our Noon Position: 35 48.38 North 121 31.72 West

Today's blog contributions from Dr. Marcus Eriksen


In 24 hours the wind and boat speed have tripled, and the sea state is choppy, as the low-pressure system to our distant stern has caught up. Yesterday’s calm, glassy sea surface gave rise, quite literally, to a confetti of plastic marine debris. But now, after donning my rainsuit for a brief visit to the bow, I saw less. We know that most of that plastic confetti is polyethylene and polypropylene, which because of its close density to that of water, easily migrates into the water column if things get stormy. This has me thinking about the synthetic “sub-surface” sea.


We’ve seen the rise and fall of polypropylene line as the sea state changes, this happens also with polyethylene fragments. There are other mechanisms as well. Every large piece of plastic we’ve found has been fouled by pelagic organisms. The algae come first, then bryozoans, crabs and gooseneck barnacles. Some of these organisms can create positive buoyancy, like foam rafts secreted by barnacles, or bubbles from Janthina gastropods, but others, like encrusting bryozoans, will sink without something to attach to. The image here shows coral, bryozoans, and pelagic crabs rooting on a plastic crate.


So, if fouling by pelagic organisms makes plastic heavier, then it’s possible that plastic may exist throughout the oceanic water column. There would likely be a bias toward fouling plastic in the gyre because of its longefr residency and fast growth rates of some organisms. There would likely be a bias toward particles with a greater surface area to volume ratio available as habitat.


Typical of any scientific endeavor, one question leads to many more. Would plastic in the water column only be found in transport? What happens when negatively buoyant plastics reach the zone where calcium carbonate dissolves? Will the debris come to the surface again, like a yo-yo? Are there any encrusting pelagic organisms with silica skeletons, like foraminifera and radiolarians? If so, will those organisms sink the plastics they foul to the ocean floor and stay there? Questions lead to more questions.


Aloha and gracias from the captain and crew of ORV Alguita.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Noon Position 35 59.71N Lat 134 40.28W Lo


We have been motoring through less than 5 knots of wind at 2000 RPM using one engine at a time and making 4.5 to 5 knots. With the calm conditions, at these low speeds, our new Yanmar diesels are remarkably fuel efficient, making between 5- 8 miles per gallon, about what my Ford Club Wagon does on city streets. Tonight, however, is the end of our motor sailing. We will be past the 130th meridian,
where wind lives (we hope) and we have no more fuel to spend, we must hold 1/4 tank in both port and starbord fuel tanks for getting the rest of the way in. We will be a sailboat looking for wind to fill our sails and sailing where the wind will take us.

In describing our "gyre" study area, we have used the 130th meridian as our starting point. In travelling east toward it, we have seen the high levels of debris in the "garbage patch" diminish, but still it persists. We did a one hour manta trawl today, and it too looked like it had more plastic than plankton. The "macro" or large debris collection using dip nets off the bow started slowly, but picked up as the day went on.
Here is a partial list:
0900 4" block of small-cell yellow styrofoam
1430 27cm diameter green glass fishing float with line and barnacles
1430 Red 5 gal bucket with small fish swimming inside
1440 Styrofoam cylinder with bird droppings showing consumption of barnacles like those attached to float
1600 Red screw in light bulb 9'' long
1627 Gallon Jug with 1 pelagic crab and one barnacle, full of water with cap on tight










We have been picking up numerous medium-sized fragments, pieces of line and plastic film withouth logging them in.
We are still seeing patches of plastic fragments as well as single ones passing by. Tomorrow we will do another manta trawl on the eastern side of the 130th meridian and see if it holds enough plastic for us to consider enlarging the area we consider holding significant debris concentrations.

One interesting question has to do with the fouling of plastic films. The photo shows a piece of plastic film, where algae appears to be growing more densely in the creases, giving the film a "crazed" appearance. In our original 1999 study, plastic films comprised about a fourth of all plastics by count. Perhaps the breakdown of the films is accelerated by algal fouling.


