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

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