Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Calm after the synthetic storm

Our noon position: Longitude 34 28.561 N, Longitude: 158 53.309 W

After yesterday’s flurry of activity, today was considerably calmer….dead calm in fact. We raised our spinnaker (big colorful parachute-like sail) for the first time at daybreak, to maximize our wind power. We have many miles to go yet, and need to travel as much as possible by wind. Crew had a chance to return the boat to “ship shape”, snag an Albacore, and collect our daily sample, the same collection we’ve come to expect of plastic particles and tiny pelagic creatures.

Now to respond to a few of yesterday’s comments:

Paul S. asked, “Do you mean to say you trawl an area approximately 3 feet wide, 6 miles long, and come up with only 1/3 of an ounce of plastic?” We all chatted a bit about this during dinner – and may comment further in the coming weeks. For now, here’s a response from Marcus:

“10 grams per 6 nautical mile trawl is a subjective estimate based on years trawling in and out of the North Pacific Gyre, near and far from shore. This is a rough estimate that might not seem like much, but you’ve got to consider the size of our playing field. Our trawl is three feet wide. A six nautical mile trawl covers a little less than two football fields. We’re studying an area between latitudes 20 and 40, and longitudes 130 and 170, which is approximately 2.5 million square nautical miles, representing only a quarter of the North Pacific. Still, that covers almost 3 billion football fields (2,929,900,000). SO, if we’re averaging 10 grams for every two football fields of area, then in ¼ of the Pacific we think there could be 14 ½ MILLION metric tons of plastic marine debris. “

And Tim Harvey had a question about FAD’s providing habitat for pelagic creatures. First, how great to hear from the famous Vancouver to Vancouver traveler- this is a guy who traveled the world for 2 years by foot, sail, and bike, to raise awareness about climate change! Others have asked this question before, a logical one, so I’ll direct you back to an earlier answer from Captain Moore. Here’s an excerpt of his earlier answer:

“So what's wrong with the "propagation of fauna" on our trash in the ocean? Aren't we just providing places for things to live? There are at least two problems with this. One is that plastic trash travels slowly on ocean currents, which allows the organisms attached to adjust to changes in climate and water temperature. They may end up colonizing areas where they were never known before and out compete local species. This leads to a loss in what is called "biodiversity." The second problem we have been discussing onboard Alguita is….”

Full answer available here:

To illustrate this concept, here’s a few photos from yesterday’s debris removal, an ingeniously camouflage pelagic crab on a laundry basket (below), a group of anemones (Epiactic Prolifera) rooted on a plastic fragment (left), and Marcus holding up detergent bottle covered in growth(at the top of the page.) These are all excellent examples of plastic detritus providing habitat, as well as marine “taxis”, allowing species to hitch rides to oceanic regions in which they don’t necessarily belong.

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

No comments: