Monday, December 28, 2009

Join us as we research plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean!

Please join us!! The 5 Gyres Project is the first comprehensive study of plastic pollution in the world's oceans. We will travel thousands of miles across the North Atlantic, South Atlantic oceans, adding data to what we already know about plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre. On these two voyages, we'll collect ocean samples to study plastic accumulation, as well as study fish for possible plastic ingestion and toxins in their tissues. These expeditions will help us to further understand the impact of plastic waste on the world's oceans.

You and your students are invited to join the expedition through the Ship-2-Shore Education Program. The 5 Gyres crew will be sending images, videos and descriptions of their experiences while they are at sea conducting research. Students will be able to communicate with the crew by sending questions and comments through the internet. The next opportunity to participate will be during the voyage from;

Bermuda to the Azores Jan. 27 - Feb 12, 2010.

The Ship-2-Shore program is free and signing up is easy. Simply send an email to and include:

1. Name and location of school
2. # of students participating
3. Grade level

We will send you more information as the voyage approaches! For more information about the program please visit Ship-2-Shore Education Program.

Thank you,
Holly Gray
Research Vessel Support Coordinator
Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Warm Welcome Home

Thank you Algalita and friends for the warm welcome home. The last few miles in, I sat on the bow ready to video any sea lions or dolphins sightings so I could send a picture back to Vicki Rivenbark's class at Holly Tree School back in Wilmington, NC. The only thing we saw as we neared Alamitos Bay was plastic trash making its way out to sea as we headed in. Things like Styrofoam containers, chip bags, bottles, and even a soccer ball accompanied by a bottle. But the most disturbing was actually witnessing a seagull pecking at a floating plastic bag. "It looked like we were back in the gyre." Lindsey turned to me and said, "This is where it all starts." Thank goodness the Algalita supporters were out there to distract us. It was all too overwhelming to see so much trash in its origin- from land. It played out like a scene in "The Twilight Zone." I, personally, felt like our trip out into the gyre was some kind of victory, only to return to business as usual. The jaded twist to the end of our journey.
It's going to take a lot more people, like Marieta, willing to lend a hand not letting plastic pollution go out to sea.

I do have a better ending to our last night together though. We left Avalon early Tuesday morning after a dinner the night before at the The Lobster Pot. The waiter asked us where we would like to sit and Lindsey, spying a table for six elevated by a handful of steps into the back of a sawed off boat, said "How about there?" We all looked at the stern nestled up against the wall, shrugged, and climbed the stairs. Why not, what was one more meal elbow to elbow enclosed by the sides of a boat.
Bonnie Monteleone over and out

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

ORV Alguita Arrives in Long Beach

ORV Alguita and crew have returned safely to Long Beach, California after a successful research voyage. Thank you all for joining us in studying plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean! In the photo below the crew receives their well deserved chocolate, chocolate cake!

Here are links to read more about Alguita's arrival in the News:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day 29

Noon Coordinates 32 47.708N 118 18.320W
Day 29 Monday 10/5/09

When I woke for my last morning alone on the ORV Alguita, it was anything but. Gwen, who does the watch before me, decided to stay up with me due to the problems Lindsey and Jeff were having with the auto pilot. The wind kicked up to over 40 knots causing the auto pilot to fail. The only way to handle the situation was to change course, and if need be steer. There was no beating into the winds. It would also require a sail change from the genoa jib to the staysail, but the captain didn’t want to risk someone getting hurt or blown overboard by the assaulting winds so we traveled off course at 10 knots per hour getting nowhere fast. Bill, who comes on after my shift, was also up due to the outlandish banging under the ship. Few could sleep.

Gwen, who takes good care of this blogger, often times let me sleep in an extra 15 minutes. Today it was an hour. I didn’t change my watch when we sailed into the Pacific Daylight Saving Times yesterday so when I looked at my watch at 0345, I figured I was ahead of the game. It was actually 0445. Not letting on that I was late, nor did she try to wake me, Gwen had just started the tea pot on the stove for me. Yesterday I was running late too, only that time it was because I was making my way out of the top bunk, a wave came and literally threw me. I fell out of my bunk 4” down landing on the top of my left toes (don’t ask). To add insult to injury I slammed into the side of Gwen’s bed, trashing my leg all in one full swoop. It took a minute for me to rub out the sting. The captain, who has something for everything, came out of his state room with some all natural salve that eases out bruises. It worked on my leg, but the middle toe on my left foot is perhaps broken. Ugg.

We rolled into Avalon, Catalina Island, with a circus show of several sea birds and sea lions. (they swam beside our boat as if so happy to see us!) 3,460 nautical miles later!!! We walked around the island like drunken sailors though not having a drink. It’s called dock rock. Once on a boat for any length of time and then off, one feels the world rock when while off the boat! We met Faith in the restaurant we had dinner at tonight, a six year old Girl Scout who her and her older sister had accolades for the captain’s work on protecting the oceans. Great to meet both of you!!!

We’re rocking on the island and look forward to seeing everyone at the Algalita Headquarters tomorrow afternoon! Thank you Gwen, Cooper, Lindsey, Jeffy Pop and especially Captain Moore for an experience of a lifetime, but more importantly, allowing me to see the unseen, plastics accumulating in our defenseless ocean. Bonnie

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 28

Noon Coordinates 30° 8'41.40"N, 121°39'11.94"W
Day 28 Sunday 10/04/09
We are winding down to our last 48 hours on the ship. The air is too cold to sit outside for more than a couple of minutes especially since the sun hasn’t shown its face for more than a few minutes each day. Strange to think a week ago we were melting from the heat. Lindsey went for a walk around the ship and was back in less than a minute. Stiff legged and arms out like a scarecrow she was soaked from head to toe. That didn’t stop the captain who put on his swim shorts and headed to the bow to take on the ocean spray head on. The water is a refreshing 65 a shade warmer than the air.

We have been pinched between the Tropical Storm Olaf (sp) below us and Gale winds above us. The sky wants to rid itself of the stainless steal clouds, but it is a losing battle for most of the day. Tonight they loosened up enough to give us our last sunset. Tomorrow night we will be in Avalon, Santa Catalina Island which will block the view of our final sunset set at sea.

The wind is up and the seas are down to a four, perfect conditions to be traveling an average of nine knots without the restless baseball bats banging below. When I say the wind is up, I’m talking straight up. According to the captain these winds are going to take us all the way in.

By dawn we will be traveling right past Cortes Bank which is about 100 miles off the California shore. This exclusive location has attracted the attention of surfers from around the world. It is said that Cortes Bank has the potential of making 150 foot waves due to a deep canyon that has one wall that stretches to just six feet below the surface creating a reef effect for the waves to curl on. It doesn’t happen all the time, but given the perfect conditions, the surf is up like no other in the world. Surfline’s Sean Collins, crew and surfers waited 10 years for the conditions to be perfect for them to go out and surf there. On 11/26/02, the conditions were ripe and they arrived to find 60 foot waves. Because the captain had the video “Making the Call” from the event, we were able to see it with our own eyes. Unbelievable! Chances are, we won’t see this phenomenon, but from what the captain says, it is a great place to fish for tuna. I’ll keep you posted if either materializes!

More later,


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day 27

Noon Position 30°19'29.82"N, 125°29'6.84"W
Day 27 Saturday 10/3/09
When the sky turns gray the vast ocean turns a dull shade of purple. Today it was purple all day. The sea state remains a treacherous six with the winds in the high 20s and the waves frothing at 10-12 foot peaks. The captain says they are trying to conform, but are still battling a confused state. We repeatedly see Everest-ridged waves whitecap then avalanche, cascading down near vertical slopes, leaving a temporary white stain in its trough. A sight I have yet to tire of. Sometimes the ship catches the wave in its throat causing the white froth to slam into our windshield. It reminds me of home in NY when the wind gets under a car hood full of snow and momentarily blanks the view. It’s a lot less scary on a boat!

