Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 16- Winged hitchhiker!

Noon Position : 21°36'21.60"N 156°56'9.60"W
We are about 65miles from Oahu! The night watch team is geared up to be extra attentive as we approach the thick boat traffic surrounding the islands. We caught our first male Mahi today, making that Mahi number 10 of the trip. We found 2 puffer fish in its stomach, and no plastic upon initial analyses.

We had a 7th crewmember for the last half of the day…a Booby (this is a kind of seabird- see the picture above then go to this link and see if you can tell us what species it is.) The Booby decided not to fly back to Hawai’i, but instead to catch a ride aboard ORV Alguita. He or she perched atop the gantry for a while preening and scoping for flying fish. After a few hours, the back deck became soiled with Boobie droppings and Jeff decided it was time to encourage the bird to fly off. And it did…to the bow of the boat where it stood its ground for another ½ hour or so. After some more encouragement to get on it's way, the Booby flew up and perched atop the boom and proceeded to soil the mainsail.

Aloha from the Islands,



Clay (East Hills 4H, California)- Agreed, 1 cheerio in the ocean does not sound like a very dense concentration. What should be taken into consideration is that sea life exists in similar concentrations in the open ocean. You can swim along for a significant amount of time before running into any life. While on a blue water expedition the other day, we encountered trash and sea life at roughly the same rate. The concentration of debris must be viewed in under the unique lens of the open ocean. Keep the great questions coming!!

Hi Miraleste Intermediate Students!! Glad you have joined us on Ship2Shore.

For those of who are wondering what (and how much) trash we spot and collect see the answer to your classmate Jasmine’s question on Day 14 (
Here are answers to more of your great questions:

Q:What is your favorite part of the voyage so far?
A:The open ocean swimming has been my favorite experience so far. The open ocean is a gorgeous hue of blue. It is almost otherworldly to be swimming around down there.

Q:What inspired you to go on this voyage?
A:I was inspired to go on this voyage because I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to help make a positive impact on such a widespread issue…marine debris. I think it is important to find something you believe in and fight for it. I find it really disturbing that we have been so carless with our waste that the most remote places on earth are now littered with our trash. I want to be a part of the movement to bring this issue to life and figure out ways to keep it from getting worse.

Holland, Robert, and Briana, the biggest problem we face is the variability of the seas. Sometimes the seas are rougher or calmer than expected, and this can present issues with putting out the trawls and utilizing sail power. If the winds are too light, we have to run the engines and use fuel, which is a very precious resource. However the engines to allow us to sample in the high pressure zone, which is known to accumulate marine debris and characteristically without wind.

Mark the Shark, Jasmin, and Blake, The most plastic we have found in one fish is 83 pieces roughly 60cm long…a very tiny fish! It was a Myctophid , a small fish that feeds at the ocean surface during the night and lives deeper in the ocean during the day. The Myctophids have really cool glow in the dark light spots along the bodies call photophores which allow scientists to distinguish between species

Lizzy and Henry, we only dissected Mahi Mahi because that is all we’ve caught so far on our lines! We have caught smaller fish (Myctophids) in our trawls, but have not dissected any of those ones yet.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 15

Noon Position: 22°40'37.20"N 153° 3'3.60"W

Day 15 began with sunshine, a sail change, and a blue water expedition. After breakfast, the crew rallied to take down the sails in preparation for the blue water expedition. Here is the Captain’s account of the morning:
“This was the first dive in the outer waters of the Gyre for "Scuba Drew" Wheeler, a veteran of our 2002 Gyre voyage. As we were tanking up for our dive, I saw a dish soap bottle astern that had been afloat for some time. I jumped in with mask and snorkel and saw that birds had pecked a few quarter size holes in this bottle, the shape of your smaller Joy or Dawn bottle, and inside was a condominium for a colony of sea life, including crabs and fish. After filming this, a larger school of fish around a black plastic bag's tangled remains, and retrieving a handful of miscellaneous ropes and line balls and other plastic fragments floating by, Drew remarked that this collection of trash in a few minutes was as bad as it was in the center of the accumulation zone 7 years earlier on his 2002 trip, an area over 600 miles to the north of our current position. We are regularly reminded of the speed at which the plastic pollution of our ocean is increasing.”

The concentration of debris we found subsurface really was astounding. We collected 10 separate pieces of debris in less than an hour…and as Capt. Moore stated above, we aren’t even in the concentration zone.

