Friday, July 31, 2009

Day 52 Land Ho!!!

July 31st 9am Coordinates: 21 15.57N, 158 04.07W

Land Ho! We made it-51 days and 6,890 miles logged! We’re about an hour into landfall and were welcomed by the warm, still sunshine of the islands. The morning has been a bit hectic-we pulled into Ko’olina Harbor on the southwest side of Oahu with an hour and a half to spare before Christiana’s flight to the mainland. We are in the process of fueling up now and then we’ll motor our way 15 miles or so eastward to Kewalo Basin, where the Alguita will be slipped for the next several weeks as she is prepared for the 2nd leg of the voyage-the 10 year resample of our 1999 sample locations on a course from Oahu back to Long Beach.

Thanks to everyone who has been following along on our journey! It’s been a unique and powerful experience for us all!
Aloha from the Oahu,

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day 50

Noon Position 26 28.30N 159 41.22W

We are 245 miles out from Oahu and speeding along at 9.1 knots over the ground with 21 knots of wind. We are definitely in the trades now. This afternoon we passed back into the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the U.S.A. and spotted Frigate Birds, both of which are a reminder that we are getting close to land again.

The day was a pretty standard transit upwind-other than being informed that were in an area which will become a missile hot zone by 5:30 pm tomorrow. Jeff was on watch and was getting a crackling and inaudible transmission on the VHF radio. Apparently that inaudible crackle was the military trying to get in touch with us, so they decided to step it up a notch and swoop down over the bow of the Alguita in their plane. This got our attention. With the plane in closer range the transmission came in clear. They informed us that in 24 hours the military was going to be testing missiles-right over the waters we were in but that as long as we maintained course (we were on a bearing of 140 or so) we’d be out of the way in time. Needless to say, we are keeping out of the way.

The other excitement of the day was a product of beating into the weather. All the hatches have to stay closed since the foredeck is getting doused by waves--so the cabin is a little stuffy. Christiana gave into the stuffy heat earlier in the day (as we all have at some point) and opened up one of the hatches in the starboard cabin during a lull in splash, only to get her bunk drenched by an unexpected wave. Lesson learned. The hatch remained closed until, again someone couldn’t stand the mugginess of the cabin and re-opened up the hatch. This time the inevitable flood of water drenched Drew’s bunk-sleeping bag and all.

Our ETA is now sometime during mid-morning on the 31st, although this is still subject to the whims of the weather.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 48

Noon Coordinates: 31°37'12.00"N 158°35'60.00"W

July 27
We are motor sailing along at 6 knots on a course is 176, heading almost straight south towards Oahu with only 568 lovely miles to go. We've logged 6200 miles on the trip so far. Without our days broken up by trawling or stopping to dive a large piece of debris they’re all kind of starting to run together.

We hit winds of a steady 25 to 30 knots over the weekend….with gusts up to 40 and 50 knots! AS Jeff’s father pointed out to us, during this period we made the most headway in 24 hrs than we have in any of the past several voyages he has tracked!

It was a bit of a rough ride, beating into weather most of the time. At that point we were flying along at 8-12 knots with the weather hitting us at our beam. These conditions made for a noisy couple days. “Water bombs” were going off left and right. “Water bomb” is the term Drew has been using to describe the jarring “BOOM” that happens when the Alguita slaps down onto a swell. Walking around the vessel was quite a task during this weather. You don’t so much get the option of choosing where you are going as being forced to land somewhere by the yawing and slapping of the boat. Heavy weather also meant that the bilge alarm was going off again. There’s a hole somewhere that let’s water invade the port hull when the weather picks up (we thought we fixed it in Hawai’Ii, but apparently not). So what this means is that someone gets to pump out 5 gallons of mucky bilge water every 12 hours or so-which I must say is a small price to pay to keep the boat afloat. The night shift on the 25th (Saturday) was particularly hairy-this was the night we saw gusts of 50 knots.

On the home stretch,

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 45

Noon Coordinates: 35°11'24.00"N 164°39'0.00"W
As we return to Honolulu and near the completion of our historic 6,000 mile voyage through the plastic soup to the International Dateline, I should tell you something about the extraordinary research vessel that made all this scientific sampling of ocean plastic pollution possible. My “Little Kelp Plant” Alguita was not built on an assembly line. She was the product of a lifetime of sailing experience, years of research into vessel design, and collaboration among experts from the other side of the world. Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita, Is 25 feet wide and 50 feet long, her two aluminum hulls set wide apart to provide stability.

We have gotten the winds we wanted for our sail back to Honolulu, with a gigantic cyclonic low smashing the high that creates the gyre, and are currently whooshing along on a beam reach at 9-11 knots in a blustery 25-35 knot gale. Free fuel (wind), free energy (a kilowatt of solar panels), and free water made from seawater by a solar powered reverse osmosis system. With conditions like this, our range, like that of the albatross, is truly unlimited. Our most recent voyage was a lot like that of the foraging mother albatross, Amelia, in Carl Safina’s lovely book, Eye of the Albatross - leaving the Northwest Hawaiian Islands we passed through the Musicians Seamounts, reached the International Dateline, headed due north to the subarctic frontal zone, grabbed the westerlies there and headed back down to the islands. Alguita has provided hot water for showers, cold water to drink, fresh food to eat (we still have squash, eggs, onions, cabbage, garlic, yams, leeks, and a small watermelon and a pineapple), frozen food to thaw, a propane stove to cook on and an oven to bake in. We have done day and night dives and refilled scuba tanks with our electric air compressor. We even patched a leak in the underwing, which gets impacted by debris like heavy fishing floats smashing into it as they pass between the hulls. So our vessel is an amazingly versatile and functional one, not only for living safely and economically on liquid, but for studying its unknown, but important qualities. Thanks to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, we have been able to keep Alguita involved in research important to marine conservation for the past 15 years.

