Friday, October 9, 2009

The Warm Welcome Home

Thank you Algalita and friends for the warm welcome home. The last few miles in, I sat on the bow ready to video any sea lions or dolphins sightings so I could send a picture back to Vicki Rivenbark's class at Holly Tree School back in Wilmington, NC. The only thing we saw as we neared Alamitos Bay was plastic trash making its way out to sea as we headed in. Things like Styrofoam containers, chip bags, bottles, and even a soccer ball accompanied by a bottle. But the most disturbing was actually witnessing a seagull pecking at a floating plastic bag. "It looked like we were back in the gyre." Lindsey turned to me and said, "This is where it all starts." Thank goodness the Algalita supporters were out there to distract us. It was all too overwhelming to see so much trash in its origin- from land. It played out like a scene in "The Twilight Zone." I, personally, felt like our trip out into the gyre was some kind of victory, only to return to business as usual. The jaded twist to the end of our journey.
It's going to take a lot more people, like Marieta, willing to lend a hand not letting plastic pollution go out to sea.

I do have a better ending to our last night together though. We left Avalon early Tuesday morning after a dinner the night before at the The Lobster Pot. The waiter asked us where we would like to sit and Lindsey, spying a table for six elevated by a handful of steps into the back of a sawed off boat, said "How about there?" We all looked at the stern nestled up against the wall, shrugged, and climbed the stairs. Why not, what was one more meal elbow to elbow enclosed by the sides of a boat.
Bonnie Monteleone over and out

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

ORV Alguita Arrives in Long Beach

ORV Alguita and crew have returned safely to Long Beach, California after a successful research voyage. Thank you all for joining us in studying plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean! In the photo below the crew receives their well deserved chocolate, chocolate cake!

Here are links to read more about Alguita's arrival in the News:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day 29

Noon Coordinates 32 47.708N 118 18.320W
Day 29 Monday 10/5/09

When I woke for my last morning alone on the ORV Alguita, it was anything but. Gwen, who does the watch before me, decided to stay up with me due to the problems Lindsey and Jeff were having with the auto pilot. The wind kicked up to over 40 knots causing the auto pilot to fail. The only way to handle the situation was to change course, and if need be steer. There was no beating into the winds. It would also require a sail change from the genoa jib to the staysail, but the captain didn’t want to risk someone getting hurt or blown overboard by the assaulting winds so we traveled off course at 10 knots per hour getting nowhere fast. Bill, who comes on after my shift, was also up due to the outlandish banging under the ship. Few could sleep.

Gwen, who takes good care of this blogger, often times let me sleep in an extra 15 minutes. Today it was an hour. I didn’t change my watch when we sailed into the Pacific Daylight Saving Times yesterday so when I looked at my watch at 0345, I figured I was ahead of the game. It was actually 0445. Not letting on that I was late, nor did she try to wake me, Gwen had just started the tea pot on the stove for me. Yesterday I was running late too, only that time it was because I was making my way out of the top bunk, a wave came and literally threw me. I fell out of my bunk 4” down landing on the top of my left toes (don’t ask). To add insult to injury I slammed into the side of Gwen’s bed, trashing my leg all in one full swoop. It took a minute for me to rub out the sting. The captain, who has something for everything, came out of his state room with some all natural salve that eases out bruises. It worked on my leg, but the middle toe on my left foot is perhaps broken. Ugg.

We rolled into Avalon, Catalina Island, with a circus show of several sea birds and sea lions. (they swam beside our boat as if so happy to see us!) 3,460 nautical miles later!!! We walked around the island like drunken sailors though not having a drink. It’s called dock rock. Once on a boat for any length of time and then off, one feels the world rock when while off the boat! We met Faith in the restaurant we had dinner at tonight, a six year old Girl Scout who her and her older sister had accolades for the captain’s work on protecting the oceans. Great to meet both of you!!!