“Although the official accumulation zone of the North Pacific shown on NOAA maps is rather long and narrow, the debris there has to "accumulate" from somewhere, and that somewhere is everywhere else. More and more stuff is out here, everywhere we look, every time we are underwater. What will eventually happen to all this seaborne plastic waste? We know it is constantly becoming more brittle and breaking into smaller pieces. Will it, in this way, eventually all be eaten by some sea creature? ”

A big aloha from the Capt. and crew at the cutting edge of marine debris research,


Jasmine from Miraleste Intermediate School,
Great questions! The amount of trash we find varies. In order to spot surface debris, someone needs to be out on the deck watching for it, and even then you need to have a good eye to spot the debris among the swells. Much of the debris gets mixed throughout the water column. So when we are in the water, we tend to find more trash than if we are just looking at the surface. Today for example, we put on our snorkel and dive gear and surveyed the perimeter of the vessel for debris. I observed nearly equal amounts of trash and marine life. So, roughly speaking, almost every time I saw marine life I saw a piece of debris as well. The open ocean is a diffusely populated area. You can swim along for a significant amount of time without encountering life. It was troubling to find that I was encountering life and debris (and this is just the large, easily visible debris, not counting the plastic fragments we collect during trawls) at essentially the same rate. We collected 10 separate pieces of debris in less than an hour…and as ScubaDrew and Capt. Moore pointed out, we aren’t even in the concentration zone yet.

As I mentioned, we also collect trash by trawling, or dragging a fine mesh net over the surface of the water. In these cases we are looking for the tiny, broken down pieces of plastic debris. We don’t know the exact amount of plastic in these samples until we work them up in the lab, but we have yet to bring in a trawl that doesn't have any plastic.

You also wondered what you can do to save the animals in the ocean. There are tons of simple things you can do to prevent trash from making its way into the food chain of these animals. Most of it centers on reducing the amount of trash you contribute to the system. Avoid accepting single use plastic items such as plastic water bottles and plastic bags. Be a good Samaritan and pick up trash you see laying around (while being sanitary of course!). The trash that doesn’t make it into a landfill has a significant chance of finding its way into the ocean, via storm drains or rivers. As Capt. Moore says “the ocean is downhill from everywhere”. Studies by a UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) panel of experts concluded that 80% of marine debris is washed off land. It is thought, however, that the farther you get from land, the higher the percentage of debris from the fishing industry.

Dear Katy and Alyssa,
Capt. Moore would love to set up a meeting with you on the Big Island when he is there is August.
Thanks for writing in!

From the Research Vessel Alguita,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 14- More Mahi

Noon Coordinates 23° 5'52.80"N 150°11'42.00"W
July 23, 2009
Our resident Ichthyologist, Christiana Boerger’s, account of the day:

Today we hooked 3 Mahi Mahi! This puts our total fish catch up to 7. Mahi Mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) are also referred to as Dorado or Dolphinfish. They put up a great fight when you reel them in, actually jumping out of the water. When we catch the fish, I dissect them to look for plastic in their stomach and save samples of tissue to analyze for POPs (persistent organic pollutants) later in the lab.

The dissections were particularly interesting today! I go through some simple steps to get the samples I need. First, I record the time and location of where the fish were caught. Then I take some simple measurements, standard length (the length from the tip of the closed mouth to the end of the caudal peduncle) and weight. Next comes the fun part for me, opening them up! I carefully take scissors and cut from their natural opening (anus) to the bone located in between the pelvic fins. I carefully cut out the liver and place it on a piece of tin foil which will be frozen until it can be looked at back at a lab for toxin analysis. I check out the gonads to reconfirm the sex of the fish. These are all females but none of them have had developed eggs yet. Next I remove the stomach. I make another cut to open up the stomach completely to take a look around. The last thing I do is take a muscle tissue sample of each of the fish, which is frozen along with the liver.

No plastic in the stomachs today, however, in the first Mahi, there were 3 whole fish in its stomach. I identified them to be some sort of puffer fish. You could still feel the spikes on the skin. The second Mahi had a less digested pufferfish. I was actually able to pull out the stomach of this pufferfish and found its last meal to be crustaceans (probably crabs). I found some more bones in Mahi #2’s stomach, which I identified to be from a flying fish, due to its super long pectoral fins. The third Mahi had an empty stomach, except for a couple different types of parasites which were still moving around.

