Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 43- Balloon

Noon position: 39°18'31.80"N 170°23'19.20"W

5400 miles into the trip, 8knots over the ground, 20 knots of wind. No trawling can be done in this sea state (we learned our lesson on the first leg with the broken Manta, plus our priority is making good time to Honolulu) and the weather hasn’t exactly created the most welcoming deck conditions (it’s rainy, and windy, and cold). Drew has still being doing his morning debris watch which involves tracking the minutes to his first debris sighting of the morning. He clocked a record 10 minutes the other day. That was the longest period of time he’s had to wait to spot debris after walking out on deck.

Needless to say, we have a lot of time to reflect on what we are finding out here. The other day we pulled up a balloon out of the water. It was the knotted end of a bold turquoise balloon attached to some sort of plastic clip. There was no fouling and it appears to be fairly recently deposited. It would have taken years for the balloon to make its way out here via ocean currents. Perhaps it caught some wind off of Japan while it was still inflated or maybe it was released off of a cruise ship passing through the Pacific.

This is the second balloon fragment of the trip. Towards the beginning of the voyage we pulled in a balloon ribbon on one of our fishing lines. As Captain Moore has pointed out several times-balloons are key examples of a frivolous use of plastic. They are mass produced and are now a celebratory staple of sorts at birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, school dances-the list goes on. I remember arches of hundreds of balloons created for high school pep rallys and football games. After the events, sometimes the balloons would get popped and other times they’d been ceremoniously released into the sky.

I was recently a part of a team from CSU, Long Beach’s Environmental Science and Policy Department that was focused on trash accumulation and categorization at the Colorado Lagoon. The Colorado Lagoon is remnant of the historical Los Cerritos Wetlands Complex which is one of the few (although highly degraded) remaining wetlands in Southern California. Balloons, or fragments thereof, surfaced several times in our transects. They are polluting the most remote parts of the world (the middle of the Pacific Ocean) as well as our terrestrial ecosystems. Balloons are used once, typically on the scale of hours at a time. Why use an everlasting material for this sort of practice? Furthermore why release this material ceremoniously into the environment?

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