Day 12 Friday 9/18/09
Yesterday I left you hanging with a picture of all of us, but Jeff, (sorry Jeff) holding up a flag as the seaplane went by. It was a pretty amazing feat to get the picture, but we did it. The flag is an interesting piece to our voyage and I really want to do it justice. It is from the Explorers Club and Captain Moore earned the honor of having it with us on this voyage. The plan was to sit him down and get an interview both about the significance of the flag and how he came to being honored with one. Well, as it happens out here 700 miles from Hawaii and even further from any continent, nothing is planned and everything is subject to change. And due to the happenstance of today I’ll have to get back to you about the flag.
It all started just after my watch and the sun had a few inches above the horizon when I noticed a large piece of debris float by. Within minutes, there was yet another. And then I noticed the Captain pulling in the largest buoys we’ve seen this far. I went to the bow with my net to see if I could catch some of the plastic particulates that were floating by. After catching a few, I could see a stream of plastic particulates much larger than I had been seeing from the bow before off the port side of the ship. Here are just a few of the items: a milk jug ring, a piece of a black plastic bag, a yellow rope, large round chunk of Styrofoam, a buoy, a white plastic rim to something much larger, and a gray tube that I actually caught, but it was to big for my net and fell out along with all the pieces I had collected. All my collection went back into the ocean. I was so bummed, I decided to go back to bed.
What I was seeing is called a windrow and with the sea state being a one, the wind and current created convergent and divergent zones. The plastic would come in waves literally. Where there was a convergence zone, there would be a row of plastics. Where there was a divergence zone, there would not be any. This explains why I was seeing these rows of plastics. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like a conveyor belt of mass quantities of plastics, but it was visibly noticeable where these windrows were because of the rows of plastics that were floating past the bow.
So while I was napping, the crew was out on the deck having a field day with all the stuff they were collecting. I could hear them outside my hatch window every other minute yelling, “Look over here. . . .here’s one . . . hand me the net.” About an hour past when they all came running in to get their bathing suits on. Lindsey came in to tell me Jeff spotted one of the largest ghost nets the Captain had ever seen. We dove in and there were literally hundreds of fish swimming in it, around it, and under it. It was beautiful seeing them dashing around.
Two gray chubs came right up to me like Walmart greeters as I swam toward the ghostnet. One was flashing his tail in my mask and the other started nibbling on my mask. I tried to swim away but they followed me where ever I went. I felt like Ursula with her two eels swimming at her side. The feisty one nibbled on my neck. I had to pop my head out of the water to get him to back off.
The fun ended after about an hour when we pulled it out of the water and the captain started chopping it up so we could find a place to store it. We could really see just how huge it was on the deck. The captain guessed it to weight between 150-200 lbs. Now that’s the catch of the day.
RESPONSE TO STUDENT QUESTIONS
Wow- a lot of wonderful questions over the past couple of days, I am including the question with the answer this time so everyone can read both!
Q:I was wondering if there are any serious side effects to your sting on your shoulder. Have you come across any major plastic items and how did you feel when you saw them. Zach River Ridge High School - 11th New Port Richey, FL 34654
A: Thanks for asking Zach. I was lucky enough to have Gwen Lattin on board who poured white vinegar all over my stings. (And there were lots of them. I was wound like a mummy in it’s super long tentacle.) I smelled like a salad when she was done, but the acid in the vinegar neutralized the sting. I still have welts from it, but it stopped burning relatively quickly with the vinegar. I can imagine some people could have a reaction far more serious.
Q:. Can you explain the process of photo degradation? and how long does it
take for plastic to break down? Kristin at river ridge high school :)
A:Sure thing Kristin. We have somewhat of an understanding of how plastics breakdown in the marine environment. Many plastics that float in the ocean are hit with Ultra Violet radiation from the sun. Like sunburn, only plastics become brittle and break into smaller and smaller pieces due to the wave action and currents. Littles is known how long it takes for plastics to completely disintegrate. Check out the Algalita website for more information and google Stephanie Barger from California. She has been doing a lot of work in this area.
Q. Hi, my name is Erin. I attend River Ridge High School as a Junior. My question is - What do you do with all the debris you collect in your trawls?
A: There are two things we do with our trawl samples. One is, we have a large manta trawl that we use a specific protocol for, meaning, we record time, location, water temp, duration, wind speed and distance in order to calculate how much water has passed through the manta trawl. The length of time varies so a flowmeter is used to help us calculate just how much water has passed through the trawl. We then empty the contents out of what was trapped in the end of the trawl, called a cod end. We then pour the contents into a jar and “fix” it in formalin which means we preserve it. We need to preserve it, not because of the plastics, but because the other materials collected along with the plastic, ocean natural contents that biodegrade. Gwen Lattin will then process the contents and dry them. She will do the same with the zooplankton repeating the protocol they used in the 1999 samples. After they have each been measured and recorded, they are then achieved and stored. The other thing we do with some samples is collected for educational purposes. With a certain donation to Algalita, the foundation will provide a sample for educators to use in the classroom.
Q: my name is Austyn. I attend River Ridge High School as a junior and it's in New port richey, Florida. I wanted to ask you and your team what are you expecting to find out from your research?