The captain and Bill changed our sails again this morning, taking down the staysail and putting up the genoa jib. The reason why is because we are now catching the northerlies we’ve been desperately needing in order to connect to the north-westerlies that will get us to shore. Bill couldn’t dodge the froth that heaved over the bow, caught him in the back and nearly swept him off his feet. The 68 degree water, about the temperature of the air, felt even colder with the wind chill. The last time we changed the sails the captain had me working the winch table. I’d like to report that dyslexia translates well into the sailing world. I wittingly grabbed a sheet and it just happened to be the wrong sheet and didn’t go unnoticed by the captain. Darn dyslexia. The good news is we are now traveling at 10 knots and it’s looking up that we will port for the Tuesday afternoon welcome home. I’ll continue to keep you posted on the status.

Our on-board marine biologist Gwen Lattin received a special delivery today. A beautiful flying fish flew up on the bow in the night to volunteer itself to science. These fish are even more beautiful than I imagined. Even though I saw them when I was in the North Atlantic Gyre, out here I got to see one up close and personal.

Tonight’s dinner started last night with Jeff brining a plump chicken. It was ready this evening when Jeff plucked it out from the oven along with purple jams, and orange squash. Yep, we’re still eating fresh veggies with two days to the finish line. The captain slit the outrageously good jams in half then mashed them adding coconut sauce, it’s to die for!!!

We ended the night with a special treat. Jeff made homemade hot cocoa and then we shut off all the lights and with only a coalminer’s headlamp, the captain read us a short story from the book, The Bedtime Book of Sea Stories called “Three Skeleton Key” by George E. Toudouze. It doesn’t get much better than that!
More later, Bonnie

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 26

Noon Coordinates 30° 8'33.78"N, 128° 7'8.22"W

Day 26 Friday 10/02/09
One of our favorite past-times (and there is a lot of time to pass) is watching albatrosses appear as if out of nowhere and escape our gaze the same way. Sometimes, albatross will adopt a ship to follow for a few hours. And, according to Carl Safina’s Book The Eye of the Albatross, an albatross followed a ship for 2,880 miles. Yesterday one came to visit while we were sitting out on the stern. We watched it as it appeared from the proverbial nowhere and headed straight for us. It's wings spread wide above the froth-tipped wake. We watched awe struck by the speed at which it came in without flapping its stealth shaped wings. I know I was personally hoping to have a pet bird for at least a day or two. But then it began to drop its landing gear, first one of its huge webbed feet and then the other as if walking on air. We started asking each other what we thought it was doing when it stopped moving toward us and hung suspended over a distinct distance from the boat. We then watched it dip its beak in the water, like dunking for apples. And then we knew what it was doing. We jumped to our feet and shouted, “No!” We had a fishing line out and the end of the line happened to be just below the albatross. Bill ran and grabbed the fishing pole and started reeling it in. The bird dove again. Bill reeled faster as I let out another “No.” The bird responded by flying up to the starboard side of the boat, preformed a few figure eights then went back to looking for the lure camouflaged hook. But it couldn’t be found, Bill had it all but reeled in. (phew) Fishing gear can catch birds as easily as they can fish so it was a good lesson in keeping an eye on our fishing lines. You never know when you’ll have a desperately hungry bird looking for a freebie.

We have quite the book exchange flying around here. Eye of the Albatross is a favorite , as well as Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. The captain and Jeff swapped them via careful lobs across the room. Lindsey’s been flopping between reading Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell and Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Person Myers. Personally, I think she’s having trouble getting through Julie and Julia, it does seem to be inspiring her to cook though. She’s had Adelle Davis’ 1947 recipe book out a few times. We aren’t complaining! Another way the books are getting around is by falling off the bookshelves. It didn’t start happening until we hit these really high seas and now it happens on a regular bases. You might say, move them. Some have been moved, the others (that keep falling) are because someone thinks they’ve devised a way to make them stay. We’re always devising ways to try to keep things where they belong. It’s an ongoing part of living on a boat. The farthest I’ve gone, personally, is clipping myself to the side of the boat to videotape under the behest of Jeff. And I’m glad I listened. Yesterday, I wasn’t out on the bow two seconds when a huge wave came and nearly knocked me off my feet soaking me from head to toe. With the shot I took, I got a good shot of one enormous beautiful wave.

Today the ocean is more uniform, but the sea state is a good seven. Sails have been up since Monday and it looks like we will be sailing all the way home getting in for our welcome home on Tuesday at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation office. We’ll keep you posted and all are welcome to stop by, say hi and check out our finds.

More later,

Day 25

Noon Coordinates 30°27'16.62"N, 130°57'31.86"W

Day 25
As of yesterday, we crossed over into another time zone - Pacific Standard Time - and are now only one hour behind California. The ocean continues to pound the bottom of the boat while rouge waves hit us from all sides. What to do? Make Jeffy Pop popcorn. Jeff is a maestro popcorn popper! (picture coming soon) He shakes the pot down while shimmying on his feet to maintain position in front of the stove. There is a whole lot more talent involved then it sounds.

So after three days of trying to play my 20 minute game and not spotting one thing in the ocean, I finally asked the captain why. The obvious answer was the sea state, but in the gyre, we were still seeing stuff in pretty rough seas. The better answer came from a simulation presentation on how trash works its way around the North Pacific done by Dr. Jim Ingraham. Due to the California current, the current carries debris from the states south of our current position and sends it toward the Philippines via the Equatorial current. The trash from Japan area comes via the Kuroshio Extension to the Oyashio Current. So we are in an area that plastic pollution is not so apt to be spread around. The captain assured me we’ll be seeing trash from the States as we get closer to shore.

Since I’ve mentioned our wonderful students in the continental US and Canada, I would also like to thank the participation of students at George Washington High in Guam! Great to hear from you and all of you, keep the questions rolling!

More later,


Q: Hi. I have a question about the plastic ratio to plankton.Has it changed at all?If so, what was the change.Oh and be careful because of the storm. George Washington High School Mangilao, Guam, 12th grade Quentin Thank you for your time.

A: Hey there Quentin, All of us, including the captain are very happy to hear from you students in Guam. You put a smile on his face though the results from our surveys do not. Although we haven’t analyzed our samples, it appears from our winter samples and what we’ve seen out here this summer, the ratio of plastic to zooplankton has increased. Once we finalize the numbers, we’ll post it on our website. Thanks for asking Quentin and we’ll be sure to be careful! Best to you, Bonnie

Q: Hi, my name is Cassandra and I'm a senior at George Washington High School on Guam. I would like to know what are your predictions for the future due to plastic? How long until, do you think, that bioaccumulation will be at its most high? Cassandra

A: Hi Cassandra, With respect to what we have observed during this cruise we predict that plastics will increase in the gyre unless we change peoples behavior to be more responsible for disposing of plastics properly. Though your bioaccumulation question is good, it is very difficult to answer. I assume that you are asking about bioaccumulation of plastics in marine organisms. Bioaccumulation is a biochemical process and one could argue that plastics won't bioaccumulate as they are not broken down by organisms. On the other hand, small fish can and do ingest small plastic particles and these fish then may be eaten by larger fish and the plastic accumulates in the big fish. In fact, on the first leg of this voyage - from southern California to the international date line, there was a Mahi Mahi caught that had a lantern fish in its stomach that had plastic in it. Depending on the size of the plastic, once the fish is digested then the Mahi Mahi might retain the plastic piece. At higher trophic levels like albatross, sea turtles and whales, there are numerous examples of death from ingesting of plastics or plastic bags.
I hope this helps. Dr. Bill Cooper

Q:My name is Marquisha. i am from George Washington High School, Guam. I am a junior and i am currently taking Marine Bio. I have recently watched your video, synthetic sea. It brought a concern. I was wondering what is the economy doing to prevent plastics or debris that gets into the ocean. Plastic is a major thing nowadays because its cheaper. But have your statistics brought up a concern in the world.... And how is the weather. Storms are coming from left to right in the pacific ocean. Hope you guys are managing okay.