We’re rocking on the island and look forward to seeing everyone at the Algalita Headquarters tomorrow afternoon! Thank you Gwen, Cooper, Lindsey, Jeffy Pop and especially Captain Moore for an experience of a lifetime, but more importantly, allowing me to see the unseen, plastics accumulating in our defenseless ocean. Bonnie

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 28

Noon Coordinates 30° 8'41.40"N, 121°39'11.94"W
Day 28 Sunday 10/04/09
We are winding down to our last 48 hours on the ship. The air is too cold to sit outside for more than a couple of minutes especially since the sun hasn’t shown its face for more than a few minutes each day. Strange to think a week ago we were melting from the heat. Lindsey went for a walk around the ship and was back in less than a minute. Stiff legged and arms out like a scarecrow she was soaked from head to toe. That didn’t stop the captain who put on his swim shorts and headed to the bow to take on the ocean spray head on. The water is a refreshing 65 a shade warmer than the air.

We have been pinched between the Tropical Storm Olaf (sp) below us and Gale winds above us. The sky wants to rid itself of the stainless steal clouds, but it is a losing battle for most of the day. Tonight they loosened up enough to give us our last sunset. Tomorrow night we will be in Avalon, Santa Catalina Island which will block the view of our final sunset set at sea.

The wind is up and the seas are down to a four, perfect conditions to be traveling an average of nine knots without the restless baseball bats banging below. When I say the wind is up, I’m talking straight up. According to the captain these winds are going to take us all the way in.

By dawn we will be traveling right past Cortes Bank which is about 100 miles off the California shore. This exclusive location has attracted the attention of surfers from around the world. It is said that Cortes Bank has the potential of making 150 foot waves due to a deep canyon that has one wall that stretches to just six feet below the surface creating a reef effect for the waves to curl on. It doesn’t happen all the time, but given the perfect conditions, the surf is up like no other in the world. Surfline’s Sean Collins, crew and surfers waited 10 years for the conditions to be perfect for them to go out and surf there. On 11/26/02, the conditions were ripe and they arrived to find 60 foot waves. Because the captain had the video “Making the Call” from the event, we were able to see it with our own eyes. Unbelievable! Chances are, we won’t see this phenomenon, but from what the captain says, it is a great place to fish for tuna. I’ll keep you posted if either materializes!

More later,


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day 27

Noon Position 30°19'29.82"N, 125°29'6.84"W
Day 27 Saturday 10/3/09
When the sky turns gray the vast ocean turns a dull shade of purple. Today it was purple all day. The sea state remains a treacherous six with the winds in the high 20s and the waves frothing at 10-12 foot peaks. The captain says they are trying to conform, but are still battling a confused state. We repeatedly see Everest-ridged waves whitecap then avalanche, cascading down near vertical slopes, leaving a temporary white stain in its trough. A sight I have yet to tire of. Sometimes the ship catches the wave in its throat causing the white froth to slam into our windshield. It reminds me of home in NY when the wind gets under a car hood full of snow and momentarily blanks the view. It’s a lot less scary on a boat!

The captain and Bill changed our sails again this morning, taking down the staysail and putting up the genoa jib. The reason why is because we are now catching the northerlies we’ve been desperately needing in order to connect to the north-westerlies that will get us to shore. Bill couldn’t dodge the froth that heaved over the bow, caught him in the back and nearly swept him off his feet. The 68 degree water, about the temperature of the air, felt even colder with the wind chill. The last time we changed the sails the captain had me working the winch table. I’d like to report that dyslexia translates well into the sailing world. I wittingly grabbed a sheet and it just happened to be the wrong sheet and didn’t go unnoticed by the captain. Darn dyslexia. The good news is we are now traveling at 10 knots and it’s looking up that we will port for the Tuesday afternoon welcome home. I’ll continue to keep you posted on the status.

Our on-board marine biologist Gwen Lattin received a special delivery today. A beautiful flying fish flew up on the bow in the night to volunteer itself to science. These fish are even more beautiful than I imagined. Even though I saw them when I was in the North Atlantic Gyre, out here I got to see one up close and personal.

Tonight’s dinner started last night with Jeff brining a plump chicken. It was ready this evening when Jeff plucked it out from the oven along with purple jams, and orange squash. Yep, we’re still eating fresh veggies with two days to the finish line. The captain slit the outrageously good jams in half then mashed them adding coconut sauce, it’s to die for!!!