We have caught small flying fish in some of our trawling nets and I am very interested to see if I will find any plastic in their stomach’s, seeing as I now know they are a part of the Mahi’s diet. So exciting from a research perspective!! Needless to say, we’ve got enough Mahi to eat for days, and Joel has made some Mahi jerky, Jeff made some Mahi poke, and the Captain is preparing a dinner tonight of what else, but Mahi sushi rolls and sashimi!!

The ORV Alguita Fish Nerd,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 13- Plastic in a mahi mahi

Day 13 Noon position 23°45'54.00"N 147°26'38.40"W
June 22, 2009
Chrisitana and Jeff each reeled in a mahi mahi today, one right after the other. The fish served a double purpose, science and sustenance. Before we filleted the fish, Christiana took muscle and liver samples of each of the fish and looked in their stomachs. Fish number 3, the mahi mahi that Jeff reeled in, contained what the Captain confirmed via microscope as a piece of plastic film. This now makes 8 species of fish in which we have identified with plastic in their gut.

The last set of trawls came in at 5pm. It was a productive, though hectic, sampling marathon. Although the samples have yet to be thoroughly analyzed, we were able to spot differing densities of plastic within and outside of the boundaries of the plankton (and possibly debris) accumulation zone. At the end of a long stint of sampling and a significant find of plastic in a common food fish, the Captain prepared one of his specialties chili rellenos accompanied by rice, beans, fresh guacamole, and fresh salsa. It was a perfect end to a productive day. We are now en route to Hawai’I with aboiut 400 miles to go.

Stay tuned for more updates and be sure to check out the Scientific American website in the “60 second science blog”, where Drew ‘s weekly account of our voyage is posted.


Regarding the question to Joel about the JUNKraft from State Street Elementary:

"I built and sailed the JUNK Raft with Marcus Eriksen who had built a bottle boat and floated down the Mississppi River a few years ago. We thought that building an ocean going bottle raft and sailing it from Long Beach to Hawaii would be a great way to bring attention to the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans .

Your right unfortunately birds are sometimes caught in fishing gear. Part of the federal government called the National Marine Fisheries Service helps fishermen design fishing gear that minimizes the number of birds that get caught.

Sometimes I do get seasick. I’m taking medicine while on the ORV Alguita that keeps me from getting too sick. On the JUNK raft I didn’t have to take any medicine because the JUNK was so slow and steady." Joel Paschal- ORV Alguita Crew

Monday, June 22, 2009

Day 10 and 11

Noon coordinates (Day 11) 24°25'8.40"N 143° 0'7.20"W
Midday presented several of us with the opportunity sit up on the foredeck and catch some rays. In between flipping pages we’d take in the sights of the gyre, sometimes Albatross and flying fish, other times flotsam such as lotion bottles (see picture to left.)

Saturday afternoon brought an unexpected encounter with a Black-footed Albatross. We on the back deck watching the lovely bird catch puffs of air and soar around us. Billy, as we named her, landed in the water and as an afterthought Christiana mentioned how terrible it would be if the Billy were to get caught in one of the fishing lines dragging from the stern of the boat, and much to our dismay a split second later, she did. Here’s ScubaDrew’s account of the bizarre event:

“We did have a bit of craziness on deck today, when we accidentally snagged an Albatross with one of our trolling fishing lures. I was filming the graceful bird swooping over the waves when it landed right in the path of one of our fishing rigs. Well, before we knew it the poor bird was snagged and being dragged across the ocean, unable to regain control. With some quick thinking, we reeled the bird up to the boat where Joel took control of this very awkward animal. He has spent time in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands so he has had experience in handling Albatross. The good news is the line was the only thing snagging the wing--not the hook. So with a freed wing and some feathers in need of a little primping, we let her go back onto the big blue and watched as she stretched her wings out and prepared for flight a flight back home…only 1000 miles away. Amazing birds they are…fly thousands of miles to feed in the open ocean.”

Our encounter with Billy was a harsh reminder for us all; we leave our footprint where ever we go. It is important for us to be acutely aware of our actions to keep from inadvertently harming earth’s flora and fauna.

Today, with roughly 1900 miles under our belt, we reached the outskirts of the accumulation zone we’ve been aiming for. The early morning was spent fine tuning the Bongo nets and Manta trawl for 24 straight hours of sampling over a 80 nautical mile transect. Why the continuous sampling? Well Dr. Nikolai Maximenko, with the School of Ocean and Earth Science Technology (SOEST) in Hawai’i is interested in meso-scale variations across this predicted accumulation zone. Basically, he wants to see if a debris gradient can be established from the boundary to the actual accumulation zone. So, as I mentioned before we are sampling, within, and outside the boundaries. We are running trawls for 2 hours, collecting the samples, and then redeploying them.