A: Hi Marquisha, Glad to hear you are taking Marine Bio. It’s through education that people will begin to understand why plastic in the marine environment is bad and your education can help. You pose some very good questions that are difficult to answer. Before we can get the economy to change its production of plastic, we have to get people to stop buying things like balloons that are used for such a short time and then here for hundreds of years. Usually when there is not a demand for products, they are no longer produced. So people have the power to decide if they will buy items in plastic. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. What you can do is write to companies asking them to stop putting their products in plastic. The captain says we need chemists to redesign the way we make plastics so they are not toxic as well. As far as awareness around the world goes, we are beginning to see more environmental groups taking on the plastics industry as well as educate people on the problems with plastic. Captain Moore has been to several countries around the world giving presentations to educate leaders on the problems with plastics. Thank you for your very bright questions. Best, Bonnie

Q: iv always ben very curious if this has ever happened to anyone. has a squid ever got you with its ink before? :) how is the weather on the boat? is it as nice as it seems? have you guys ever come across a bad storm? do you guys always have toe at fish? if not, what do you guys usually have? have you ever ran out of liquids to drink? Ariel, River Ridge, Florida

A: Ariel, as a matter of fact, Dr. Cooper got inked by squid that he caught in a net down in the Florida Keys! The weather changes every half hour it seems. It’s sunny, then cloudy, then rains a little, then it repeats the cycle. It is in the high 60s-low 70s. We haven’t come across any bad storms, just high seas.
We don’t have to eat fish, but we try to catch one a day to necropsy their stomachs looking to see if they ingested plastic and then we eat them. We have only caught Mahi-Mahi so far. We have a watermaker on board which takes salt water and makes it drinkable so we have an entire ocean to drink! It tastes good too. Thanks for the questions. Best, Bonnie

Q: I have read that a group from Scripps Institution of Oceanography has also gone out to the Pacific Plastic Gyre to take samples and study it. Are you collaborating with them or if not, what are they doing differently from you?

A: Happy to know you and your 4H group is voyaging with us! Thanks Amy. Yes, AMRF is collaborating with Scripps and have procured samples for them as well. Scripps even used the same protocol guidelines as AMRF.

Q: You mentioned that there is little ocean life in the gyre itself. Yet your previous statistics say the ratio of plastic to plankton in the gyre is 6:1. But if fish are not in the gyre then where are they ingesting plastic and what do you estimate is the ratio of plastic to plankton is in those areas?

A: It’s not that there aren’t any fish, it just doesn’t have the great schools of fish as in transition zones where the warm water meets the cold water and is nutrient rich. The fish that are here are eating plastic because plastic emulates food in many ways. As far as the ratios go, the samples from this summer will be processed over the next several months.Thanks for the questions and I hope the answers help. Bonnie and Crew

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Day 24

Noon Position Noon Position 31°22'15.12"N, 133°30'8.82"W

Day 24 Wednesday 9/30/09
It’s been a bit maddening to have to stay inside only to watch an occasional monster wave come up over the bow, cruise past our cabin porthole windows, on up another three feet to the galley windows and portholes and then slosh beyond the top of the boat out over the stern. Not that the spectacle doesn’t provoke some oos and ahhhs, but three days of this and I am so ready to get out on the bow to, at the very least, get some really great footage. Getting wet is a small price to pay for great footage. Given that information, you can probably visualize a certain someone with a harness and life vest with a waterproof camera in hand hanging from the starboard side. I didn’t get very far when I was beaten back by the spray. The lens covered in salty drops, I decided to continue shooting from inside. My friends will understand why there are water spots. We’ve gone three weeks with the sea state changing nearly every day, but the last three have consistently been the same - hanging around six to seven. Even though it isn’t raining from the sky, it’s raining from the bow. So we have left the boundaries of the said Garbage Patch without giving it much more than a last glance.

So what do we do? Read, write, fish, and eat. And the people aboard this boat know how to eat! You’d want them on your Iron Chef team. (Not me, I’m more comfortable jumping off the mainsail boom than I am making oatmeal.) The captain’s homemade hot cocoa alone is example enough. The captain’s recipe calls for Abuelita (a bar of Mexican chocolate), Scharffen Berger 99% cacao dark chocolate, milk and garnished with a vanilla stick. Amazing. As far as the fishing goes, the captain caught two Mahi Mahi this morning using squid that volunteered themselves for bait by jumping up on the bow in the middle of the night.

I got an encouraging email from my fellow plastic pollution warrior, Jennifer O’Keefe. The items discussed in the video confirms much of what Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been conveying. Your assignment is to read the message below and then go to the link, watch the video and tell me what you think!

An online video focusing on the science and politics of ocean trash published by the DC Bureau of the Public Education Center ( has recently been posted, highlighting an interview with the Dr. Holly Bamford, Director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The video and corresponding article, part of a series titled "Fish and Paint Chips," cover the issue of marine debris from a variety of different angles and interviews. The purpose of is to provide bloggers, individual reporters, editors, news directors and others involved in all media platforms a new resource for stories, ideas and help. Recent research has the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concerned that the huge quantities of metal, plastic, paint chips and other man-made debris floating at sea, hundreds and even thousands of miles from land, may be working their way into the American diet.

Now here are the links;
(NOAA Marine Debris Program highlighted in "Fish and Paint Chips" Series by DC Bureau.)

Fish and Paint Chips Part I: The Science of Trash

Fish and Paint Chips Part II: The Politics of Ocean Trash

Let us know your thoughts!
More later.

Thank you for all the great student questions! More answers coming soon!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 23, and lots of answers to student questions!!!!

Noon Coordinates 35°12'19.92"N, 138°24'39.84"W
Day 23 Tuesday 9/29/09
I’ve had a lot of students asking what kind of fish or sea animals do we see - Turtles? Sharks? Dolphins? Manatees? I did get to see some dolphins while scuba diving in Hawaii and saw several sea turtles while exploring Kamilo Bay with Noni and Ron Sanford, but not since then. We swam while dolphin fish, otherwise known as Mahi Mahi, circled below down too deep to photograph. One night, we decided to flash lights over the ocean looking for Myctophids. When light hits them just right, their oversized eyes reflect a florescent red and they’re glowing photophor studded bodies make them look like fireflies of the sea. What we didn’t realize is our lights gave a school of Mahi Mahi the home court advantage and we found ourselves witnessing a feeding frenzy. The little five inch or so long Myctophids, twisted and contorted, zoomed and darted like kids playing dodge ball. I saw one jump over the head of a three foot Mahi Mahi. There were flashing fish and flashing flashlights going in all directions. Next thing we saw were squid getting into or getting out of the way of this dog eat dog world. Blotches of ink plumed the blue lit water.

Since we are on our way back to California with seas ranging from 5 to 7, cruising at 10 plus knots, weaving in and out of squalls, we haven’t had a chance to see much of anything. But today the sky turned blue, the captain put a line out, Bill threw the compost out and Jeff reeled in a Mahi Mahi (see picture above.) It was close to 30 inches long! Gwen examines the digestive tract for plastics and then Jeff took over. We’ll have it for lunch tomorrow. Good stuff!