Captain Charles Moore
1000 miles north of Honolulu

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?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day 42- Wind and ocean currents

Noon position: 40°50'29.98"N 173°19'55.80"W

We are 5,200 miles into our journey and back in the western hemisphere, starting to make our way south with a heading of 115. Our speed over ground (SOG) is 7.6 knots and we’re getting winds out of the west at 20-25 knots. These are the winds we want to see-the Captain and crew are anxious to make it to Honolulu. We all have prior commitments that have been put in jeopardy by the weather conditions.

The winds started really picking up yesterday evening, jumping from 6-8 knots in the AM to 20-25 in the PM as we headed north. For a while the winds were hovering around 30 knots, throwing large rolling swells at us which caused a sudden, violent collapse of the sail. The crew donned life vests and rushed to the foredeck to fish the sail out of the water. The damage to the sail was pretty severe. We lost the most efficient sail for the current weather conditions-which lowered the morale a bit.

Part of our issue is that the nature of the area in which we have been sampling is a high pressure zone. High pressure zones are characterized by light winds. We needed to spend the fuel to motor through these calms to in order to even run the Manta trawls. The past several days have been working towards an escape from these conditions, using sail power and not trying not to use the ever dwindling fuel supply. Our plan of escape: sailing north. This may seem a bit illogical since our destination is way south of us, but there just so happens to be a rhyme to our reason. Here’s Joel on the subject:

“Since we are a sailing vessel and we must sail to get home, we need to find where the favorable winds are. The wind and currents in the North Pacific Ocean are dominated by the large gyre at its center. The wind in the California Current flows from north to south and is the eastern edge of the gyre, the Trade Winds blowing toward the west and southwest make the southern boundary, the Kurshio current flows south to north off the east coast of Asia makes the western edge of the gyre while the westerlies blow back toward the West Coast of North America and make the northern boundary of the gyre. (note: keep in mind that winds are named for the direction they originate from. Thus westerlies come from the west, easterlies from the east etc.). All together they make a giant clockwise circular current and wind system with high atmospheric pressure and calmer variable winds at the center known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. It is one of five major gyres in the world’s oceans. There are three in the northern hemisphere (The North Pacific, North Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean) which spin clockwise. In the southern hemisphere the South Atlantic, South Pacific and Indian oceans spin counter clockwise.

The most direct course home would have been to motor into the trade winds in the southern part of the gyre, but since we need to sail to get home we must go north and find the westerlies which blow to the east. Once we go far enough east we will make a right hand turn and will have to pass again through the center of the high pressure system which is blocking our path to Hawai’i. The light and variable winds from the gyre will eventually hook us up with the trade winds and we can use them to hastily return us to Oahu.”

The Corilolis Effect is the driving force behind the current and wind systems Joel described above. In the most basic sense, the Coriolis Effect is a result of the west to east rotation of the earth. This means that air flow is affected by this motion. For example, an object on a trajectory directly from the North Pole directly south would be deflected to east. In the southern hemisphere, an object traveling from the South Pole northward would be deflected to the west. Air pushes water to create surface currents, thus the deflection I just mentioned from high pressure systems, combined with boundaries created by earth’s landmasses encourage the dominant currents, like those described by Joel to maintain their clockwise (northern hemisphere) and counterclockwise (southern hemisphere) rotations.

Furthermore there are several convection cells of air resulting from the combination of the rotation of the earth and the differential heating of the earth. So the sun hits different parts of the earth at different angles. The more direct the angle of sun exposure, the more that surface will be heated. This is why it is so hot along the equator, where the sun hits directly for much of the year, and so cold towards the poles where there is little direct sun exposure. This differential heating results in the rising and sinking of air. Cool air sinks, warm air rises. So as air is sinking and rising (on the macroscale) as well as being subject to the Corilolis force dominate wind patterns, such as the Tradewinds (named for the reliability of the winds for trade) are established.

On another note, reports from the wildlife front: Christiana dissected two fish today-a large flying fish (we think it’s Hirundichthys albimaculatus based on the key we have on board) and the first tuna of the trip (it was an Albacore). No plastic to report in either of them.

Two nights ago we were visited by a half dozen friendly Leach’s Petrels. Well not so much friendly as they were attracted to our running lights. It’s a dangerous situation for the birds to be hovering so close to the moving vessel, there are far too many lines and hard surfaces for them to maneuver around. But it’s also not an option for us to shut off our running lights-that would put us in a lot of danger. The story ending happily though-none of the birds were hurt and we were entertained by their spastic flapping and their almost monkey-like chirps.

