Friday, February 1, 2008

Day 11 – On the hunt for ghost nets.

Our 4:00 pm position: Latitude: 32 35.182 North Longitude: 169 42.192 West

(at noon, crew and Captain were busy retrieving fishing floats, trawling, and scouting for ghost nets from the boatswain’s chair so the log went unfilled)

3 fishing floats, 2 plastic bottle caps, 1 heavily encrusted flip flop, 1 large plastic tray, and an incredible amount of plastic particles.

Our day’s total debris bounty. We didn’t actually count the plastic particles – if we had, this morning’s epic sample would’ve had us counting still, at 1800 hours…..

As we’d changed course a bit to head to calmer conditions than yesterday, we decided to leave the Manta out for a good, long trawl. 6 hours later, we pulled out such a mass of plastic that it wouldn’t fit in our normal sampling jar. We had to transfer the contents of our mixed nuts jug – a 40 oz container – to use instead.

While hunting for ghost nets – here’s Marcus patrolling from the upper mast – we spotted a few more fishing floats, and sent Joel and Jeff out with underwater cameras and dive gear to haul them in. The photo at the top of the page is an excellent visual of the false FAD phenomenon we discussed earlier – when floating debris provides protection for species in open water, becoming a sort of mini ecosystem.

We haven’t seen yet seen any ghost nets, though we’ve snagged several rope masses, fishing floats, and many fishing line fragments. These abandoned and discarded nets can cause serious economic and ecological damage, impacting commercial fisheries, killing thousands of marine creatures, and destroying coral reefs. In fact, our videographer Joel Paschal worked extensively with NOAA removing ghost nets from reefs, and will share his experiences in a few days. We know there out here – the aerial flyover surveys providing the research for the DELI study, “Marine Debris Collects in the subtropical Convergence Zone ", spotted at least 20 – and were both hoping, and not hoping, to find some…

We’re seeing scores of Black-footed and Laysan Albatross daily. Yesterday, we had a feathered foursome following us most of the afternoon. Seeing these Albatross here, thousands of miles from land, cruising over this high debris accumulation zone raises the obvious question of just how much plastic these seabirds are grazing on. This morning, we watched a Laysan bobbing on the surface, pecking away at an unidentified object. Was it a hagfish or a bag fish? These "vultures of the ocean" eat anything they find, dead or alive----or plastic.

Today didn’t turn out to be a rest day after all, so tomorrow may be our down day, to trawl, re-stow, wash clothes, and enjoy calm seas while we can – the weather faxes hint at a rough return home.

Answers to your excellent questions coming soon! Until then, aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of the ORV Alguita.

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