We ended the night with a special treat. Jeff made homemade hot cocoa and then we shut off all the lights and with only a coalminer’s headlamp, the captain read us a short story from the book, The Bedtime Book of Sea Stories called “Three Skeleton Key” by George E. Toudouze. It doesn’t get much better than that!
More later, Bonnie

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 26

Noon Coordinates 30° 8'33.78"N, 128° 7'8.22"W

Day 26 Friday 10/02/09
One of our favorite past-times (and there is a lot of time to pass) is watching albatrosses appear as if out of nowhere and escape our gaze the same way. Sometimes, albatross will adopt a ship to follow for a few hours. And, according to Carl Safina’s Book The Eye of the Albatross, an albatross followed a ship for 2,880 miles. Yesterday one came to visit while we were sitting out on the stern. We watched it as it appeared from the proverbial nowhere and headed straight for us. It's wings spread wide above the froth-tipped wake. We watched awe struck by the speed at which it came in without flapping its stealth shaped wings. I know I was personally hoping to have a pet bird for at least a day or two. But then it began to drop its landing gear, first one of its huge webbed feet and then the other as if walking on air. We started asking each other what we thought it was doing when it stopped moving toward us and hung suspended over a distinct distance from the boat. We then watched it dip its beak in the water, like dunking for apples. And then we knew what it was doing. We jumped to our feet and shouted, “No!” We had a fishing line out and the end of the line happened to be just below the albatross. Bill ran and grabbed the fishing pole and started reeling it in. The bird dove again. Bill reeled faster as I let out another “No.” The bird responded by flying up to the starboard side of the boat, preformed a few figure eights then went back to looking for the lure camouflaged hook. But it couldn’t be found, Bill had it all but reeled in. (phew) Fishing gear can catch birds as easily as they can fish so it was a good lesson in keeping an eye on our fishing lines. You never know when you’ll have a desperately hungry bird looking for a freebie.

We have quite the book exchange flying around here. Eye of the Albatross is a favorite , as well as Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. The captain and Jeff swapped them via careful lobs across the room. Lindsey’s been flopping between reading Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell and Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Person Myers. Personally, I think she’s having trouble getting through Julie and Julia, it does seem to be inspiring her to cook though. She’s had Adelle Davis’ 1947 recipe book out a few times. We aren’t complaining! Another way the books are getting around is by falling off the bookshelves. It didn’t start happening until we hit these really high seas and now it happens on a regular bases. You might say, move them. Some have been moved, the others (that keep falling) are because someone thinks they’ve devised a way to make them stay. We’re always devising ways to try to keep things where they belong. It’s an ongoing part of living on a boat. The farthest I’ve gone, personally, is clipping myself to the side of the boat to videotape under the behest of Jeff. And I’m glad I listened. Yesterday, I wasn’t out on the bow two seconds when a huge wave came and nearly knocked me off my feet soaking me from head to toe. With the shot I took, I got a good shot of one enormous beautiful wave.

Today the ocean is more uniform, but the sea state is a good seven. Sails have been up since Monday and it looks like we will be sailing all the way home getting in for our welcome home on Tuesday at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation office. We’ll keep you posted and all are welcome to stop by, say hi and check out our finds.

More later,

Day 25

Noon Coordinates 30°27'16.62"N, 130°57'31.86"W

Day 25
As of yesterday, we crossed over into another time zone - Pacific Standard Time - and are now only one hour behind California. The ocean continues to pound the bottom of the boat while rouge waves hit us from all sides. What to do? Make Jeffy Pop popcorn. Jeff is a maestro popcorn popper! (picture coming soon) He shakes the pot down while shimmying on his feet to maintain position in front of the stove. There is a whole lot more talent involved then it sounds.

So after three days of trying to play my 20 minute game and not spotting one thing in the ocean, I finally asked the captain why. The obvious answer was the sea state, but in the gyre, we were still seeing stuff in pretty rough seas. The better answer came from a simulation presentation on how trash works its way around the North Pacific done by Dr. Jim Ingraham. Due to the California current, the current carries debris from the states south of our current position and sends it toward the Philippines via the Equatorial current. The trash from Japan area comes via the Kuroshio Extension to the Oyashio Current. So we are in an area that plastic pollution is not so apt to be spread around. The captain assured me we’ll be seeing trash from the States as we get closer to shore.