Another issue is the use of unsealed, unenclosed styrofoam in the aquatic environment. These floats are made by blowing gas into melted polystyrene beads, and then adhering the beads loosely together. As anyone knows who has worked with this material, the little beads easily detach when they are hit or rubbed and create little styrofoam "nurdles" that choke waterways and stormwater systems. The material is used for dock floats on Big Bear Lake, and I have observed a "bathtub ring" of them around the lake at the high water mark. Since the original polystyrene is heavier than water, and the foamed polystyrene floats, it is likely that at a certain point in its breakdown cycle, the foamed polystyrene will have the exact density of the water itself and will move to all compartments of the water column, along with all the pollutants it has absorbed, or were used in its manufacture.
We had not seen albatross for two days, but today we were visited by a Laysan along with our Glaucous-winged Gull, who also had been absent.

Aloha and gracias por sus atenciones desde ORV Alguita,
Cap. Moore

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Meet the crew: Dr. Marcus Eriksen


Latitude: 35 59.71 Longitude: 134 40.28

Hey Ship to Shore students!

A word about where we are right now, and then its time to meet our next crew member, Marcus.Right now, we’re in an area that the ancient mariners referred to as the “horse latitudes”, also known as “the doldrums”. Notoriously calm - a sailor’s nemesis. If we were only sailing, we would be "As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean," as Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in his poem, "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner." The story behind this: back in the days when ships laden with fine cattle and horses would transport cargo by sea, those passing between Latitudes 30 and 40 were sometimes stalled in a windless lake, redundant sails a flutter. As supplies dwindled, and fresh water reserved for human consumption, perished livestock were tossed overboard.


Fortunately, we have a solar powered reverse osmosis desalinization unit to make fresh water, and plenty of food, so no ones getting tossed. If you want to see how we all keep ourselves occupied on these long days in the doldrums, check the ORV Alguita blog.

Now, to meet Marcus. In addition to working for Algalita, Marcus is a paleontologist – every summer he digs up dinosaur bones in Wyoming, and he made a video called “Dino Dig”, about excavating an entire Triceratops in 3 months. Marcus also builds boats out of recycled plastic bottles – here he is rafting down the Mississippi River and the LA River.


A few words from Marcus:

“As the Director of Education and Research for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, it is my job to make our findings accessible to the public. While we collect our research samples, I’m also collecting education samples to give away to educators, policy makers, and other organizations. The plastic marine debris issue is the ultimate case of “out of sight, out of mind.” By putting samples in the hands of people, then they have to look at it and choose, “Do I turn my back on this, or do something about it?” That’s one big reason why I’m out here.


Right now we’re in a high pressure zone. It’s relatively calm, warm, and we’re plagued with a lethargic wind and current…perfect for plastic! We’re finding lots of pea-sized fragments of plastic, as well as bits of monofilament and pieces of plastic film from bags and tarps. One of our surface trawls easily had 50 times more plastic than plankton by weight. There was hardly anything in the collection bag, just plastic junk. So, how does it make me feel? Ashamed that we’ve allowed this to happen, and disappointed by those that resist changing our culture to be more responsible. But I am optimistic that we will find a solution before we’ve poisoned our ocean beyond its ability to recover.”


Any questions you have for Marcus – fire away, he’ll be happy to answer you directly.

Aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of ORV Alguita!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Direcion Los Angeles...

Nuestra ubicacion Lat: 36 06.559 Norte Long: 136 53.532 Oeste

Hola a todos nuestros amigos – de Puerto Rico, Chile, Los Angeles, Colombia, y de todas partes. Es siempre un alivio tener su apoyo!

Celebramos esta noche el dia final del trabajo nuestro, y relejamos con un comilon tipo Indiano mezclado con Italiano – sopa de lentejas y limon, arrroz con nueces, y palitos de pan con ajo y queso rallado.