To keep myself busy I decided to finish a project I started involving a poster using the inside of a shopping bag. We have a group of students from River Ridge High School, Florida who take part in AMRF’s Ship-to-Shore Educational Program that Holly Gray facilitates. Thanks Holly, you’ve recruited a great group of kids from all over the country and Canada!!! Well River Ridge High has a group of students known as the Reef Rascals soon to change there name to SPLASH (Students Protecting Land and Sea Habitats) who are getting some press and they asked for a photo from the gang out here. This was a little dicey since we all needed to be in it and with the boat bounces around so much self portraits are tough. We decided to use my video camera. So we all got in position in front of the camera and then just stared at it like “now what.” Without a “cheese” or “smile” or someone to say “Ready?” it left us all hanging until the captain, being the director of operations, began to sing M.I.C. K.E.Y. M.O.U.S.E. This was the most coherent picture I could extract from the footage. Great footage though.
Q: Hay I am from river rige high school. I was just trying 2 figer out how the plastic has changed its figer from the last time you went out.Were do you do all of your testing is it on the boat our do u wait till u get 2 shower 2 do the testing. i am so happy that some one is trying 2 do some thing about it because if u did not do it how would. you guys put a smile one my face every time you all figer some thing new about the plastic.

A: Hay, hey! Good question! Gwen and the Captain were the only two who saw the results from the 1999 voyage that could comment on the comparison. They both agree that all the survey results they’ve done in the past including the 1999 voyage have been surpassed by this years trawling. We will have to take the samples back to the lab to accurately depict just how much more. You put a smile on our faces knowing that you are as much a part of solution as we are. Best,

Q: Hey! I'm Hannah from River Ridge High School and i'm a junior. I wanted to know, from all of you, what the mot memorable discovery was, and the most memorable part of your expedition. anything you didn't know going in that you know now? thanks!

A: Our most memorable discovery was how many big things there have been out in the ocean. Not only were the pieces that we found in our trawl much bigger this time around in the Garbage Patch, but also, the really big stuff that if our boat ran into them it could have potentially sunk our ship. For example, the big item on the pallet, a log 2’ by 10’, and a 6’ basin. Another huge problem we have had is with ropes, fishing line and ghost nets that have fowled up in our propeller and could have ruined damaged our engines. So plastic pollution can cause serious problems for marine vessels and proven to do so to the ORV Alguita.

Q:have you seen any sharks yet? A: No sharks, but if we do, we’ll be sure to get pictures!

Q: Hola, this is Dan, Garrett, Matt, Tyler, and Landan, better known as the SHARKS. We're from River Ridge High School. We were wondering what was your motive behind embarking on this journey to learn about the pollution in the oceans? When did you guys realize your love for marine life?

A:Sharks!!! I had some elementary students ask me if we’ve seen any sharks, I can at least tell them that I heard from a few! I think I can best answer this by answering the second part first. I never knew I cared so much for marine life until I read the magazine article in “Plastic Ocean” by Susan Casey in Best Life magazine. In it she describes interviewed Captain Moore and explained how sea mammals, birds, and turtles were getting entangled and ingesting our trash. She described “May West” the snapping turtle that is deformed by a plastic band (you can search for more info on the internet.) I was so saddened by the fact that our trash was maiming and killing the smallest birds to the largest mammals that I felt I had to do something. It inspired me to contact Algalita and for a year I hoped I would get to go to sea on the ORV Alguita. Just goes to show you if you put your passion first, anything can happen. Swim on Sharks! Bonnie

Q: Hi i am Claudia from River Ridge High School. My question to you guys
is, can you guys tell where the plastic comes from? is it only from
local waters or do you find plastic from across the globe?

A: Claudia, Now there is a question I can say I answer with certainty. Once plastic get in the water they are free to roam anywhere. (unlike cell phones minutes) Not often (because labels wash off) there would be something on them that we could tell where it was from. And even though we found labels written in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean it doesn’t mean it wasn’t from the US. Overall, most of the plastics are broken down into small fragments and are unidentifiable. Best, Bonnie

Q: Hey guys, its corinne and casie from river ridge high school and we just wanted to know if you guys had an thoughts on why there are less barnicles on large trash items now then there was ten years ago? also why it seems algae is replacing the barnicles in number?

A: Hi Corinne and Casie, We still don’t have a definitive answer to this question. We are hoping a marine biologist would email us the answer. I’ll let you know if I hear anything. Best, Bonnie

Q: Hi, I'm Christina from River Ridge High School in Florida. I was wondering why you think the barnacles attach themselves to the buoys. I also was wondering why you think there is such a difference from the trip in 1999 and the trip you are on now. :)

A: Hey there Christina, Barnacles attach to any solid surface that they come in contact with. For example, in marinas it is the bottom of boats and that is why we have special paint to try to minimize them attaching and slowing down the boat. As for buoys, it is just another surface. In this case they also are floating through new water all the time and thus the barnacles can get the nutrients they need to grow. We are still waiting on an answer as to why there seems to be less barnacles this time through the Garbage Patch. We’ll blog once we get an answer. Stay tuned. Bill

Q:This is Meghan a senior from River Ridge High School. I was wondering what fish you mostly encounter and what kind is your favorite to eat? Also what are you guys looking forward to most after you finish the voyage? September 29,2009.

A: Meghan, We put our fishing lines out almost everyday, but the only kind of fish we catch is Mahi Mahi. They taste good, but are so pretty . . .
I’m looking forward to wearing clean clothes. We washed our clothes once on the boat and it doesn’t seem as clean washing clothes by hand. On a more serious note, I look forward to presenting at workshops to share our findings to the general public. I will also be presenting my thesis for grad school on this topic in the spring. And last, but not least, seeing my grown children. Best, Bonnie

Q:hey guys, its corinne and casie from river ridge high school and we just wanted to know if you guys had an thoughts on why there are less barnicles on large trash items now then there was ten years ago? also why it seems algae is replacing the barnicles in number?

A:Hi Corine and Casie, We really do not know what the answer(s) are to your questions, but when we do, we’ll be sure to blog the answers! Best, Bonnie

Q: wow you guys are working hard, though you are encountering some troubles, you get done what is needed to get done. Im wondering how is it being away from home? And do you take any of the items to keep for yourself? ....Keep on keepin on. -Hannah H. RRHS-

A: Hi Hannah, Captain Moore is so kind, he let’s us take what we find. So I’ll be bringing home the toilet seat! (although he teases me that we have joint custody of it!)
We appreciate your asking about being away from home and I’d be glad to start. For me, having two children in their mid-twenties, it’s probably good for them that I’m away so I’m not coaching them all the time. All kidding aside, with only six crew members, we’re so busy there is little time to think about home. But this voyage has rekindled my sense of wonder and I’m trying to absorb the knowledge that Captain Moore, Dr. Cooper and Jeff Ernest so willingly share. I am a grad student in the Liberal Studies Program at UNC Wilmington and being a part of AMRF’s research is part of my final project. This has been a hands-on learning experience of a lifetime and one that I will never be able to recreate so I am enjoying every learning second of it.
Being away from home is different for each one of us. For myself, Bill Cooper, with a PhD in oceanography, I spent over the course of my studies 6 months at sea doing field work. The longest cruise I was on was 3 weeks and one gets use to extended periods of time away, particularly when you are conducting experiments around the clock like we are doing on this cruise. We are too busy to even think about home. Capt Moore says he feels the same way. He never tires of the sea, but when he gets close to home, he’s ready to return to his comforts and organic exotic garden. Lindsey Hoshaw misses her email, Twitter and corresponding with her bloggers. I also misses the smell of the desert, she is from Tucson AZ. Jeff misses his dog.

Q:I was wondering if your ship is almost full, and if so how are you going to store all these things when you just got to the Pacific Garbage Patch. Also, did you find anything that was from around the world? Zach and Richard New Port Richey, FL River Ridge High School 11th grade

A: Zach and Richard, You cannot believe the amount of trash we have on board. Hundreds of lbs of trash!!! But we have compartments as well as places on the deck to tie it all down. Some of it will go toward education, some will go to recycling.