We are still finding debris, although it is significantly sparser. The areas we are transiting through at the moment are thought to be contributing waters and not accumulation zones of debris. Visual observations from the crew confirm this theory-although the waters have been quite choppy which makes anything but the large and prominent debris very difficult to spot. Bottom line, we still encounter debris after a few minute stint on deck and we have yet to pull in a trawl (we’ve done 42 so far) without plastic fragments.
From the Pacific,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day 39- A dolphin encounter unlike any other!

Noon position: 39° 8'11.98"N 179°59'47.76"E

July 18, 2009
As a SCUBA instructor for Surf and Sea in Haleiwa Oahu, I do get periodic times to swim with Hawaii’s favorite spinner dolphin, I have even had the opportunity to see bottlenose dolphin. Be it all of these encounters were wonderful and exciting in their own right, nothing prepared me for what I experienced last night.

After my usual 2 am wakeup call from Jeff to begin my night watch on another night of motoring through a windless calm at about 4 knots, I noticed an unusual glow coming from the water off of the stern of the boat. I quickly realized that the green column of water trailing the boat for about 100 ft was the bioluminescence resulting from the port engine propeller. Bioluminescence is the glowing green light emitted by a reaction within certain planktonic organisms, when their surrounding water is disturbed. Unless you are on a boat at night in plankton rich water, the next best way to see an example of bioluminescence is to swim, snorkel or dive at night, then turn off your lights and move your hand back and forth through the water. You should see some tiny green swirling lights around your hand. The more plankton in the water, the more lights emitted.

Well the waters out here are so rich with plankton, that when Jeff told me I should see the bioluminescence from the bow, I was astounded at what I saw. The catamaran left 2 bright glowing green waves and green swirling lines that followed the bow wake pattern. All the while, bright green bursts could be seen as larger sources of bioluminescence were triggered by the pressure wave in the water. The sound waves of the engine would trigger the reaction in the larger pelagic planktonic organisms deeper and further ahead of the boat, so they would “light up” as we approached. The waveless, windless night combined with a vantage point less than 3 feet from the water’s surface made this a once in a lifetime occasion for me.

After 10 minutes of just gazing at this phenomenon, I was suddenly startled as 2 large green streaks shot from beneath the boat, between the hulls and splashed to the surface right in front of me, then split to either side of the boat. Three more streaks shot in from port side and I could see clearly through the water that unmistakable shape...Dolphin!

The only way I could describe it was the dance of the sugar plum fairies out of the movie Fantasia, only with dolphin making the trails. I could watch them go deep and the green glow would get dim and then get brighter and brighter as they got close to the surface again...then splash they would break the surface. The shape was created by the glowing green bioluminescence generated as the graceful swimming machine moved through the water.

It was like watching an animated movie with special effects…it was surreal!!!! I could clearly see the details of each animal as it swam under my nose just out of arms reach. Tails, fins, body, were all clearly visible with the green outline through the clear calm water. Within seconds I had 10 to 12 dolphin doing what dolphins do….playing in the wake of a boat. The dolphin kept shooting in from the sides, darting up from the deep, two or three at a time, swirling in front of my face, each with its own green silhouette and ocean meteor trail extending at times, up to 20ft behind each powerful tail.

For only the second time in my life, my breath was actually taken away. I sat for what must have been 5 minutes in complete amazement by the visual ballet being performed just for me. With tears building up, I thought this is not fair that my wife Jamie couldn’t be here to experience this with me, this is just one of those times you want to share with loved ones. I then thought, maybe I should wake the crew.

Well Christiana was first to show up and the dolphin continued the show. At one point we saw a big green ball rise from deep beneath the boat only to explode into 5 individual silhouette trails dancing apart, then coming back together as the graceful sea mammals continued their dance while trails from flying fish scattered about. Nicole and Charlie finally got up in time to see the show before the dolphin went on their way, but Joel and Jeff didn’t leave their bunks…oh well, their loss. We think they were the same pod of common dolphin that came by after the sun came up.

One of the things that crossed my mind while watching this light show that was taking place, was the question of what it must look like from underwater and the realization that, dolphin have good eyes so they get to see this all the time from under water. Just another reason why I believe when it comes to rank on the life ladder, we are several rungs below the dolphin, they are just designed too perfect…they don’t need technology to create their own light show.

This will rank as one of the greatest experiences of my lifetime! It’s just sad to think they have to swim through all that plastic that I see during the day.

Writing and photography by crew member Drew Wheeler (Thanks Drew!!!! )You can learn more about his underwater videography at and follow his account of the voyage on his blog at

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day 38

Noon position: 37°30'18.00"N 179°12'18.00"E Photo by ScubaDrew videoworks

Today was gloomy-starting and ending with rain, although it was kind of nice to get a break from the strong sunshine. Since we are motoring at such a slow speed anyway, anywhere from 2 to a whopping 4 knots, we decided we weren’t loosing much headway by throwing out a manta trawl this afternoon-and yes, there was plastic. Based on reports from Drew about the density of debris particles flowing by the boat we expected to see a lot more plastic in the trawl. It seems that by the time we set up and deployed the Manta trawl we had already passed through the denser band of debris.

We pulled in the third industrial grade white plastic bag today, although this one was a smaller piece and did not have the blue Japanese characters. Based on the fouling level and the identical nature of the plastic material we are pretty sure it’s a member of the same bunch. That makes three within four days.