A: Hey Austyn, good question. The purpose of this expedition is to resample the same locations as we did 10 years ago that led to a published paper on plastic accumulation in the North Pacific Gyre. We do not have any expectations, but hypothesize that the increase use of plastic may have a direct impact on the quantities of plastics found in the locations we sampled 10 years ago. We are also collecting fish that take residence in plastic pollution in the ocean. Many, many times we pull buoys, crates, or derelict fishing gear that the fish use as hiding spots. We are collecting them to test for ingestion as well as contamination of persistent organic pollutants.
Q: can you notice any of the pollution that people say we have so much of today? -Ariel Lopez rrhs fl
A:Hi Ariel, great to hear from you since we don’t get a lot of communication out here, we love it when people write-in especially students. There are many different types of water pollution, but where we are, there has not been any indication of any besides the plastic pollution we’ve been witnessing since we left 9/7/09.
Q: hello,this is jerod from river ridge high school. I was wondering how big the boat is that you guys are using and how many miles to the gallon you get on gas.
A:Hey there Jerod, I love this question because the RV Alguita is such a unique ship and I love talking about her. She is a 50’ long and 25’ wide catamaran. Because she is a sailing vessel, we can conserve a lot of energy. But when there isn’t any wind, we have to use our engines. There are two engines, one at each pontoon. We, usually, only use one engine at a time. If we are traveling at 4 to 5 knots an hour, we use about a gallon of gas. The last voyage went 70,000 on only 1100 gallons of fuel. Not bad!
Q: Hi (: My Names Tori, I'm a junior at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey, Florida. My question is - How long does it take for plastic to degrate, and is there anything that makes it degrate faster?(ie;Summer vs. Winter)
A:Tori, this is a million dollar question. We don’t know how long it takes for plastics to degrade into their original individual compounds or what happens to the environment when plastics breakdown into smaller unites of measure and become micro plastics. We do understand that plastic floating on the ocean surface do breakdown due to photochemistry, meaning the UV rays from the sun degrades them making them brittle and easier to be broken by the physical abrasion from the waves. The photo degradation would be greater in the summer due to longer days and the increase in the intensity of the sun.
Q: Hello, my name Tyler, Im a junior at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey, Florida,US. My question is- How many people does your boat sleep? Is it tight living?
A:Tyler, I was curious about this too before I climbed on board. This vessel sleeps up to eight people. We have six aboard now and I have to admit, its far more comfortable than I thought it would be. We have some really cool storage compartments for our stuff under our beds as well as closets and cubbies. The one feature that is never a guarantee is if everyone can get along for so long in a confined area which can make a space seem even smaller. Luckily, this crew works well together and plays well together. So it’s plenty roomy. The only thing that is cramping our style is the amount of plastic debris we are collecting. Check out today’s blog and see the size of our last catch. We have so much stuff we’re running out of room to store it and we’re only half way throw our voyage.
Q: Hey my names is Landan and I am a junior at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey, Florida. I was wondering what is the outrageous piece of plastic you have found in the ocean so far?
A: Landan, if you’re checking out the blog today I’m sure you can guess. Up until today, I would have to say it was a huge flower pot/planter about 2’ tall, but then the ghost net rolled in this morning weighing between 150-200 lbs. Crazy colors of braided lines, gill nets, fishing nets etc., check it out.
Q: i was wondering what kind of fish have you come across. Derek River Ridge High School New Port Richey FL 11TH
A:I have to tell you Derek, we’ve been seeing a lot of the same types of fish, but we’ve been seeing lots of them. Here’s the rundown: Grey Chubs, Remoras, Find Scale triggers, Rainbow Runners, Mai, Mai, leatherback triggers, and Hawaiian Sergeants. No sharks.
Q: from River Ridge High School FL, 11th grade. On your voyage you are constantly going into polluted water, by any chance could there be some kind of deadly pollution in the water that could harm you and the rest of the crew?
A: Lucky for us the North Pacific Ocean is so vast, we haven’t run into any problems with polluted waters other than plastic pollution. Though we haven’t been in any danger from it, the last crew that was out had not one, but two incidences where plastics pollution could have left them stranded. Derelict fishing gear if caught on a moving propeller, can tangle in it and actually damage the prop. On two separate occasions, Captain Moore and crew had to dive under the boat and do repairs this summer. In a bad storm, this could have been a much bigger problem.
Q: Richard and Kelsey go to river ridge high school! how is life under
water doing? im really wondering what do underwater animals react when
they see you ? thanks
A: Richard and Kelsey am I glad you asked this question. When ever we find a large object floating, we put on our snorkel gear to check out the animals that hide under it. Sometimes, they see us coming and think we are another opportunity to hang out under so they swim along under us. It’s pretty cool swimming around with a school of fish. Today, we had a couple of Gray chubs that were very inquisitive. When I swam out to the ghost net, they came charging right for me. They got right in front of my mask and started to nibble on it. When I swam away, they swam with me in my hair and tried to nibble on my neck. No worries, it tickled. The fish have all been pretty inquisitive. So have the birds. Good question and thanks for asking.
Great to hear from you Amy Chovnick! Yes, please catch up, there’s been a lot happening and we aren’t even in the Garbage Patch yet! I love Coastal Cleanup in Wilmington, NC and will miss it this year. Thank you for doing your part with the California Coastal Cleanup. Hope to continue to hear from you.