By 10am all hands were on deck and the sampling marathon began. It’s going to be a long, yet fruitfull night. With a sea state ranging from 5-6 on the Beaufort scale, conditions have not been ideal for sampling, but we are working through it. The swells are the largest we’ve seen all trip. They are awe inducing, especially when they are positioned to crash right over the deck.

Coming from a first timer to the gyre, the samples we collect are truly astounding. In one regard it is amazing to have the opportunity to get up close and personal with planktonic organisms we catch while trawling. Today we caught several Portuguese Man-of -Wars, which are mesmerizing little critters. On the flip side, it is disturbing to watch chunks of debris spill out of the nets. It is bizarre and unsettling to find the detritus of our haphazard consumer lifestyle in one of the most remote parts of the world.

From the cutting edge of marine debris research,

Dear State St. Elementary Students,

You guys had a lot of great questions!! Ana, Pancho, and Dariela wanted to know what exactly we are researching out here and what he can do to help. Well, we came out into the middle of the Pacific in search of marine debris. When a piece of trash is not correctly disposed of on land (like when someone litters) there is a significant chance it will make its way into the ocean. This is because trash that collects in street gutters will eventually connect to a river or a storm drain outlet that dumps into the ocean. Because of the surface current system in the Pacific Ocean trash gets stuck swirling around out here for many years. A surface current happens when the wind pushes the water in a certain direction. You can see how the wind affects water

And you want to know what you can do to save the environment? There’s a lot of stuff you can easily do! Pancho, I’m glad to hear that you recycle! That is one of the most important things you can do. When we recycle we prevent more natural resources from being used. A tree is a natural resource we use to make paper. Oil is a natural resource we use to make gasoline for our cars. However when you recycle something like paper, it can be processed and turned back into a paper product without having to cut down another tree. Most natural resources take a long time to replenish and we need to be careful how we use them.

You should also be aware of the products you and your family buy. Most of the trash we see out here is plastic, and plastic lasts a long, long time. You should avoid using one time use plastic products, like water bottles and plastic bag. It doesn’t make very much sense to use a material that lasts a long time and harms the environment for a product you are only going to use once.

Keep the questions coming!
From the Pacific,

Friday, June 19, 2009

More Answers to Student Questions

"Here in Maine we have problems with chemicals in the ocean such as mercury, PCB, and Dioxon. It is such a big problem that we can't eat the fish. Do you have the same chemical problems in the pacific and does the plastic leech some of their chimcals into the water? thanks ." -Sal and Cleo, Homeschool, Maine, USA-

Sal and Cleo,
I am back with an answer to your excellent question regarding chemicals in our ocean. I consulted with Dr. Lorena Rios (picture above) from the University of the Pacific in Stockton on this one. She was on the 2007 voyage from Long Beach to Hawaii, and spent time collecting samples to analyze for chemical contaminants. Here is what she had to say:

" Definitely, we have a huge contamination problems in the San Francisco Bay and along to the California Bay (La Cuenca de las Californias). In the Pacific Gyre we found PCBs on plastic debris though I did not analyze mercury and dioxins. We did not analyze fish and plastic at the same time. However, I think the PCBs on plastic can affect fish when they eat the plastics. These contaminated plastics are a source of persistent organic pollutants for fish."

Lorena also shared some of her preliminary results with us, showing that plastic debris found in the gyre contains 100,000 to 1,000,000 times more contaminants than the ambient sea water.

"I am having a hard time visualizing what 334,271 pieces of plastic/km2 and roughly 5,114 g/km2 of plastic would look like when you bring it up after trawling? Would this fill a 500 ml bottle for instance? Is it all small stuff? Why are your measurements in area (km2) and not volume? Is that because you trawl on the surface because most of the plastic is lightweight and floating?" East Hills 4-H San Leandro, CA, USA"

Dear East Hills 4-H,

ScubaDrew and Capt. Moore both came up with some great examples of how to visualize the density and count of plastic pollution per area. Capt. Moore likened 334, 271 pieces/km2 to a quarter on your bed and ScubaDrew likened the plastic per volume to a cheerio in a bathtub.