Strange event of the day: an attack by a wooden spool stuffed with beer packaging. Drew spotted something “really big” dead ahead of us from his debris gazing spot on the foredeck. I popped up through the hatch with some binoculars and discovered that is was a large wooden spool for wire (about 3.5 ft tall and 3 feet in diameter). We approached it with the boat in idle forward and tried to hook it from the front. The cagey little spool evaded the debris wranglers and ended up bouncing off the port hull. Oops. No harm done thankfully.

Captain dove of the aft deck and into the water to attach a line to the spool before it got away. We hoisted it up on deck with the gantry to find two Baltica brand 6-pack beer packages (it’s a Chilean beer) stuffed inside along with a couple stowaway crabs. Upon closer inspection we could tell this was relatively recently deposited debris (based on the lack of fouling and perfectly intact structure) and Captain estimated it was likely jettisoned within a 100mile radius of our position (37 33.84N, 179 13.25E).

The spool was wooden with metal odds and ends, so it will all eventually degrade into basic elements and it is relatively inert. An object of that size is however a significant threat to ocean going vessels-as we experienced firsthand today. According to MARPOL Annex V (the International Agreement on Maritime Pollution) placard displayed aboard the vessel (a legal requirement on boats over 25 feet long), plastic is the only material regulated over 25 nautical miles off of land. While plastic is banned from being dumped from vessels throughout the entire ocean as it should be, it seems to be a bit of an oversight to allow large and hazardous debris to be dumped at any location. Even some place as remote as the middle of the gyre is still periodically traversed and things deposited out here will eventually find their way south toward the higher traffic waters near the Hawaiian Islands. MARPOL is up for reauthorization soon, and given that the information on our placard is correct, this might be an issue worth looking into.

Wildlife report: Captain and Drew spotted two Fin Whales, a cow and calf, this morning and there were some more spouts spotted later in the day. Backtracking to critters from the night dive: I completely neglected to mention that we spotted a Hyperiid amphipod (Phornima sedentaria). Why is this exciting and what is it? These critters are crazy zooplankton commandos that commandeer the body of salps to make a salp suit. Just before we dove Christiana was telling us the alien from the movie “Alien” (the creepy little thing that bursts from the stomach cavities of the crew) was designed after the Hyperiid amphipod. Look up a picture-you’ll see why.
From the gyre,

Friday, July 17, 2009

Day 36 & 37

Noon Position (Day 37): 36° 3'19.80"N 179°36'5.40"E(Nudibranch- awesome photo by Jeff Ernst!!!)

We set out 4 trawls throughout yesterday, still finding plastic in all of them, although in varying densities. We are starting to bring up some different and interesting critters in our trawls. A couple days ago one trawl was filled with Nudibranchs -adorable little guys (see above. Still logging disturbing amounts of debris throughout the day, although under sail it becomes much harder for us to maneuver to retrieve them. We found a replicate debris item yesterday, a white industrial plastic bag (similar to a trash compactor bag) with blue Japanese characters. The first one we logged was on the 14th and was lightly fouled with fish eggs and bryozoans. The bag from yesterday was also fouled with a few barnacles and some bryozoans. This got us to thinking about the source-a container spill or a waste lost from the same vessel perhaps.

We had been waiting for perfect night dive conditions, which decided to come around as we were heavy bellied after dinner. But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Joel, Drew, Christiana and myself dove on tanks while Jeff free dove with the Sea Dawg-an awesome underwater scooter. Being 40 or so feet underwater, surrounded by bioluminescent creatures, 3,100 miles out from Long Beach, with a couple miles between us and the bottom was surreal. At one point Joel, Christiana, and I huddled together, shut off our lights, and let ourselves get a full dose of the bioluminescence. It was like floating in a bed of stars-very serene and surreal. By waving our hands through the water or kicking our fins, we could light up a swath of critters-enough to clearly see each other in the pitch black water (with some help of Drew’s camera lights). We surfaced to a vibrant night sky with a perfect view of the Milky Way. We are a lucky bunch to have the opportunity to be out here. Although the subject of research is a little grim, there are many positive angles to our situation like diving in a place where no other humans have likely ever set foot (or boat?) We are able to stargaze, free of urban light pollution. Jupiter drifts low across the night sky and we’ve come to notice that it has its own “moonbeam” on the ocean’s surface--pretty cool!.
(Eerie photo taken during the night dive by ScubaDrew Videoworks)

We woke a tired yet content crew from the night excursions. The trawl was put out some today and Drew and Joel worked on educational footage for their grant with Kahuku School. Given that we have been working diligently to collect data, it time to focus on a timely return. The priority is being shifted toward making it home. We are crossing our fingers that we will pick up some stronger winds as we head north a bit and then end up in the easterlies which will deliver us to Hawai’i.

From the Pacific, Nicole

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 35- We’ve reached the International Dateline!!

Noon Position: 34° 0'36.00"N 179°53'34.80"W
We’ve reached the Dateline!! Finally, 35 days out of Long Beach and 4,441 nautical miles into this mission and we’ve reached our goal, the International Dateline. This latitude line is both 180˚ E and 180˚ W and is a brand new line of sampling to add to the databank! Our transition into the eastern hemisphere (and into tomorrow) was quite picturesque. The sun was shining and the ocean was glassy, a pod of Striped Dolphins was performing starboard of the vessel and an albatross or two was flying about. The crew was gathered on deck as Captain watched our position from the helm, counting down our approach to the Dateline. We crossed, and the dolphins decided to up their performance to some aerial moves. Captain joined us on deck and we relished in the moment of achieving our goal for a bit-the conversion tending towards the usual, marine debris.