Q: I was also wondering if you are going to test these materials/items you found when you get back or are you already experimenting on them? Zach River Ridge High School New Port Richey, FL

A: Hi, I’m Gwen Lattin a marine biologist on board the vessel. The debris we have collected will be mostly for outreach and education so people can see the material for themselves. We have also collected manta samples and samples of fish that have been associated with the debris. They will be analyzed once we return to the mainland. We will count and weigh the plastic particulates, then quantify it by calculating the number of pieces and weight of the plastic per square meter in the surface water and the number of pieces and weight of plastic per cubic meter for estimating the amount in the near surface water column. The fish will be analyzed for contaminants, mainly persistent organic pollutants (POPs). All analysis will take several months.

Ms. Rivenbark (in North Carolina),
I’m so happy to here from you. Hi students, thanks for your awesome questions. I’m having fun answering them. I will have a picture in the blog just for your class. It’s called a dolphin fish and it is the biggest sea animal we’ve seen out here.

Have you seen any sharks? We have not seen any sharks, but I would like to see one. In the Garbage Patch, there are not a lot of fish because it is not a good environment for them to feed on. But if I do, I’ll let the class know!
Have you seen any seals? We have not seen any seals. They are found on island areas and do not go far from land. I will be going to port in California and I might see one there. I’ll let the class know if I see one (and get a picture!)
How are you doing on the ship? We are doing great on the ship. We have a lot of food and the captain likes to cook so tonight we are having enchiladas! The boat bumps around a lot so we look funny when we walk. And at night, we can hear the water swishing around under our beds. It’s a lot of fun.
How do manatees live? Good question, but no manatees in this part of the world. They like to live where there is a lot of marsh and there isn’t any in the open ocean. I sure do like them, they look really nice.
How much trash have you seen? We have seen a lot of trash. We have seen more trash than we could pull out of the ocean. We have tried taking as much as we can and right now have close to 400 pounds worth.
Have you seen any turtles? I did see a lot of sea turtles when I was in Hawaii. Here is a picture of a baby one swimming in broken pieces of plastic. We took it out and put it in a cleaner part of the ocean so it wouldn’t try to eat it. Isn’t it cutes?
Have you seen any dolphins jump out of the water? Yes, we’ve seen dolphins jump out of the water when I was scuba diving they were only a few feet away. They were too fast to get there picture. If we see them again, we’ll send you a picture!!
How cold is the water there? The ocean water is in the low 70s. It is so much fun getting to the water that we don’t even think about being cold. When I get in, the water is so clear, I can look down and see my feet dangling in the pretty blue water below. This ocean never gets as warm as the Atlantic Ocean. (We want to compare the temp to our ocean water.)

Keep the questions rolling.
Bonnie, Lindsey, Bill, Jeff, Gwen and the captain

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 22

Noon Position 30° 0'31.50"N, 140° 6'2.46"W

Day 22 Monday 9/28/09
In the darkness of the morning, we completed our last trawl of the re-sampling surveys. Yet another large item caught in our trawl, a rope 16 cm long accompanied a large quantity of plastic particulates. There isn’t any fishing going n out here due to its oligotrophic state and yet we find fishing gear daily. A notable difference in the trawls of 2009 compared to trawls of 1999 is the number of large items caught in the manta trawl.

We pulled the manta in at 0500 and let the sails out at 0800 after battening down the hatches, securing our collected items from the sea, removing bathing suits from the line, and repositioning the last of our fresh fruits and vegetables. The sky was blue long enough for the genoa and main sails to bloat with fall cool air and pull us down a few miles toward home and into a perpetual squall. When we started we were 1035 nm away from Long Beach, California, but because of the 30 knot winds we’re making good time traveling 120 nm by 2000 on free fuel.

This is the first day that I have spent the entire time inside. The bad part was not being able to survey the ocean from the deck and collect plastic items. Yesterday the captain pulled in a crate that looked like it a grocery store bread crate. A perfect example of how we are finding things in one piece out here more than other areas of the Pacific we have surveyed. With the sea state pushing seven, water fanning over the bow as we careened 10 foot slopes, it was too dangerous. Sitting on the back deck had its own host of hazards. Water would sometimes hit us from behind and lap over the sides of the ship. Lindsey was sitting out on the aft with Jeff when we heard her let out a little yelp. A wave so powerful rocked the ship hard, knocking her off her seat. So they moved back into the galley where we sat all together sharing stories and sipped tea. It’s the first time since the voyage started that we have had little to do but to hang out.

The ship has its’ own way of communicating. It lets out blasts of noises from underneath with whining lines and jerking booms on top. I mentioned how I like to listen to sounds and name them. The captain laughed when I called one “the office” - it sounds like a slamming file cabinet drawer. Then there are the “after burner” noise that rocket out of the back. Like an oversize wave squished between the two pontoons, when it reaches the back of the ship it explodes its way free. There is also the “rollercoaster” noise that sounds like the chain pulling cars up a huge incline. The captain had one too, he calls the Mike Tyson punch. They’re all going off right now as we fishtail around across the other side of the Garbage Patch heading east via the north east tradewinds. More later, Bonnie

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 21

Noon Position 30° 0'31.50"N, 140° 6'2.46"W
Day 21 Sunday 9/27/09
Is this yours? I spied this from the galley window as it slid down a nine foot wave that dwarfed the size of this package. If you look closely, you can see it is strapped to a pallet which gives you an idea just how big it is. I’ve become keenly aware of debris floating after my 10 games of “How Long Can I Go without Seeing Plastic?” I had been outside most of the daylight hours even though a series of squalls kept me dodging for cover. One in particular, I watched as the silver veil of rain drew an exaggerated stiff line just after the horizon and then marched like locusts looming toward a cornfield (not that I’ve ever seen what that looks like.) I stood there for a good seven minutes watching it close in until I felt it on my face. Squalls rolled in and out throughout the day, but I was determined to stay out there in the cool damp air so that I could report my unscientific yet revealing results. I became so hyper-aware of the stuff that didn’t belong in the ocean that I couldn’t pass a window without looking out and shouting. “I see something!”

The 20 minute games took two people to play - one as an extra set of eyes to confirm the sightings and one to write down the time, dimensions, and color. We did not count anything we saw under an inch in size. After reviewing all 10 games, the longest we went without seeing a piece of plastic was . . . . . .7 minutes and 20 seconds. The average number of plastic pieces per 20 minutes was 15.9 pieces. The smallest pieces we saw were bottle caps (of which we saw a lot of and according to Big Sweep, bottle caps are the # 2 item found on the beach outside of cigarette butts.) The largest was a six foot trough with a rim like an old bathtub. One of the unique items was a blue man shaped bottle. Sorry Perry, it would have been a good one for you, but we couldn’t take anything out of the ocean because we were trawling.

Our trawls have been coming in with Texas-sized plastic fragments. Twice just today, we had to feed items back through the trawl because they were too big to fit through the codend. The captain said it was a rare occurrence to have large items end up in the trawls in previous years, it would happen, but very rarely. It has happened 9 out of the 11 trawls we’ve done for the re-sampling in the North Pacific Gyre. Items like a detergent bottle, a banana float, a handle and part of the top to a five gallon bucket, a good portion of a broken buoy, an Oral-B toothbrush, oyster spacers, and an umbrella handle just to name a few.

We have our 12th trawl tonight at 0130 and that will complete our 10 year anniversary re-sampling of the North Pacific Garbage Patch. We’ve had unusually rough seas throughout our sampling. The high pressure system that helps facilitate the accumulation has not been able to ward off the storms that have continued to hang around. The sea state has waned between four and six. These conditions usually don’t provide the best representation due to the fact that rough seas submerge many of the plastics. Yet, the captain and Gwen feel the quantities we are getting will surpass the samples of 1999. More later, Bonnie

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 20- Oh Buoy!