Regarding the kim2 vs. km3 question: The reason we measured using km2 was to compare our results with the data presented by Dr. Day in his 1989 paper on plastic pollution in the Pacific. Because we expressed our data in such a way we found that Dr. Day’s highest found concentration of plastic was 300,000 pieces/km2 while the worst we sampled was 900,000 pieces/km2. Our results were published in Marine Pollution Bulletin 42:12. We have data by the cubic meter as well. If you would like to see some of that data let us know!

You are right. Much of the plastic is positively buoyant, which means it floats on the surface. however we know there are certain kinds of plastics which do not float, called negatively buoyant plastics (such PVC, polycarbonate, PET and PETE, and nylon). These plastics have been found in the sediments in river beds for instance. By sampling at the surface we are only gaining a notion of the density of positively buoyant particles, which there is a lot of plastic out there that we have not been able to account for.

Thanks for all the great questions! Keep’em coming!
From the Pacific,

Day 8 and 9

Noon Coordinates Day 9: 24° 1'22.80"N 135°56'60.00"W
Flying kites, flying squid, flying fish, and a pirate ship (well not really)… We’ve been sailing downwind with a big sail called the "spinnaker" (or in sailing terms "flying the kite") for the past two days. Downwind sailing is wonderfully calm (even in 20 knot winds) and the spinnaker is really is like a giant kite.

On Wednesday morning we had a couple visitors on board the ship. Two flying squids made their way on deck. In the afternoon Christiana dissected them to see if they had eaten any plastic. The little guys were plastic free.

Today while reading on deck, several of the crew spotted flying fish. The vast expanse of water is no doubt a beautiful setting, but it really makes any sign of life especially exciting. After the flying fish sighting, the boat was full of excitement when a blurb popped up on the radar. The blurb turned out to be a large, rusty and fairly shabby looking vessel passing right through our course. Of course our active imaginations let us entertain the idea that they were pirates... Alas the boat fell off our radar without any crazy pirate antics.

We are still on course to the destination provided to us by NOAA as a possible accumulation zone. We are roughly 540nM away and the ETA is three days. We are all excited to see what this area has to offer us in terms of better understanding how marine debris accumulated within the North Pacific Gyre.

We are all in good spirits. The Captain and crew send hellos to everyone back home. Thanks for following Ship-2-Shore and keep the comments coming!



Capt. Moore was thrilled to be able to give a presentation to your school from sea! The research project you and Katie are putting together in Hawaii sounds phenomenal. It has been estimated that 80% of the debris in the gyre originates from land and 20% can be attributed to the maritime industry. As far as I know, there is not much information on the amount of trash originating from the different land masses.

Our main area of focus is on small plastic debris, which is very hard to identify. So it would be hard to correlate that to the identifiable debris you find on land. We do catch large pieces of debris that we can spot from the boat and we keep a log of that information. We would be more than happy to share that information with you. If you want to talk further about how we could help you out with your project you can send comments directly to us here or email

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Answers to Student Questions

A few days ago we received a great question from an East Hills 4-H student from San Leandro California USA- here is the question;

"I found a web sight that does not make high remarks about you. including the amount of plastic that you have collected while trolling. they say in 24 hours of non stop trolling you found a minuscule amount of plastic. i would like to know some actual facts."

And here is our answer;

Your investigative instincts are great! When you are looking at data, it is always important to check your facts. Part of the scientific process is putting your data out in the open for others to evaluate and criticize. One of the most important aspects of checking facts is understanding the source of the information to determine if there might be reason for bias in the information presented.

The website you are referring to, called "Save the plastic bag", was created with a very clear intention-to keep plastic bags around by pushing people to believe that plastic bags are not an issue in the marine environment. But our research has shown this is not the case. In fact, just two days ago, while swimming around the boat, Captain Moore netted a piece of a plastic bag (See the picture above). We were nearly 1000miles offshore at that point. There is a problem with one time use plastic bags if they are finding their way into the middle of the ocean.

The trawl the website referred to was part of an awareness campaign called "Message in a Bottle". It was not intended for research purposes and the net used was much smaller than the standard Manta trawl that we are using. Furthermore the crew of the plastic bottle raft "JUNK"passed on the outskirts of the accumulation zone. So it is especially significant that plastic was found in this trawl, it shows how widespread the problem really is. Aboard ORV Alguita we have never conducted a trawl that did not contain at least some plastic. In 1999 we found that there was an average of 334,271 pieces of plastic/km2 and roughly 5,114 g/km2 of plastic in our study area, a part of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre now known as the Eastern Garbage Patch.