Fue el ultimo dia antes de que arranquemos por Long Beach – y supplicamos – que venga el viento para llevarnos! El sistema de alta presion que nos bendijo con condiciones que facilitaron el trabajo nuestro ya no nos sirven. Necesitamos que el viento nos traiga!

Esta manana tropezamos con otro “windrow” – una linea visible de gastos serpendeando por nuestro nave. En poco tiempo sacamos tres flotes de pesca, dos trampas, una cantidad de basura, y dos bolas de cabos mezclados.

Y alli mismo, enredado en ese lio de lineas estaba el pez que vean aqui en la foto – un ejemplo clarisimo de como el equipo de pesca desechada pone en peligro los animales marinos.



Y tambien los humanos. Aqui ves a Anna y Marcus, llevando puesto unas trampas de pesca, parece que corren el riesgo de perder su cordura. Demasiado tiempo en el sol, pensando en la basura….

Terminamos hoy con las dos ultimas muestras – con eso llevamos a cabo el proyecto de replicar el estudio de 1999. La opportunidad de repetir ese estudio diez anos despues fue algo espectacular. Volveremos a Los Angeles con el barco lleno de muestras, unas preguntas nuevas para guiar nuestras investigaciones y una idea mejor de la gama enorme del problema. Aunque es demasiado temprano para formar conclusiones, podemos decir que la masa y la cantidad de los particulos plasticos por area de la superficie del oceano se ha aumentado vertiginosamente. La tendencia predicable es que se accumulan los desechos plasticos rapidamente – eso refleja la aumentacion mundial del producir y consumir los productos plasticos disponibles.

Hemos pasado bien rato tambien discutiendo en como comunicar ese tema al publico en una manera eficaz. Basado en las preguntas que nos mandan diariamente de porque no se puede limpiar todo eso, parece que nos queda bien dificil..


Un angulo que planeamos explorar mas es como la ingestion del plastico puede afectar a la cadena alimenticia – y eventualmente a nosotros. La muestra final que hicimos fue de noche, y sacamos unos viente Myctophids – o “pescas de lampara”. La imagen de la muestra fue como un aquario de peces bioluminescentes en una sopa de plastico. La pregunta que todos tienen pensado es si la basura plastica, tanto com los contaminantes organicos que contiene el plastico, contamina al los peces? Separamos los peces y los congelamos para un analisis de bioaccumulacion de compuestos toxicos en los organos. Los scientificos, los politics y el publico quiere saber si los desechos de plastico en el oceano es un tema del salud publico. Esa investigacion da un enfoque nuevo en la migracion de los toxicos por la cadena alimenticia.


A nuestros amigos Chilenos del Centro Aqua Sendas, esperamos que estan gozando de sus vacciones y que aprendan mucho cuando vuelvan a clases.

Gracias, y saludos del Capitan y la tripulacion de ORV Alguita!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Our noon position:Latitude: 35 45.287 North Longitude: 138 34.245 West

Valentines evening. Captain and crew are relaxing over an Indian meets Italian feast – lemon lentil soup, cashew rice, and homemade bread sticks with garlic and Parmesan. We’re celebrating our last day of work before we set sail for Long Beach - and praying for some wind to take us there. The high that has so graced us with calm seas and idyllic sampling weather will not, unfortunately get us home……


This morning we came across another windrow – a thin, visible line of debris winding past our boat. In less than an hour, we pulled up 3 fishing floats, 2 hagfish traps, a mess load of debris, and 2 rope boluses. And right there, trapped in this mare’s nest of mismatched rope, was the fish you see here–entanglement captured.





And the tofu container here was covered with fish eggs - its easy to see how an unsuspecting creature might chomp on this hoping for some caviar. Both images are clear examples of how our trash endangers marine creatures...





...As well as humans. Here Anna and Marcus, sporting hagfish traps, appear in grave danger of losing their sanity. Too many afternoons spent pondering marine debris…..