Noon Position 33°29'47.58"N, 141° 0'2.58"W

Day 20 Saturday 9/26/09

Oh Buoy! A day doesn’t go by that we don’t see several plastic buoys and rope roll past the ship. Today was no exception. But a morning reflection about the 1999 voyage got the captain talking about his general observation of not only the mere number of buoys we are seeing since his 1999 voyage, but the changes he’s observed this time more so than any of the previous voyages. The change has been in the number of barnacles he is NOT seeing on the buoys and the amount of algae that is on them instead. The number in buoy count doesn’t surprise us. With the amount of fishing competing in our deep waters, commercial vessels that are floating factories able to go to far reaches of the ocean bringing with them fishing gear that local fisheries can’t afford to lose. What he doesn’t know the answer to is where are the barnacles going?

To further his point, the captain sat us down and showed us slide after slide of fouled buoys with strands of barnacles like this one that are several feet long. We haven’t found anything even close to the examples he showed us - a time lapse up until the winter of 2008. And it wasn’t just the buoys, bottles too! We haven’t found one fouled bottle with barnacles and we have a repository of bottles. Is it a natural occurrence that their abundance reduces during certain seasons? Are they knocked off in rough seas? We’re a curious bunch way out here 1050 miles from Google and we’d like to use one of our life lines and phone a friend. Anyone?

Day two of our re-sampling brought in a collectors item. The captain has been collecting umbrella handles over the past 2 or 3 years. His collection has grown to a whopping 50 +. All of them have come from various beaches, but most of them have come from Kamilo Bay, Hawaii. Today was a first. While emptying the codend of the manta trawl at 0400, out plopped an odd shaped, dark brown umbrella handle, along with half of a flex-handle tooth brush, two bottle caps, and two oyster spacers. The captain is confident the tooth brush and umbrella are from land-based sources because it’s futile to bring an umbrella out at sea and there are too many uses for a toothbrush on a boat. The other interesting finds with these trawls is that there have been a higher concentration of identifiable objects as well as items too big to put in our sample jars. That is not to say that there aren’t a lot of plastic particulates and loads of them. Other odd finds today were a children’s toy cup (olive green/Tupperware?), Popsicle stick, and a travel size detergent bottle.

I have a new game, it’s called, “How long can I go without seeing plastic” I’ll share with you more about it tomorrow. My goal is to have played it 10 times before I reveal my average.

More later.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day 19

Noon Position 34°45'35.10"N, 142° 2'49.56"W

Day 19 Friday September 25, 2009
Today we reached our destination into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and began our 10 year anniversary sampling. The day started with a sea state of two/three which was doable for sampling. At 1155 the captain came over the loadspeaker announcing this monumental event and then had us hustle to the stern. Under gray skies and comfortable seas, the manta trawls went into the water at 1205 for an one hour and five minute swim.

Shortly after the manta launch, Gwen noticed a Japanese glass float drifting by. It was a gorgeous emerald green (not a color one sees a lot of out here, not even in plastic.) It looked to be about the size of a volleyball. These are a rare find and worth chasing after. Within minutes Jeff and Lindsey were heading off in the dinghy to find it with a hand held radio and GPS in hand. Within minutes they were completely out of sight and with every minute the sea state started to turn advancing to a sea state of four and looked like a giant washing machine on the "heavily soiled" wash cycle. It was a long 25 minutes before we could see them in the distance bouncing toward us. The emerald glass buoy lost its luster as the minutes passed. So when they returned without it, no one seemed to care.

The ocean has not calmed down since early afternoon and has progressed to a sea state of five. With 6-8 foot swells, 19 knot winds combined with the ship going at 6.5 knots, it’s much like driving fast down a hilly road. Sometimes the car catches some air and you can feel it in your stomach. My stomach has been flying around all day - one perpetual rollercoaster. Sometimes when we bounce low, water washes over the bow, up over my bed’s porthole window, rips passed the hatch and then back down again. It’s such a trip bouncing around in this capsule as the ocean does its thing out there.

Jeff’s dad has emailed a list of questions and I decided to incorporate them since there might be a few others who have similar questions. Now these are some questions in need of some answers.

1. Will you begin surveying Friday 9/25/09? Yes, we started at 1205 today at the coordinates set from the 1999 survey. The sea state was about a two at the time, but has jumped up to a five due to some squalls that seem to be following us.

2. How many days will you need to complete the survey? We are looking at four days to complete the 12 stations, but it is weather dependent. The forecast does look in our favor after today.

3. Are the winds still giving you free power or are you motor sailing? It’s been very patchy with the wind. We sailed three nights ago, but took them down in the morning. Charlie and I put up the Stay Sail yesterday at 0500, then put up the main at 0900 and then took them down in the late afternoon. With the tight survey schedule, we’ve been motoring at about 6.5 knots which is eating up some fuel. We did get to sail for a few hours while we trawled our first repeat sample survey though! But to truly answer your question, most of our sailing has been accompanied with a motor. Except for Tuesday night it was beautiful to sail through the silence of the night.

4. Your position report said you were back down to 33 degrees north. Is that a typo or did you swing south? Yes, we did some jockeying around trying to hit some algal bloom patches that Dave Foley had asked us to try to survey.

5. The January 2008 crossing from Hawaii was a little dicey regarding fuel consumption. How are you doing with your fuel consumption? Our fuel situation is still looking good, but being in the dull drums and having to hit locations at certain times may have us riding home on fumes.

6. I am getting the impression that the ORV Alguita is finding more trash with every mile over previous voyages. Is this the case? Today, I videoed the captain as he gave us his impression of this voyage, and he said this is nothing like what he witnessed in 1999, it is far worse. For one reason, every time we stop for a swim (and one time while we were in transit) our props and/or the ruder are fouled with derelict fishing/boating gear. Just this morning, the captain went under the boat after we retrieved a 3’x18”buoy, and found both props had rope around them. This was the second day in a row! Also, Jeff had to go under the boat two nights ago because the engine died and it was because of a huge ghost net. The captain fears that this area is becoming a navigational nightmare. Here’s another example, every time we put our fishing polls out, if they are out for more than an hour, one of them brings in a wad of rope. Another thing that is really concerning the captain is the quantity of stuff we are seeing float by. The trawls have been heavy with plastic, but to truly determine if it is more, we have to get the samples back to the lab.

7. Do you see evidence that the plastic pollution has increased in density on a per day at sea basis? I asked your son this question and he felt that the plastics are so patchy, it is difficult to say. I asked the same question to the captain and since he has been looking at this for 10 years, he felt that over the past 10 years this is the worst he’s seen it. Thanks Chief, keep’em coming.
More later.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 18

Noon Position 31°54'51.46"N, 144°31'35.82"W

Day 18 Wednesday 9/24/09

I got “schooled” on anemones today. As sad as it may sound, I knew nothing of them other than what I saw in the animation “Finding Nemo.” With my childlike preoccupation, Jeff had to ask, “Haven’t you ever been in a tide pool before?” And then urged I go spend some time in one. You may wonder how the topic of anemones came up while out in the deep ocean, 100s, if not a 1000, miles from any tide pools or reef lines where anemones live. It has to do with yet another game I made up while trying to quantify or if nothing else, wrap my head around all this plastic I see daily floating by in all different shapes and sizes. Since the sea state was a two, it was good enough to get out on the bow and start hunting for plastics.