Before we reached the Dateline, we had a strange run in. Around 9am, I was directed from the debris spotters on deck (Captain and Drew) to turn hard starboard so we could fetch an obscure piece of debris in the distance. As Captain was dipping down the net to retrieve it he realized that it was far from marine debris-it was a sea turtle. The presence of this guy highlighted the reason marine debris is such a tremendous issue; the juvenile turtle was feeding in an area where we had been fishing out debris all morning, introducing the possibility of plastic ingestion. We have documented the tangle of debris and zooplankton that surrounds us (see photo below). It is easy to imagine how the plastic fragments could be inadvertently scooped up-and marine debris ingestion in sea turtles has been recorded.

So now that we are at the Dateline we are doing what we came here to do-sample, sample, sample. Refreshingly, we pulled up only 3 plastic fragments in the first trawl #29 (at least from what we could see with the naked eye). Manta sample #30, deployed a ½ hour later, produced a ridiculous amount of plankton. Manta sample #33, the last of the day, ran for a half hour and produced an astounding amount of plastic. A stark contrast to Manta #29 deployed 3 hours (roughly 9 nautical miles) prior. As I stated yesterday, the trash accumulation zone is patchy and tremendously dynamic.

We are chugging along at 3 knots with the main and Genoa up, banking on some more wind to come our way as we head north. We will continue sampling along the Dateline for the next 300 miles, up to 40N and then head east after we pick up the westerlies to start our return to Hawai’i.

From the International Dateline,

Thank you to ScubaDrew Videoworks and AMRF for the pictures!!!!


Sam and Zack from Miraleste Intermediate,
Great idea on the TV Show front. Popular networks are a great vehicle to get people informed about the issue. We’ve already been on several shows/networks including Discovery Channel, the History Channel, Animal Planet, the Sundance Channel, REaltime with Bill Maher, the Martha Stewart show, Datleine, CNN…and thankfully the list goes on. One thing that makes Algalita such a unique scientific organization is that we push to expose our research finding through all forms of media (print, radio, TV etc.) to ensure that more than just the scientific community is buzzing about the issue of plastic marine debris.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 34

Noon position: 34°15'39.60"N 177°44'31.20"W
80 miles out from the Dateline and the seas are thick with debris and plankton. We did two 10 minute debris counts today, the morning one yielding 37 pieces and an afternoon one 87 pieces. I realized today that the Alguita has sampled as far as the 170th parallel on previous voyages, and we are now at 179W which means the past several days have involved sampling in previously un-sampled waters-exciting!

We typically set out Manta trawls for a period of 1 to 2 hours, but yesterday we could only set the trawls for 15 minutes because the plankton was so dense that it quickly clogged the cod end of the net. While these trawls were delivering high amounts of plankton, the amount of small plastic debris was keeping pace. Within yesterday’s series of 15 minute trawls (we did 4 in total) we noticed a gradient in plastic density. There was a marked difference in the plastic level observed in the first trawl, which was heavy in plastic, and the last of the series, which was pretty light in plastic content. This was covering a distance of roughly 2 nautical miles which just goes to show how dynamic the debris accumulation is throughout the gyre.

The education trawl was pulled up wounded from some sort of underwater battle. There was blood pooling in the end of the net and holes ripped in the mesh. Apparently something tasty was trapped inside of the net which something else wanted to eat to bad enough to tear through it. Several chains of baseball stitches later and the net was back in action.

This morning Charlie and Drew got in the water to dive a buoy they had captured. As the Captain de-barnacled the debris underwater he became the new refuge for the fleeing crab. Later in the morning we spotted a second buoy with a thriving ecosystem-juvenile Rainbow Runners, crabs, gooseneck barnacles, so we decided to dive it. The bad part about diving in dense plankton zones-the jellies. We were all getting stung left and right by these mesmerizing, yet painful critters.

Later in the afternoon we encountered the most bizarre debris of the day; a laundry basket filled with fish. It’s not every day a basket full of fish comes floating your way while you’re in the middle of nowhere. Tiny Rainbow Runners and a few Pilot Fish were stuck inside the basket (at least until the seas got rough enough to throw them out). When we pulled it out of the water we found coral growing on the bottom. A few of the fish were preserved for lab work up and the rest of them were analyzed on board for plastic content, thankfully with no plastic to report.

It’s been glassy calm the entire day, shifting from a perfectly sunny morning to a gloomy, rainy afternoon, and ending with a stunningly starry night. As characteristic of the gyre, the winds are light and variable. We’ve been running through a flurry of sail changes trying o maximize the wind.