We completed our last two samples today, wrapping up the replication of Algalita’s 1999 research. The chance to repeat this study 10 years later was truly a golden opportunity. We will return to Los Angeles with a vessel full of research material, a set of new questions to answer, and an even clearer sense of the enormity of this issue. While its too early to draw any conclusions, we can safely say that the mass and number of plastic particles per area of sea surface has increased dramatically. The predictable trend is one of rapid accumulation of plastic marine debris, which parallels the increase in production and consumption of disposable plastics worldwide.


We’ve also spent a lot of time discussing how to communicate this issue effectively to the public. From the questions that come in daily about why we can’t just clean it up, it’s clear we have a ways to go. One angle we’re planning to explore further is how ingestion of plastic may impact the marine food chain – and by extension, us.


Our very last trawl was a night sample that came up with another 20 Myctophids. The image in the glass collection jar looks like an aquarium of bioluminescent fish in pool of plastic soup. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Does plastic debris, as well as the organic pollutants that plastic contains, contaminate the fish?” We packed the fish in our onboard freezer for analysis of ingested plastic and bioaccumulation of toxins in some organs. Scientists, policy makers and the general public want to know if plastic marine debris is a human health issue. This research will investigate toxin migration up the food chain.


A few more comments from yesterday that we never addressed:


Daren, great to hear you were so inspired by this issue! Keep in touch, we’d love to see your research paper when you’re through!


Another student from West Lafayette wanted to know what skills or experience one needs to go on a trip like this one. First and foremost, a genuine passion and interest in the issue is key. If you’ve got this, you’ll have no problems picking up the skills and experience. Some areas that might help: basic boating and safety, basic marine science and species identification, some previous sailing experience, photography or video skills always come in handy… And the ability to survive with little sleep- or at least not mind getting up at all hours for sail changes, trawling, and the like.


To all of our students and readers out there – send us your good thoughts for wind! Or start blowing really really hard…Aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of ORV Alguita!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Words from the crew


Today was another day of record calm seas – even more than yesterday. There’s even a scale we use to measure the “sea state” –called the Beaufort Scale, ranging from 0-11. At 11, imagine an angry, stormy sea – with epic winds, waves between 37-52 feet. Generally, we’ve been experiencing seas of 4-5…Today was a 0. Seas so calm they almost looked oily – scarcely a ripple. Perfect day for a photo shoot, some boat repairs, and the last few trawls in final study.


As the whole crew is up, waiting to pull in our evening trawl, we thought we’d do a round robin reply to some of yesterday’s wonderful blog comments. So here’s Marcus, Jeff, Joel and Charlie chiming in! We love all your questions, so keep ‘em coming, were homeward bound soon!


Marcus:

Dear Environmental Charter High School,

What do you mean there’s mold on our bioplastic? Gross! I would like to see it for myself soon after I return from the Gyre Expedition on Friday, Feb. 22. Maybe the following week, and I’ll bring you a sample of the ocean surface from 2000 miles west of Los Angeles. I see you’ve got a few questions.


“Is it possible to clean up the gyre?” It’s like trying to vacuum a teaspoon of sand spread out over a football field. And keep in mind that the ¼ of the Pacific Ocean we study represents about 850 million football fields. The solution is to stop using disposable plastics now.


“What’s the worst thing you’ve encountered on this trip?” We’ll besides plastic trash there’s getting seasick. Besides that it’s got to be stubbing my toes on every metal thing that sticks out on this boat. And, well, having a 5 foot Mako shark follow me and Anna while snorkeling at night. Actually, that was kinda cool.


“How can the research you’re conducting help save the world?” I believe that people want to do the right thing, but they have to know what the right thing is. Millions of tons of plastic in the ocean means nothing to people if they never learn about it. For a few years now I’ve been carrying a sample of the mid-Pacific Ocean with me. I’ve discovered that when I show it to people, they often say, “It’s wrong that our trash is out there. What can I do?” I’ve heard this same sentiment from children, adults, movie stars and politicians. People care, but someone has to be the messenger.