Since I’ve mentioned our wonderful students in the continental US and Canada, I would also like to thank the participation of students at George Washington High in Guam! Great to hear from you and all of you, keep the questions rolling!

More later,


Q: Hi. I have a question about the plastic ratio to plankton.Has it changed at all?If so, what was the change.Oh and be careful because of the storm. George Washington High School Mangilao, Guam, 12th grade Quentin Thank you for your time.

A: Hey there Quentin, All of us, including the captain are very happy to hear from you students in Guam. You put a smile on his face though the results from our surveys do not. Although we haven’t analyzed our samples, it appears from our winter samples and what we’ve seen out here this summer, the ratio of plastic to zooplankton has increased. Once we finalize the numbers, we’ll post it on our website. Thanks for asking Quentin and we’ll be sure to be careful! Best to you, Bonnie

Q: Hi, my name is Cassandra and I'm a senior at George Washington High School on Guam. I would like to know what are your predictions for the future due to plastic? How long until, do you think, that bioaccumulation will be at its most high? Cassandra

A: Hi Cassandra, With respect to what we have observed during this cruise we predict that plastics will increase in the gyre unless we change peoples behavior to be more responsible for disposing of plastics properly. Though your bioaccumulation question is good, it is very difficult to answer. I assume that you are asking about bioaccumulation of plastics in marine organisms. Bioaccumulation is a biochemical process and one could argue that plastics won't bioaccumulate as they are not broken down by organisms. On the other hand, small fish can and do ingest small plastic particles and these fish then may be eaten by larger fish and the plastic accumulates in the big fish. In fact, on the first leg of this voyage - from southern California to the international date line, there was a Mahi Mahi caught that had a lantern fish in its stomach that had plastic in it. Depending on the size of the plastic, once the fish is digested then the Mahi Mahi might retain the plastic piece. At higher trophic levels like albatross, sea turtles and whales, there are numerous examples of death from ingesting of plastics or plastic bags.
I hope this helps. Dr. Bill Cooper

Q:My name is Marquisha. i am from George Washington High School, Guam. I am a junior and i am currently taking Marine Bio. I have recently watched your video, synthetic sea. It brought a concern. I was wondering what is the economy doing to prevent plastics or debris that gets into the ocean. Plastic is a major thing nowadays because its cheaper. But have your statistics brought up a concern in the world.... And how is the weather. Storms are coming from left to right in the pacific ocean. Hope you guys are managing okay.

A: Hi Marquisha, Glad to hear you are taking Marine Bio. It’s through education that people will begin to understand why plastic in the marine environment is bad and your education can help. You pose some very good questions that are difficult to answer. Before we can get the economy to change its production of plastic, we have to get people to stop buying things like balloons that are used for such a short time and then here for hundreds of years. Usually when there is not a demand for products, they are no longer produced. So people have the power to decide if they will buy items in plastic. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. What you can do is write to companies asking them to stop putting their products in plastic. The captain says we need chemists to redesign the way we make plastics so they are not toxic as well. As far as awareness around the world goes, we are beginning to see more environmental groups taking on the plastics industry as well as educate people on the problems with plastic. Captain Moore has been to several countries around the world giving presentations to educate leaders on the problems with plastics. Thank you for your very bright questions. Best, Bonnie

Q: iv always ben very curious if this has ever happened to anyone. has a squid ever got you with its ink before? :) how is the weather on the boat? is it as nice as it seems? have you guys ever come across a bad storm? do you guys always have toe at fish? if not, what do you guys usually have? have you ever ran out of liquids to drink? Ariel, River Ridge, Florida

A: Ariel, as a matter of fact, Dr. Cooper got inked by squid that he caught in a net down in the Florida Keys! The weather changes every half hour it seems. It’s sunny, then cloudy, then rains a little, then it repeats the cycle. It is in the high 60s-low 70s. We haven’t come across any bad storms, just high seas.
We don’t have to eat fish, but we try to catch one a day to necropsy their stomachs looking to see if they ingested plastic and then we eat them. We have only caught Mahi-Mahi so far. We have a watermaker on board which takes salt water and makes it drinkable so we have an entire ocean to drink! It tastes good too. Thanks for the questions. Best, Bonnie

Q: I have read that a group from Scripps Institution of Oceanography has also gone out to the Pacific Plastic Gyre to take samples and study it. Are you collaborating with them or if not, what are they doing differently from you?