From the thick of it, Nicole

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day 32

Noon Coordinates: 34°14'27.60"N 174°18'25.20"W

Styrofoam is a copyrighted term for a Dow Chemical insulation material. The generic term for the spongy white cups and take out containers we are all familiar with is expanded polystyrene. Photos of waterborne trash accumulations from urban centers invariably show large quantities of expanded polystyrene containers. When polystyrene - think clear CD cases that crack - is expanded, gas is dispersed into the melted polymer creating innumerable channels and bubbles in the material. This makes it a good insulator for hot beverages and food, and gives it a texture that is easy to handle. It also makes it float, since plain polystyrene is heavier than water. Dr. Anthony Andrady, Algalita Marine Research Foundation’s lead polymer scientist, conducted experiments with different types of plastic in the ocean and on land to determine how they lose flexibility, become brittle, and break down into fragments. He found that all plastics except one, expanded polystyrene, broke down faster on land than in the ocean. For most plastics, heat absorption was the key to rapid embrittlement, and the cooler ocean environment acted as a heat sink, slowing the process. But with expanded polystyrene, the increased access of seawater into the pores of the plastic accelerated breakdown more than the increased heating on land. Dr. Andrady found that expanded polystyrene was the only common plastic to break down faster in the marine environment. When I sampled the Eastern Garbage Patch, halfway between San Francisco and Hawaii in 1999, I only found about 10% of the particles in our trawls were expanded polystyrene. These most probably originated in debris from Asia following the debris highway created by the Kurashio current’s easterly extension. Now that we are nearly two-thirds of the way to Japan, we would expect to see more expanded polystyrene and to see it in a less degraded state. This is indeed what we are finding, little bits, medium sized pieces and big blocks.

As we approach our goal, the International Dateline, (we are now at 175 West Longitude, only 5 meridians to go), we also are seeing more Asian PET drinking water and soda bottles. Since the caps are made of Polypropylene, not PET and degrade faster, when the caps crack, the bottles fill with water and sink, so we don’t find as many of them in the Eastern Garbage Patch. The Asian origin of the debris is corroborated by markings on much of what we are finding. A Taiwanese fishing float stating “Yung Plastic Industry, Republic of China,” a Japanese Coca Cola bottle, a thin piece of plastic film with Chinese Characters and a Japanese survey stake. All of this debris creates an amazing habitat for a great variety of free-floating larvae looking for a place to settle on and grow. According to David Barnes, of the British Antarctic Survey, plastic debris at the surface of the ocean has at least doubled the mass of the organisms living there. Not only are new species showing up on plastic transported to coastal environments where they have never been before, species that normally live in coastal habitats can be found associated with debris in the deep ocean. This is analogous to the introduction of European weeds and pests into the New World, species that displaced and decimated the natives. It has been speculated that this mixing of biota could result in a reduction of species diversity in the ocean by half.

From Captain Charles Moore, sailing toward the dateline aboard ORV Alguita.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Day 31

Noon Position: 34°38'13.20"N 172°53'25.80"W

Today was our rest day (although we did set out education trawls and dive for debris still :) Here are a couple pics. One is the cod end of the trawl underwater, the other is a sunset with debris we have collected on deck.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 30

Noon position: 35° 3'54.00"N 171°37'40.80"W
It’s been super calm, and we’ve been taking advantage of these conditions to do continuous trawling. We are bringing in our third trawl of the day-they have all been thick with plastic. Among some of today’s debris finds: a black plastic bag fragment, bottle caps, and an oil bottle which weaseled its way into the Manta trawl. Notable wildlife find of the day: a Hatchetfish (Captain found this little deep water fish while putting around in the dingy, at the surface-quite a ways from home). I did another fragment count today off the bow: 48 pieces of plastic floated past in 10 minutes. About half the frequency I recorded on July 4th, but still pretty astounding.

Here is what the resident fish nerd (Christiana) had to say about the findings from her dissection of the Mahi Mahi caught today:

“I did not find any plastic in the Mahi’s stomach, but I did find some really interesting creatures. There was a cornucopia of parts that I was able to put together--like a forensic puzzle. I felt like a scientist on CSI: Pacific Gyre. There were parasites, squid beaks and mantles, fish jaw bones and skulls, a crab carapace and claw remnants, and a completely intact lanternfish (Family: Myctophidae). This was an amazing discovery for me because it shows that Mahi feed directly on laternfish. From my research on the laternfish collected from the 2007-2008 gyre voyage, I found that these particular fish had ingested a ridiculous amount of plastic. What we found today is a full circle; humans have created this mess in the ocean and we are now stuck consuming it. I really hope that our efforts out here get people more motivated to prevent this problem from getting worse.”

After we processed the fish, Captain, Christiana and I went on an expedition this afternoon. Since conditions were so calm, we decided it was high time to take the dingy out. It was bizarre to watch our home for the past several weeks disappear behind us, but at the same time it was nice to escape from the boat for a bit. We cruised along looking for debris, which is a little harder to spot from the low vantage point of the dingy. After a few minutes we ran into a float-which from a distance looked like a large Japanese glass float. It turned out to be a standard buoy. It was a 300mm float made by Yung Plastic Industries Co. in Taiwan. There was a huge population of barnacles layering the lines attached to the buoy and a decent sized community of juvenile Rainbow Runners taking refuge under the debris. We had some time to jump in the water and film the synthetic habitat while we were waiting for the Alguita to catch up with us. Getting the buoy back onto the vessel required a bit of muscle-there were about 100 pounds or so of barnacles attached.