I made a hand drawn spreadsheet with categories of: color, item description, and then a series of columns for size increments i.e. 0-1 cm, 2-10 cm, and so forth. We started exactly at 1400 and intended to go for 30 minutes. Bill shouted out what he saw; I would write it down. Occasionally, he would try to pull them out. To keep it simple, we only counted and collected from the starboard side. If it were a competition between the white fragments and any other color/size, white fragments 0-1 cm would win hands down. With only nine minutes to go the captain pointed to a white piece roughly 3x5 inches small. Bill scooped it out of the water and when I pulled it out of the net, the white piece of plastic was covered with anemones which were covered with plastic. The captain was equally taken aback. An array of plastic particulates stuck to the anemones with a duck tape grip on the front and back of the plastic piece. Here we were with a total of 98 pieces that we counted in 26 minutes and this one piece of plastic looked to have an equal amount. So after a photo shoot, I started counting the number of pieces on each clumped mat of anemones. There were 14 clumps with a total of 131 pieces of plastic particulates attached to them, all clinging to a larger piece of plastic - 132!

Jeff told me that these critters cover themselves with rocks and shells to protect their soft jelly tissue against predators or from being scrubbed against rocky surfaces near shore. I found a book that described yet another detail, it said, “To prevent the fatal loss of water from body tissues during low tide, they [anemones] retract their tentacles and cover themselves with light-colored rocks and shells that tend to reflect, rather than absorb heat. Studies have shown that anemones have trouble maintaining fluids above 55 F. Gwen explained that the anemones use nematocysts as a way of attaching plastic to themselves and also added that they could be trying to feed on it, as well. So it was plastic that swept them out to sea and it was plastic in the ocean environment they found to cover themselves with.

Speaking of feeding, the captain treated us to yet another fanciful meal - a Chinese dish of Sweet and Sour Mahi Mahi - a 30” Mahi Mahi he and Bill wrestled in at 0900 this morning. Just in time before the seas jumped to a three and rock and rolled us until noon. The sails have been going up and down the past two days, but with less than 60 miles to the Garbage Patch, we’ll try anything to get there before our first scheduled 10 year anniversary trawl tomorrow at 1600.

More Later,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 17

Noon Position 33°48'20.22"N, 146°56'6.06"W

Day 17 Wednesday 9/23/09
The moment my shift ended the clock had to be moved one hour forward leaving Bill with only one hour on watch. Our easterly travels led us into a different time zone. Not only has the clock moved fast forward but so has the volume of plastic pollution we are finding. We are 220 nm outside of the first sample sight inside the Garbage Patch and from what we’ve seen today, one has to wonder if the leviathan patch is growing at an alarming rate. Windrow after windrow of plastics strung across the water like strings of Christmas lights. Spaced just so far apart, the plastics rarely travel in tight packs, but in these conditions they’re strung along invisible lines. I know, we need to send a picture. It isn’t trivial to take a picture of this, but Jeff vows to get one that will illustrate just what we’re seeing. None of us have the equipment it will take to get a good shot, especially when it has to be reduced to 20 percent to send it from here. But we’re going to try.

Just from the port side this morning, I caught 13 good size objects within an hour and a half. That doesn’t include the stuff I missed and those just outside my reach (I counted 139 total). The smallest was a travel size aspirin bottle and my largest was . . .I’ll get to that later. First I want to tell you about the captain’s big find that rivaled mine. Yes, another 55 gallon drum with a square window cut out of the side of it (photo to left by Gwen Lattin) . Lindsey, Jeff, the captain and I snorkeled out to it to see what might be swimming under it. It was pretty barren compared to the last one that had tiers of fish teaming beneath it. After lugging it on board, the window worked well for the captain to catch the fish that swam inside.

The captain also caught a Mai Mai! Gwen preformed a necropsy and found a nice square piece of yellow plastic in its digestive system. Bill caught it all on video for the non-believers and a picture is being sent to AMRF if anyone wants to see it. It’s a bit gruesome for the blog. Gwen is also taking samples on fish that are associated with the plastics like a few that lived in the barrel. They will be analyzed for Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs) when we return to the mainland.

We also collected two “super-size me” trawls. We rarely collect big items in our trawls, but today was an exception. Both the manta trawl and the folding manta had several large objects like a foot long wad of rope, roughly 4”x4” pieces of broken fragments, bottle caps, and one even had the entire bottle! The captain said these samples rival the most he’d ever seen in one trawl. It makes me fearful what it’s going to be like in the patch!

Now for my catch of the day - On the bow I made a little game for myself, to collect 10 things in an hour. (Remember my fiasco with the two corner piece. I was out to redeem myself.) Well I got stuck on number nine. There was a dry spell, not atypical of how plastic comes and goes in waves. I called on the ocean gods to send me something big and something soon because time was running out. It must have heard because it arrived shortly after. When I pulled it out, I thought to myself I'm glad the ocean has a sense of humor (see top photo by Jeff Ernst). The captain loved the find and proclaimed it to be one of the most unusual items pulled aboard Alguita! He explained to me that this particular seat is a Japanese invention. The seat is actually wired to serve as both a toilet seat and a bidet. More later, Bonnie

Q: Hello this is Bryan and Ashley, juniors from RIver Ridge High School, in Florida. We were both very shocked to see this problem you have encountered with your sail. we were wondering what kind of precautions do you take for inclement weather like this? Do you have extra parts and supplies set aside for problems you my encounter?

A: Bryan and Ashley, Thanks for asking! I kind of left a cliff hanger there didn’t I. The bad news is, we do not have another spinnaker, the good news is we have three other sails - the genoa, stay, and main sails. And if wind permits, we can arrange them so that they somewhat emulate the spinnaker. We do miss the spinnaker though, unlike the others that are white, it was bright red and green. So not only was it a great sailing tool, it was beautiful to look at. Lastly, we also have plenty of fuel as a backup plan.

Captain Moore has been sailing most his life so believe me we want for nothing on this ship. Just yesterday I asked him if he had something to reinforce the net I was using to scoop plastics out of the ocean (it bent from the weight of the objects we have pulled out). He went into a cubby with spare/random stuff and pulled out the perfect piece of wood to use. It’s the same way with food. We have on board from the very exotic mole sauce to peanut butter and jelly. Keep the questions coming! Best, Bonnie Over the Ocean

Q: Hello this is Cleo and Sally from Maine. We were wondering if there are garbage patches in the Atlantic and would they be in the Sargasso Sea? I am starting a science/art/garbage project. A piece of art made entirely out of garbage found at various beaches in Southern Maine. And why aren't more people using corn based products? Love the Tracking Trash book!

A: Cleo and Sally, am I glad you asked! Just this summer I went to the Sargasso Sea with a small team of scientists to ask that very question. We did the same protocol AMRF uses which involves using a manta trawl to skim the surface of the ocean. Sure enough, every trawl we did had plastic in it. This was just a preliminary study, and will continue to our study this winter, but there is evidence that the breakdown of plastics in there as well. But we are not sure if there is the same type of accumulation as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch due to the differences characteristics of each ocean. You can check out <> archives (7/18/09-7/28/09) to see some of the fascinating stuff we found out there. Dr. Marcus Erikson with AMRF will be doing extensive research this winter on the North Atlantic so keep checking back with <>.
I love the Tracking Trash book too! Good luck with your project and if you want to send pictures when it’s done, I’ll post them on The Plastic Ocean Blog. Best, Bonnie

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 16

Noon Position 33 41.703N 149 36.926W

Day 16 Tuesday 9/22/09

Today is yet another travel day. It’s hard to believe that the latitudinal line we started from stretched across the Pacific and slid beneath the Baja Peninsula, nearly 1000 miles down from the US/Mexican border. The ocean temperature had been in the high seventies/low eighties, the air hot and slightly breezy. Over the past 1,440 nautical miles we’ve felt the hot air fade away as the winds picked up and the water cooled. Most of us are wearing long sleeves and pants. Jeff sports a cap when it gets below 80.o I’ll be breaking mine out that Danielle Andre made for me just before the cruise. Thanks Danielle, I’m going to need it! After we leave the Garbage Patch it’s going to be much cooler as we head back to Long Beach, California.