Regarding the statement that the crew “[caught] only one fish with plastic fragments in its stomach”, it must be noted that the goal of the "Message in a Bottle" project was to raise awareness about plastic pollution; their primary goal was not dissecting fish to look for plastic in their gut. However, we have dissected fish from ORV Alguita's 2008 voyage and found that 35% contained plastic in their stomachs.

Before writing off plastic in the water as a non-issue, there are a couple things to remember. 1) It is illegal. According to MARPOL Annex V (an international agreement regarding marine debris) it is illegal for any plastic to be released into the water. Along the coast of California there is a regulation set for large debris (such as plastic) which states that there can be 0 discharge of debris into the oceans. 2) Plastic is harmful to marine life, even in small amounts. Any amount of plastic in the ocean is unacceptable because it breaks down into bite size pieces which are consumed by the animals (including both fish and birds). This can block the digestive system of the animal or take up space making it difficult for the animal to feed. In addition, plastics are known to contain chemicals that can be toxic to humans and animals. Plastics also adsorb harmful substances onto their surface, up to 1million times more than in ambient seawater (we will discuss this research in more detail soon!).

Keep up the critical eye, you are on your way to becoming a great scientists!
-Captain and Crew of ORV Alguita-


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 7

Noon position: 23°36'14.40"N 130°19'48.00"W
Hello from the Capt. and crew!

We are still headed for Hawai’I, but have added a slight detour to the northwest of our route. Dave Foley, an oceanographer with NOAA, has predicted an accumulation zone not too far out of our way and we are headed there to investigate. You may be wondering, “where is he getting the idea that marine debris might be accumulating in this area?” Well, Dave has put together the Debris Estimation Likelihood Index (DELI) based off of chlorophyll levels. Essentially high levels of chlorophyll correlate to high levels of plankton. Plankton rides the ocean currents, as does marine debris. So it is hypothesized that where the currents have caused an accumulation of plankton, there might also be an accumulation of debris.

We deployed the third Manta trawl of the trip this afternoon. The trawl produced lots of juvenile sawrys, some more of the purple gastropods which Capt. Moore has identified as Janthina janthina, and to our disgust, but not to our surprise, several plastic fragments and some plastic line.

After trawling we practiced how to heave-to, which is a way to set the sails that effectively stops the boat from moving forward. This is an important tool to have under our belt in the case of an emergency. Since we were already stopped from the heave-to drill, the Captain, Christiana, Drew and Jeff decided to take a dip in the ocean. Capt. Moore searched for trash while Drew captured underwater footage of the debris gathering. They pulled up a piece of a plastic shopping bag, a newspaper packing band, and some plastic fragments. This is what happens when throwaway consumerism meets the open ocean.

The winds are starting to pick up and the seas are beginning to get a little feistier. Some of us are reapplying our scopolamine patches, and others have sea legs (and stomachs) just as sturdy as ever. The day ended with a valuable lesson (at least for me): don’t leave the hatches open. As you can imagine, hatches and active seas don’t mix very well. I experienced this first hand today as a large wave swept over the deck and down the hatch located DIRECTLY above my head. Needless to say, I was jostled from my pre-watch nap with seawater to the face and left with a pile of wet sheets.

We are cruising along at a speed of 9.0knotts and climbing; the fastest we’ve seen yet…and we are achieving it without the help of our engines!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 6- First manta trawl!

Noon position: 24°52'40.80"N 128° 9'57.60"W

It’s Day six and we are officially 2/5 of the way to Hawai’i. Day six has been a day of firsts-- the first plastic trawl of the trip, and our first fish catch (a Mahi Mahi!).

Let’s start with the trawls. While the winds have been against us in terms of maintaining our original course, they have put us in an area of the Pacific which had never been sampled……until today! See the map below or Click here, to view more maps of our previous sampling areas. We deployed the first Manta trawl, a device that captures surface debris in a fine mesh net, at 9am. This process was akin to riding a bike for the Captain and veteran crew Drew, Joel and Jeff, and a learning experience for the newbies (Christiana and myself).

After an hour of towing the trawl we pulled it in to find a strikingly low amount of plastic. Among the plastic identified was some line, a few hard plastic fragments, and a piece of a clear plastic label on which we could decipher the letter “d”. Among the life identified in the sample was a button valella, some copepods, a juvenile Pacific saury, and tiny gastropods with gorgeous purple shells. (See image of sample at the top of this message.)

The evening brought on trawl number two. This trawl gave us the opportunity to experiment with a tethered underwater camera, which Joel was able to rig to record the underwater flow into the Manta trawl. This was a significant in that it confirmed the integrity of our surface sampling methods. We ran the evening trawl for an hour as well, finding results similar to the morning trawl--very little plastic.