We are 399 miles out from our desired sampling location and near the 4000 logged mile mark for the trip!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Day 28

Noon coordinates: 34°22'55.20"N 169°12'14.40"W
July 7th, 2009

Today, as we were preparing to drop the mainsail, we discovered the line was jammed-not good news. Joel foolishly (in his own words) volunteered to go to the top of the mast and replace the main halyard (the line that pulls up the main sail) with the backup halyard. This required hoisting Joel up 50 feet or so in the boatswain’s chair. Immediately after getting up the mast he spotted a ghost net, which we were unfortunately too preoccupied to retrieve- safety first... Unfortunately for the already motion sensitive Joel, the sway of the vessel is amplified atop the mast. He got seasick and the unsuspecting Captain and I to got doused from above with Joel’s breakfast. One flying hammer later (good thing we had hard hats) and the switch was complete. Joel charged through his bout of seasickness and got the job done, earning the crew member platinum star for the day.

We were spotting debris left and right, so after the halyard business we put out the Manta and an education trawl. While the Manta trawl samples will be analyzed back at the lab, the education samples will be used for outreach purposes. In fact, Algalita Educators Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins just wrapped up a 3 month education tour of the west coast of the U.S. They cycled down the coast stopping along the way to pass out education samples to educators, legislators, and community.

Interesting trash find of the day: a Japanese honey bear bottle and ½ a trash can lid. Wildlife citing of the day: a close encounter with a Black Foot Albatross. And by close, I mean close. We stopped for a swim in the late afternoon. While netting and documenting debris with cameras and video equipment, we managed to spark the curiosity of part of our albatross fan club (they are still following the Alguita). She landed right next to us and proceeded to ham it up for the camera. She was tagged, however she didn’t sit still quite long enough for us to get the information off of her band.

We are making headway, although not much, toward our goal sampling zone. From the amount of debris we are bringing on board, it seems as though we are in the thick of the plastic soup at the moment. Every survey over the water surface unveils the presence of some sort of debris-small fragment or otherwise. At this point we have logged over 110 larger pieces of debris, and have yet to bring in one Manta trawl that was free of plastic. The past several trawls have been especially disturbing, blanketed with a layer of floating plastic particles.

From the thick of it,

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day 27

Noon Position: 33°33'18.00"N 167° 1'40.80"W

July, 6th 2009
We gained some vessel groupies today, 2 to 3 Black-Footed Albatross and a Laysan Albatross who dropped by a few times. They’ve been swooping and gliding around the Alguita all day, teasing Drew by flying out of sight we he decided to bring his camera out on deck. The “Albies”, as we’ve taken to calling them, were still around as the sun was setting this evening. You can see the wing of the albatross barely skimming the water in the photo.

The seas are starting to get a little rougher, no more glassy, sea state 1 conditions. This makes it more difficult to spot debris (swells and whitecaps get in the way) but way more interesting to maneuver around the boat. It’s almost like a dance-trying to stay balanced while getting from place to place.

It’s been raining on and off today as we’ve passed in and out of squalls. It’s the first day we’ve seen in quite a while without constant sunshine. We are 596 miles from our sample area and should reach it by the 10th, giving us plenty of time to sample before we need to return to Honolulu.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Day 25 and 26

Noon Coordinates (Day 26) 32°43'40.80"N 165°12'7.20"W
We are back in Vallela territory again. As we headed further south on part 1 of the trip, we stopped seeing the little guys blanketing the ocean surface. We saw a pod of common dolphins yesterday, playfully swimming off the port bow of the the Alguita. The sun was just beginning to set, which created quite the picturesque moment. The moon is pretty close to full now and we've taken to watching the path of luminescence it creates on the calm ocean surface. We are roughly 650miles from our destination of 35n and 180W, and cruising along at a speed of 7knots. The southerly winds finally found us!


Now let's talk trash. The weekend was jam-packed with chasing down and wrangling debris and dissecting fish, constantly reminding us of the burden mankind has put on this vast and precious ecosystem. Here is Drew's description of the plastic debris we have been encountering:

"There was one 5 minute section where we found 4 plastic fishing floats along with numerous plastic bottles, rope and fragments. All in all today we scooped up 12 plastic floats and about 2 dozen other odd pieces of plastic debris. I can’t even begin to count how many pieces we did see but were too small for the pole nets and or too far out of reach off the boat. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t pick up all the trash we see…it is impossible!

Our manta trawls today were the highest plastic concentration we have seen yet on this trip…and in my case the heaviest I have ever seen and we are still way outside of the center of the trash vortex. The pictures are from 2 ea. 2 hour trawls covering 1 meter wide by 6 miles long. The white, green, red, and light blue are plastic bits. The dark blue is jellies and the brown is assorted plankton organisms."

Captain Moore's account of the plastic debris observed:

"On Independence Day alone, we recorded 34 large objects netted, including a dozen fishing floats, a hairbrush, a Japanese survey stake (definitely not from a ship), and a PET bottle of Mitsoya Cider. That does not include the many smaller bits we scooped up and didn’t record in our “collected debris log.” I can imagine young people on voyages in the not so distant past, when the ocean was teeming with life, excitedly netting up fish and other sea creatures in abundance. I see the same excitement in my young volunteer crew shouting and netting up debris in an ocean teeming with trash. Of course, our longest handled net can only reach out about ten feet from the boat, so we see many, many more pieces floating by than we can collect. In fact, Nicole did a stopwatch survey from the starboard bow and counted 217 pieces of plastic in 20 minutes or a little more than 10 pieces per minute. We are well and truly in the Subtropical Convergence Zone, as described by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, a band several hundred kilometers in width centered around 30 degrees north latitude, and stretching from far offshore California to far offshore Japan. One of our goals is to see how levels of plastic pollution fluctuate within this area.