We have 414 more nautical miles to go to begin our sampling in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We should be there in two days allowing us to start sampling on Friday September 26th. We will be re-sampling the precise locations AMRF sampled 10 years ago that led to Captain Moore’s first publication on plastic pollution. The sampling will take three solid days or more depending on conditions. The captain explained that it should be warmer in the Garbage Patch as the winds will die down along with the sea state due to this area typically being monopolized by a high pressure system. We look forward to getting back in the water to video and take some stills underwater as well as what we find on the surface.

In the meantime, the captain continues to entertain us with crazy awesome connoisseur concoctions. We had homemade limeade with lunch and since he was cleaning out the fridge, he decided to make smoothies out of random fruits on the verge of going to the dark-side. He added some soymilk for good measure and BAM, it shamed Smoothie King. Tonight he’s preparing Chicken Mole which I guess is chicken with a chocolate sauce along with a side of sweet candied squash dusted with cinnamon. I never had it, but he hasn’t let me down yet!

Since we are catching some perfect winds at 16 knots over a sea state of four, we don’t have the ability to maneuver to pick up plastics that float by so we’ve been counting. Just in buoys today alone, Jeff has seen a dozen and Gwen five. As I was asking her how many she counted she looked over my shoulder and said, “There’s one now!” And sure enough, there was a black one floating by our ship. I’m a neophyte yet and have only counted seven floating by in two days. Bill, the captain, and Lindsey say they lost count. On board, we’ve collected 17 so far. We could make our own totem pole of buoys with the number we have seen. Not that these are the only things we see out here, 100s of random things float by daily and that is just what we see.

“Corners,” I said in a trance-like state as I stared at the white corner of a crate or something similar that floated by. We see a lot of corners of objects. We guess it’s because corners are likely to be sturdier than the other parts. The captain pulled one out yesterday and entered on our data sheet along with many others that we’ve collected. Two days ago, I had a huge piece with two corners intact making a “U” shape. We were traveling at about five knots so when it came rapidly floating toward me, I squared myself to the bow. I concentrated on my timing watching it as it decided to float on the starboard side. It was coming around the pontoon when I made my move. Half of it went into the net, the other have wrapped around the pontoon - clung to it like a child around its mother’s leg. It was ridiculous. I had the net on one end of it, but was afraid to pull for fear it would go down the other side of the pontoon. I yelled to Bill who was filming at the time to come help. Just as he got there, it let go. I clawed at it as it floated past me and on it went. I hung my head. “Don’t worry,” Bill said, “there’ll be plenty more opportunities.”

More later.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 15

Noon Position 33°37'42.84"N, 152°28'43.80"W

Day 15 Monday 9/21/09
At the stroke of midnight last night, Lindsey was finishing up her 2200 to 2400 watch when all halyard broke loose. Actually, it was the spinnaker. Lindsey ran to Jeff’s berth, but he was already on it. He knew what it was just by the sound. “The sail tore!” The three of us in the other cabin were aroused by the commotion and the captain confirmed the urgency by chiming a bell. While Gwen took the helm, we all clambered in different directions grabbing clothes and slipping on life jackets then pressed on into the cool night air. The wind howled just like in the movies. The captain, Bill and I worked the lines down from the winch table on the aft while Lindsey and Jeff finished pulling the remains of the spinnaker on to the bow. The captain, Bill and I worked our way to the bow to find Lindsey and Jeff sitting on the spinnaker so it wouldn’t take off into the 30 knot winds. While Bill collected the lines from around the sides of the ship, I unlatched the head of the sail and secured the spinnaker halyard. I then took Jeff’s place so he could finish bringing in the lines. The boat rocked over large swells and dipped into cavernous water trenches. Water slammed from all directions in a confused state as the spinnaker laid wounded on the bow The beautiful and enormous sail that has carried us 300 miles just on the last run, blew out on one side and tore a 30’ hole down one side. We all worked in tandem to get the Main and the Stay Sails up and by 1 a.m. the drama was over.

We’ve average 8.5 knots since changing the sails. Alguita climbs over and rips through some 10’ plus swells without hesitation. The ocean sounds angry beneath us as if challenging the unfettered stability of this catamaran. The bumping and banging take turns every few seconds, some sounding like a Giant trying to fist holes in the bottom. Most the time we can block out the sounds, but the punchy ones usually get this novice sailor’s attention.
Inside the ship everything expresses itself. The dishes clank, the spices rattle, hanging towels pendulum, while the water bangs below. Even the sink has something to say, it gurgles and sometimes geysers. Lindsey laughed straight out loud the first time she saw it. A foot and a half geyser shot straight up out of the drain then straight back down. I didn’t dare tell her how I found out it did that. I discovered this unique phenomenon while standing over the sink. Later the captain said it was mostly sea water since the drain connects directly to the sea. It made me feel a little better than thinking last nights dishwater ended up on my face.

Traveling this fast via wind has such a different sensation. It’s like front wheel drive instead of rear wheel with the engines. The cat seems to flatten out over the water better. Even though we are traveling this fast, the squall that has been tailing us finally took the lead creating some fussy winds that forced us to add the genoa. Jeff, Lindsey and the captain managed to “get’er done,” while I videoed. Nice work crew!
More later.

Q:Clay F. Grade 9 East Hills 4H San Leandro, CA How is the Pacific Garbage Patch ever going to get cleaned up? Who will pay for it? Will it be a joint effort or a single country? What methods can be used to collect the plastic and not marine life?

A: Hello Clay, You pose some very good questions that don’t have easy answers. The first thing we HAVE to do is stop the flow of trash getting out here. Plastic pollution that makes its way out here is mostly from land-based sources such as litter and poor trash disposal. It’s like an overflowing tub because of a running faucet. You wouldn’t clean the water up before shutting the faucet would you? No, because you would just have to keep mopping. The same with the Garbage Patch. If we keep cleaning it, but we don’t stop the flow to it, we’ll have to keep “mopping” it up continuously. We need to all work together, all countries and every citizen needs to help stop the flow of plastic pollution by using less, reusing what we can and use non-plastic materials. Lastly, we all need to be proactive in picking up litter whether we did it or not. It’s the only way to prevent it from getting into our waterways and washed out to sea. We have to change our habits of using plastic and maybe you could be the one that figures out a way to do that. It’s going to take young inquisitive people like you to help solve this puzzle.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to pick out the plastic without harming marine life. Almost everything we hand-pick out of the ocean has marine organisms living in it, on it, or both. There are people working on technology to attempt to clean it up, but nothing has been implemented yet. Thanks for the questions. And keep in touch. Bonnie

Q: Hello, my name is Sean Peterson and I am currently attending Las Positas Community College in Alameda, Ca. First I would like to thank you for your research and the creation of this blog; I feel it can be used to help bring public attention to the plastics pollution problem we face. I was hoping you might be able to expand on the divergent-convergent wave forms and why plastics travels specifically in the convergent zones. I was suprised to learn that the plastic was not simply scattered but rather traveled in packs. Thank you again for your research!

A: Hi Sean, Thank you for contacting us with this question. Like many oceanic phenomena, it is not uncommon to find patchiness, that is, to find areas of higher concentration from place to place. Under calm or relatively calm conditions windrows are set up and these windrows can be areas of surface convergence which act to concentrate materials in the surface layer and in our case, plastics. On a recent cruise I took into the Sargasso Sea, the same phenomenon occurred with windrows of Sargassum. In some cases the Sargassum trapped the plastics and carried them into the windrow, but as we’re finding out here, the plastics float like Sargassum and form areas of higher concentration. As the seas get choppier, the plastics float by at a much more random rate. Best, Bonnie