Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 22-The Biggest Debris Day so Far

Noon Coordinates: 22°54'21.60"N 160°34'30.00"W

Surveying the ocean from the foredeck, Captain Moore called to me during my morning watch, “we are passing through a plankton bloom”, and sure enough I could see what was a planktonic version of the yellow brick road: a dense winding, river-like bloom of yellow-orange plankton drifting across the ocean surface(see photo above.) From his experience Captain knew that these dense windrows (long streaks on the ocean surface a few meters wide) are often tantamount to a dense oceanic stream of trash. Sure enough, he took a net to the bow and scooped up several pieces of debris within the first 20min or so. And so began our day of chasing debris through windrows.

After two hours of tracking and scooping debris from the deck, we decided it was high time to get into the water and observe the trash in situ. As we coasted into a particularly dense zone of the windrow and shut off the engines, we encountered our first ghost net (an abandoned fishing net which coalesces into a destructive mass that smothers marine life from coral reefs to the Hawaiian Monk seal).

We were able to get the net on deck after filming the marine life that decided to find shelter under this traveling debris mass. We found the all too typical ingredients of the plastic soup-bottles from cleaning and personal care products, buoys, fragments of plastic bags and hard plastics, and even a menacing hook from a long-line fishing operation which was tangled in the ghost net. It’s sobering to realize that the items are found with such regularity within the NPSG that I am able to describe them as “typical ingredients.”

Fouling organisms were abundant within the debris -crabs, barnacles, bryozans, and bristleworms. Of particular note was a crab with barnacles growing from its head (we are still not sure of the crab species we are finding, but we have seen them swimming separate from the debris). We also netted a juvenile and adult Frogfish (Sargasso Frogfish we believe), which was an unusual find for us.

The crew is all in good spirits and working in full gear to document the debris state of the Pacific. We are motoring along (winds are barely puffing at a sad 5 knotts or less).

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