Obviously the low quantity of plastic present in samples is good news, but it does highlight a key point. Throughout fifteen years of sampling, we have yet to bring in a trawl completely void of plastic. While standing on the foredeck today, the Captain was able to identify plastic fragments flowing past the vessel. We also spotted some larger debris, a 5 gallon bucket which managed to evade our collection efforts. The point is, even in this new sample area in which our trawls our producing comparatively low amounts of plastic-there is still enough debris present for us to visually register and in our trawls. The relatively low amount of plastic also points to the possible delineation of the boundaries of an accumulation zone, although it is far too early in the data collection process to make any definitive conclusions. Joel noted that during the JUNKraft expedition last summer he and Marcus Eriksen noted a similar trend in abrupt transitions in plastic accumulation as they skirted the south edge of the accumulation area.

And finally, after five days of rigging fishing poles and hand lines, we had our first catch. Christiana kept the liver and other organs and tissue for future analysis.

Best wishes from the Capt. and Crew

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 5

Noon Position: 29°40'15.49"N 127° 0'10.80"W

Hey guys, the ORV Alguita team needs your help!Most of the debris we have captured from the ocean has contained barnacles and crabs. All we know about the crabs is that they are pelagic (which means they spend their life floating throughout the open ocean). Can anyone help us find the name of the pelagic crab in the picture Above?

Today is day 5 at sea, all is well and the crew is in great spirits. Now that the all of the crew is up to speed with watch duties, we have switched to 2 hour, single watches. This is a lot easier on our sleep schedules. There is however news to report regarding our travel plans. Due to a large and persistent high pressure system, we have to rethink our original route, which would have deposited us along the International Dateline (180W) at latitude of about 35N. Because of the high pressure system we are dealing with light winds, which is not optimal for sailing. The weather has forced us to spend most of our time underway motor sailing. We have already used roughly 200 gallons of the 700 gallons we started with? If we keep up at this rate we will exhaust our fuel supply. At this point we are forced to bend to the will of nature and follow the winds.

As is required when dealing with the seas, the Captain has a backup plan. Our new route and sampling strategy will take us to a more southerly location than planned, but will still present us with ample research opportunities. The new plan is to continue our heading south in order to catch the easterly trade winds. This route will bring us to Hawai’i and allow us to survey a debris convergence zone located off the southern tip of the Big Island. This convergence zone is thought to be responsible for the accumulation of debris on beaches such as Kamilo. After sampling this convergence zone, we can refuel and head up the island chain toward the International Dateline at a lower latitude than planned. How far we will actually get is to be determined by the amount of time it takes us to get to Hawai’i in the light winds we have been experiencing since we left.

Speaking of debris sampling, today’s debris catch was a 300mm buoy fouled with barnacles and pelagic crabs. (See photo of Captain Moore on left.)

Keeping in tune with the rest of the weekend, the weather was phenomenal. Much of the day was spent out on deck stretching our limbs and taken in the scenery (which is mainly….water). Capt. Moore gave a presentation to an assembly of 14-18 year old students at Hawai’i Preperatory Academy. He was able to lead them through a power point presentation via satellite phone.

Our wildlife sighting for the day included a Red tailed Tropic Bird and some Petrels.

Dear East Hills 4H Students,It may not seem like it, but there is plenty of space on board for 6 people to sleep. On the starboard side of the boat there is a cabin which sleeps three people. On the portside of the boat, next to the galley (which is the kitchen on a boat), there are two more bunks. The Captain’s quarters are also on the portside of the vessel. Regarding the oven, it is located in the galley.There are lots of places incorporated into the design of the boat, which allow for us to stow the large amount of equipment we have to bring. Our microscope and some of our more delicate instruments are stored in compartments below deck. Our more durable items are stowed below deck in either the lazarettes (storage space at the stern, back, of the boat) or forepeaks (storage space near the bow (front )of the boat). These storage spaces are separated from crew quarters. For example one forepeak houses all of our dive equipment and another holds our fishing equipment and extra sails. Here is a link to a video and slide-show tour of ORV Alguita

Dear Cleo and Sal,Thanks for the awesome question contaminants such as, PCBs, in the open ocean. Keep your eyes open for an answer in the next couple days!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 4- first open ocean swim!