See you soon,

Marcus


Here's the Captain responding to a question about the tagging buoys,

Kaisa wanted to know about tagging the ghost nets with a satellite transmitter - what's that all about? Well, the buoy is really cool, it has batteries inside that are charged by a solar panel on top. It has a transmitter that sends out the position of the buoy via satellite once or twice a day. The manufactuerer of the buoy, Airborne Technologies, can track where the buoy is. On our gyre voyage last year aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, we actually found one the buoys we had deployed a year earlier from Alguita and retagged the net with a new buoy. That will give a longer life to the tracking process. Ultimately the goal of tagging these nets is to remove them before they damage the resources of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Right now, NOAA is preparing to send a vessel armed with an unmanned drone airplane to the area where the nets have been found to accumulate, and see if they can find more than just the tagged ones by seeing what the drone sees as it flys over the area.. Hopefully, they will be able to pick some of them up, but as of now, none have been retrieved that have been tagged. Alguita has tagged six of these nets and debris masses with the buoys since 2005. You can see some of the tracks the nets made at www.highseasghost.net.

Charlie


And here’s Jeff, our ship celebrity! (You can read about him in the news here.)

So in light of my new found fame and near celebrity status(the local paper), it was deemed necessary for me to give a shout out to all my fans out there in blogland. Its almost 11pm our time and everyone is sitting around killing time before we drop the next trawl in the water. Anna just (barely) lost a game of chess to Joel, and I just came in from reading outside up on the boom. When the sail is down and the sea isn’t too rough it’s a nice place to lay around, with a good view of a waxing moon poking through the clouds. I want to say hi and thanks to my father who seems to have way too much free time on his hands and got an article run about AMRF and myself in the Ventura County Star. And of course my mom who is probably still at this very moment neurotically fretting about some aspect of my safety. It's going to be good to see everyone back in California.

Jeff



Aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of ORV Alguita!



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Creatures of the night emerge

Our noon position: Latitude: 35 31.691 North, Longitude: 141 00.317 West


Day 2 of our second research study. Just passed mile 3,000 of our journey! We’ve learned from past experience that its unwise to celebrate ideal weather conditions prematurely…..so with bated breath, we continue to be floored by the calmest seas yet, making our research a dream. And a catastrophe.


Today’s daytime sample yielded something we haven’t yet seen – numerous microfilaments and tiny line fragments embedded in the net of our sampling tubes. These fibers are the main type of debris found in our subsurface trawls, up to 100 meters deep. The calm waters allowed these fragments to float to the surface, where they lodged in our nets. The small particle size that we continue seeing here in this “inner ring” of the gyre may mean that this debris has been kicking around here for some time, swirling around in an endless spin cycle where it degrades into tiny, fouled fragments.


We mentioned finding a surprising quantity of small, deeper sea fish in our night sample. Here’s the image we meant to post yesterday – “Myctophid Soup”. Myctophids, also known as “lantern fish” are generally found at 100 meters, and only come to the surface at night to feed.




The second photo here shows the total amount of fish and plastic we pulled up in our sample. We found this one of the more startling images yet – these creatures are surfacing to feed - amongst increasing amounts of plastic.





Here are some responses to yesterday’s questions:

Students from West Lafayette asked if the majority came from large scale dumping directly into the ocean, or runoff from street litter. According to data collected from coastal cleanups, 80% of the marine debris that washes up on beaches originates from land based sources – when street litter washes out to sea through storm drains, “urban runoff”. Out here, much of the identifiable debris were seeing comes from the fishing industry – fishing floats, ropes, net fragments, and other derelict fishing gear. The majority though is made up of plastic fragments.


To Lcander, your students are not alone in having a hard time grasping how immense this area is. It almost takes being here to fully get it, but as this isn’t logistically possible for everyone, the next best thing is for us to try and convey this to you. Let us know where you are, and perhaps we can even visit your school in person.