A: Happy to know you and your 4H group is voyaging with us! Thanks Amy. Yes, AMRF is collaborating with Scripps and have procured samples for them as well. Scripps even used the same protocol guidelines as AMRF.

Q: You mentioned that there is little ocean life in the gyre itself. Yet your previous statistics say the ratio of plastic to plankton in the gyre is 6:1. But if fish are not in the gyre then where are they ingesting plastic and what do you estimate is the ratio of plastic to plankton is in those areas?

A: It’s not that there aren’t any fish, it just doesn’t have the great schools of fish as in transition zones where the warm water meets the cold water and is nutrient rich. The fish that are here are eating plastic because plastic emulates food in many ways. As far as the ratios go, the samples from this summer will be processed over the next several months.Thanks for the questions and I hope the answers help. Bonnie and Crew

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Day 24

Noon Position Noon Position 31°22'15.12"N, 133°30'8.82"W

Day 24 Wednesday 9/30/09
It’s been a bit maddening to have to stay inside only to watch an occasional monster wave come up over the bow, cruise past our cabin porthole windows, on up another three feet to the galley windows and portholes and then slosh beyond the top of the boat out over the stern. Not that the spectacle doesn’t provoke some oos and ahhhs, but three days of this and I am so ready to get out on the bow to, at the very least, get some really great footage. Getting wet is a small price to pay for great footage. Given that information, you can probably visualize a certain someone with a harness and life vest with a waterproof camera in hand hanging from the starboard side. I didn’t get very far when I was beaten back by the spray. The lens covered in salty drops, I decided to continue shooting from inside. My friends will understand why there are water spots. We’ve gone three weeks with the sea state changing nearly every day, but the last three have consistently been the same - hanging around six to seven. Even though it isn’t raining from the sky, it’s raining from the bow. So we have left the boundaries of the said Garbage Patch without giving it much more than a last glance.

So what do we do? Read, write, fish, and eat. And the people aboard this boat know how to eat! You’d want them on your Iron Chef team. (Not me, I’m more comfortable jumping off the mainsail boom than I am making oatmeal.) The captain’s homemade hot cocoa alone is example enough. The captain’s recipe calls for Abuelita (a bar of Mexican chocolate), Scharffen Berger 99% cacao dark chocolate, milk and garnished with a vanilla stick. Amazing. As far as the fishing goes, the captain caught two Mahi Mahi this morning using squid that volunteered themselves for bait by jumping up on the bow in the middle of the night.

I got an encouraging email from my fellow plastic pollution warrior, Jennifer O’Keefe. The items discussed in the video confirms much of what Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been conveying. Your assignment is to read the message below and then go to the link, watch the video and tell me what you think!

An online video focusing on the science and politics of ocean trash published by the DC Bureau of the Public Education Center ( has recently been posted, highlighting an interview with the Dr. Holly Bamford, Director of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The video and corresponding article, part of a series titled "Fish and Paint Chips," cover the issue of marine debris from a variety of different angles and interviews. The purpose of is to provide bloggers, individual reporters, editors, news directors and others involved in all media platforms a new resource for stories, ideas and help. Recent research has the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concerned that the huge quantities of metal, plastic, paint chips and other man-made debris floating at sea, hundreds and even thousands of miles from land, may be working their way into the American diet.

Now here are the links;
(NOAA Marine Debris Program highlighted in "Fish and Paint Chips" Series by DC Bureau.)

Fish and Paint Chips Part I: The Science of Trash

Fish and Paint Chips Part II: The Politics of Ocean Trash

Let us know your thoughts!
More later.

Thank you for all the great student questions! More answers coming soon!