Noon Position: 29°12'28.80"N 124°56'13.20"W
Today the crew had the chance to stop for our first open ocean swim, roughly 500miles offshore! With thousands of miles of water around us and hundreds of meters of water below our feet, it was an astonishing experience. While in the water Drew got the opportunity to test out some of his underwater gear and Capt. swam around the boat with a net searching for plastic. He found four small bits (two pieces of line, a thin transparent fragment and a cloth like fragment).

Can anyone identify the animal in the photo above? (Hint: Check out the links on day 3!)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 3- Dolphins and debris

Noon position: 29°46'1.20"N 121°53'27.60"W
Greetings from the ORV Alguita! In the past 24hrs, we have had our first series of debris encounters. While taking in our fishing lines for the night, we dragged in our first piece of debris; a deflated green balloon with the string still attached. It was a little disheartening to discover that we were fishing for trash instead of fish.

Last night at around 10pm, we passed the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). For those of you who are wondering what that means, we are now officially out of the US waters, in what is essentially the no-man’s land of the Pacific. Because this area is out of US jurisdiction, it is not a top priority in terms of government funded research.

We were greeted in the morning with another debris sighting. We found a plastic water bottle (see photo above) which likely originated from Russia (the cap had Russian text). It had been afloat in the ocean just long enough for fouling organisms (i.e. tiny baby gooseneck barnacles) to latch on.

Our next trash sighting, roughly 300miles out to sea, was a tangle of fouled line and buoys. In addition to gooseneck barnacles making their home inside the floating mess, we found several pelagic crabs and a couple of different invertebrates. After weighing the mass of rubbish (9 kilos) we preserved a sample of the debris with the critters that we found living on it for Miriam Goldstein, a doctoral candidate at SCRIPPS, who is studying the fouling organisms that live on pelagic trash. The last two pieces of trash found today were a Monarch brand garlic-salt container and a plastic napkin or towel floating on the surface. These finds are indicators that we are making our way into the heart of trash accumulation.

As far as wildlife sightings go, we had a pod of Common Dolphins passing us on portside (see photo above). We also spotted several Velella velella, also known as the By-the-wind sailors, which is an awesome little sea creature that has a small oval sail so it can use the winds to travel the seas.
Best Wishes from the Captain and crew


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 2

Noon Position: 31°49'26.40"N, 119°20'42.00"W

Hi Students,
Thanks for all of the fantastic questions and comments you have sent our way! Today is our first full day at sea and the crew is still getting used to the swing of things. Only one case of sea-sickness so far, and we’ve spotted some pretty cool wildlife. This morning we spotted four Fin Whales roughly 100 yards of the starboard stern of the vessel, and one more whale who was a little too far from the boat for us to identify.

Many of you are wondering the same question: what are we going to eat? The Alguiita is full any kind of food you can imagine. Last night the crew had stuffed mushroom and a fresh green salad. This morning we woke up to a homegrown boysenberry cobbler cooking in the oven. As many of you saw at the send-off, the deck is full of delicious fresh produce; we have everything from kale to chocolate persimmons to snack on.

Vilen, Alex, and Rony for Los Angles Senior High School (Los Angeles, CA, USA):
You wondered if we will have the time to enjoy the ocean while we are out here during research. Of course! We are kept busy between keeping watch (you never want to leave the helm of the boat unattended!), changing sails, and collecting and preserving samples. But there is still some down time to watch for marine life and bask in the beauty of the ocean.

Kevin from Woodlake Elementary (CA, USA):
The goal of our voyage is to reach the International Dateline, which is an imaginary line that splits the globe in half lengthwise. It is located at along the 180 longitude line. We want to reach this point because we have never sampled for plastic pollution in here, and it is important to figure out where the plastic is, and how much is out there if we want to figure out a way to fix the problem.

East Hills 4H (San Leandro, CA, USA):
Yes we will catch fish, both to eat and to analyze for pollutants. We will take tiny tissues samples from the fish and freeze them so we can analyze them later to test them for pollutants

Kindergarten Students from Escuela Nº41 Montevideo, Uruguay:
See above to learn more about the food we have with us and we have a water maker that can treat the sea water and make it drinkable.

Woodlake Elementary 4th graders (CA, USA):
Joel said he is looking forward taking photos of Whale Shark sand Oceanic White Tips and Drew said the coolest thing he has ever captured on video were the bioluminescent sea creatures during the 2002 Alguita gyre voyage.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bon Voyage ORV Alguita!

ORV Alguita has just departed on the first voyage of the 2009 Pacific Gyre Expedition!