Dawn was wondering if we can track the origin of this debris, or if the problem is too vast. Scientists have developed current models that help us to predict where debris travels once it enters the ocean. As for tracking the origin, Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer (check out the Beachcombers' Alert ) can track debris with markings and some unique items are traceable, while Dr. Hideshige Takada (check out International Pellet Watch) has tracked pre production plastic pellets by the pollutants they absorb. Plastic Chemists indicate that production plastics have a unique chemical marker that is specific to various manufacturers and manufacturing processes. This "fingerprint" can be recognized by the technique of gas chromatography. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is developing a "taxonomic key" to identify which fisheries derelict fishing gear originates from. NOAA has been taking data based on various characteristics of derelict fishing gear recovered from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands with the hope that it will lead to a way to identify the biggest polluters and work with them to decease the amount of derelict fishing gear floating in the North Pacific.


Kaisa, you and your classmates had another excellent question about recycling that we’ll address tomorrow – it deserves a separate post.



We just launched trawl number 7 – we’ll be sampling throughout the night, and sure to find more interesting specimens....


Aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of the ORV Alguita!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Return to the Garbage Patch sampled in 1999


Today was a day of discovery. It is always interesting from a monitoring standpoint to go back to the same geographical area and re-sample it the same way to determine if a trend is developing. We are running in reverse the transects of the Eastern Garbage Patch that we did in 1999. In the summer of '99 we sampled from east to west and from north to south. Since we are coming from Hawaii and not California, we will sample from south to north and from west to east. We are trawling the same course and distance, even the time of day is the same to eliminate as many variables as possible. Our first of a dozen trawls was then #12, the last one done in 1999. I remember that sample well, it was the most contaminated by plastic bits of any sample we got that trip. Since it is wintertime, and the wind was blowing about 15 knots, which created a rougher ocean surface than in 1999 when we first came to the area, I thought that the plastic bits would be dispersed in the water column, and not show up in our surface manta trawl. Imagine my surprise when our net not only pulled up what appeared to be substantially more small plastic particles than 9 years ago, but also part of a blue crate that was so big it had to be removed back through the mouth of the net. The exponential increase in debris seen off the coast of Japan, appears to be happening here as well. After two trawls, we sea anchored for a night tank dive. The beautiful invertebrates and filter feeders of the gyre were on stunning display. We'll see what Joel captured on the video tape tomorrow.

Aloha and buenas noches from ORV Alguita.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Meet the crew: Joel Paschal

Our noon position: Latitude 35 32.555 North, Longitude 145 10.846 West

Hello ship to shore students!


First we want to introduce our next crewmember, our underwater photographer/videographer, Joel Paschal. You’ve seen some of his awesome underwater shots, and he’s taken some amazing video footage both underwater and on board. He keeps us all entertained with his stunts and jokes, is super knowledgeable about everything from politics to mullets, and a fine chef to boot.


Here’s Joel to tell you a bit about what drew him to this voyage, and the image here is Joel after hooking a plastic sheet with a sort of boat lasso device called a grappling hook - yet another of his hidden talents!


“Having worked in marine debris removal for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, I was already attuned to this issue, and had read about Captain Moore’s research with plastic debris. Also wanting to sail my own boat from Hawaii to the mainland, this seemed a perfect fit, to both learn from an expert, and have the opportunity to do some research diving as well. I hope to take away from this experience a greater firsthand understanding of just how much plastic is out there, and how vast this area really is.


Right now, we are in the most remote place on earth – this is now our playground. We’re finding some fascinating fish communities surrounding this marine debris. Were still on the lookout of some dynamic, captivating footage of filter feeders feeding on this marine debris. As the trip videographer and underwater filmmaker, this is one of my ultimate goals on this trip."


If you have any questions for Joel about what its like to dive on ghost nets, take pictures underwater, or live on a sail boat, fire away! He’ll be happy to get back to you.