We have another species to add to our list of fish that have ingested plastic particles. I netted up a fishing float with a long tail of rope heavy with barnacles and a 9” Chub (nenue in Hawaiian) came up with the float. Chubs, genus Kyphosidae, have extremely long digestive tracts and “use bacterial fermentation to extract maximum nutrition from their diet of seaweed.” (Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, by Hoover.) Christiana was surprised to find on dissection, pelagic crabs in the stomach. In addition, she found two small plastic fragments along with the real food.

Drew spotted the first glass fishing float of the trip and we were able to grab it for his collection. He got a similar large green glass float on the 2002 gyre voyage." (See picture to the left of Jeff with the glass float)"

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Day 24

Noon Position: 29°19'12.00"N 162° 3'25.20"W

We are heading north in search of winds, without much luck still. The nice thing about heading north-each day the sun seems to set a little later. Who can complain about more daylight?
This morning we deployed the 11th Manta trawl of the trip. This sample contained far more plastic than any of the past 10. We are deploying another trawl this evening in order to capture the mesopelagic fish which feed on the surface at night. We also are discussing doing early morning trawls (around 4 am or so) in order to catch these fish after they had fed. This may yield a more accurate plastic ingestion count, since we might be able catch the fish before they pass any plastic they ingested. In addition it would be interesting to see if there is a difference in the quantity of plastic pulled up after marine organisms have been feeding throughout the night.

The afternoon was spent watching for debris off the foredeck. Along with several fragments of plastic, we found a large polystyrene buoy, under which a school of Mahi Mahi had taken residence. After disturbing the shelter of the fish, they scattered frantically-right into one of the lines we had trailing behind the boat. Christiana worked up the fish and found a possible plastic particle in its stomach which has been preserved for on shore lab analysis. She also noticed that this female had completely hydrated gonads. This means she was ready to spawn, but the odd thing is that Mahi typically spawn in the springtime. She was the 11th Mahi we have caught so far (and we have still only pulled in one male!) She was also heaviest and the longest.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Day 23 Attack of the Ghost Net!

Noon position: 26°39'39.60"N 161°20'20.40"W

Before dawn this morning the vessel was attacked…by a ghost net. The force of the propeller rotating at 2400 revolutions per minute wound the net so tight around the drive shaft that it thrust the motor forward on its mounts one full inch and started a horrible grinding of metal on metal with the alternator hitting the belt guard. Lucky for us, Drew and the Captain got lights and knives and were able (after an hour or so of sawing) to cut off the intruding net and its now residing on deck with the rest of our collected debris.

Many vessels are not so lucky though. It has been estimated that 6.6 billion Yen/yr (almost 70 million US dollars) is spent on damages to Japanese fishing vessels under 1000 gross tons because of marine debris related incidents (Takehama,1990). In 2005 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that marine debris caused 269 boating accidents and $3 million in property damage.

We are now motoring along over the Pacific Seamounts, specifically Sibelius, Haydn, Ravel Seamounts which are named after famous musicians. We are relaxing, watching a gorgeous Pacific sunset and waiting for cornbread to come out of the oven.

All the best from the Captain and crew.


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).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day 21- Back at sea!

Noon Coordinates 21°49'15.60"N 157°48'21.60"W

It’s our first full day back at sea since our stop in Honolulu. It was refreshing to see what a great job Oahu is doing to phase out single use plastic items! The fuel dock at Ala Wai Harbor provides only “potato-ware” and paper bags in their convenience store. The crew made our way up to the North Shore and found several local places using compostable versions of ”disposable” utensils and cups and even sustainable to-go packaging. Many of the local business are part of a coalition of called Plastic Free Hale’wia and have vowed to keep one time use plastics out of their business practices. While compostable bags and utensils are a HUGE step in the right directions, in order get the full potential out of these alternatives they need to be composted. Eventually a commercial composting facility will need to be introduced on the island to handle a large scale switch to compostables. And on the flipside, many businesses feel it is pointless to carry compostables if there is no facility to take care of the breakdown process. It’s a bit of a catch-22, but thankfully the switch is moving along. What other alternatives can you think of to using disposable items like single-use cups, straws, forks, and water bottles?

We spent the day traveling north past Kuai and Ni’ihhau, making our way through the Kaulakahi Channel which runs between them. Our goal is still to make it out to the International Dateline, at about 28 or 29 degrees north, west of Kure Atoll to sample outside of the boundaries of Papahanaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

We deployed the manta trawl tonight test out the repairs and just completed two hour evening trawl-producing a plastic film fragment, numerous shapes and sizes of small hard plastic fragments, and several different species of fish (a total of 64 fish)! How many pieces of plastic can you count in the part of the sample in the picture below? (Click on the picture below to get an up-close view!!!)On another note, congratulations to Joel and SCUBADrew who will have the opportunity to return to present the results from this voyage to Kahuku High School on Oahu. In addition to sharing our research they will teach the students to monitor the beaches around Kahuku point for marine debris. Kahuku beaches are the most heavily plagued by marine debris wash-up on the island. We will look forward to hearing more about how this monitoring goes!

Aloha from the Captain and crew!