And now, we wanted to respond to Jeff Manker and the students from Gilroy High School who asked why we can’t just remove all this plastic from the ocean. A great thought, we also really wish it were possible, and love that you all are thinking this way.


Your teacher Jeff is right – it’s just too big an area. It’s like suggesting we sweep the United States. Or sift the Sahara desert. And as you’ve probably seen from our sample images, much of this debris is made up of small pieces – fragments – that require a fine mesh to remove. Which means removing tons of plankton as well – the basis of the entire marine food chain. If only the debris were nicely contained in a big “trash island”, perhaps we could remove it. But it’s spread out over an incomprehensibly huge area. The terms “garbage patch” or “Texas-sized trash heap” make people think of a contained area, when in fact this “plastic soup” goes on for thousands of miles… So we really have to focus our efforts on making sure this plastic doesn’t end up here in the first place. Maybe your class can discuss some ways we might do this, and let us know what you come up with.

Meantime, aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of the ORV Alguita!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Entering the Eastern Garbage Patch

Our noon position: Latitude 35 41.046 North, Longitude: 147.38.013 West


Hello Ship to Shore students, teachers, and friends,

We’re in the “Garbage Patch!” An endless confetti of plastic particles flowed between the pontoons of ORV Alguita while the crew stood on deck spying the horizon for larger debris breaking the surface, like bulbous net floats, or plastic bottles, buckets and baskets - we even found a golf ball and a billiard ball. We’re here because we’re intent on sampling the exact swath of ocean surface Captain Moore netted in 1999. His often-referenced research paper described a 6:1 ratio of plastic to plankton. We’ll soon find out if it’s better or worse.

Our day began in the doldrums, calm, warm and windless – great for spotting trash settling on the surface. We all stood on the bow shocked by the endless flakes of plastic, when Anna yelled, “Dolphin!” In ten years of studying the North Pacific Gyre, this is the first time anyone on board has seen dolphins out here. They rode off our bow , diving and surfacing, while we stood there with nets catching the large fragments and a crate sweeping by. How interesting that we drag our nets across the surface to find plastic and plankton, and look for ingestion at the bottom of the food chain. Now here before us, predators on the top of the food chain, unwittingly leap in and out of the surface soup of plastic debris. Is it in them too?

Our trawl proved to be one of the more dense accumulations of plastic yet. It would not be inconceivable if today’s sample proved to be over 100:1 plastic to plankton. But this is just one sample, not the average. While we trawled each crew member took a turn on the bow looking for large debris. Then it became ridiculous. A bottle, a fishing float, a crate, another crate, a four foot fluorescent light tube, a medicine bottle, a coffee mug, a melted blob of fishing crates, a bundle of rope, and a net bolus the size of a Volkswagon beetle.

The Captain spotted it. The surface exposure was a kaleidoscope of 100’s of different kinds of rope and net in a tangled mass 10-12 feet in diameter. Below the surface a massive tail of tangled green net extended 20 feet below. Dozens of rudderfish considered the derelict fishing gear and oasis of sustenance and protection. 1000’s of small crabs and fish hovered about. But for us, it was a mark on our expedition checklist. This one was too big to haul on deck. “We’ll tag this one,” Captain Moore said.

For several years NOAA has provided ORV Alguita with satellite buoys to tag ghost nets. These massive tangled masses of random nets and rope are indiscriminate killers of marine mammals, reptiles and birds. Once they wash ashore they create corridors of broken coral as they drag their weight over reefs. If we see them in the ocean, we tag them. We hope that NOAA will get them later, thus sparing wildlife and a fortune in funding cleaning up the mess on some distant shore.

Charlie and Marcus deployed the buoy by first turning it on, then wrapping its lines around and around the net. Joel, the expedition videographer, got it all on camera. And Jeff, with his handy three-prong, bagged four large rudderfish for the dinner table.

More to come in the next few days, as we begin our second major research study in the Eastern Garbage Patch....

Aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of the ORV Alguita