Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 23, and lots of answers to student questions!!!!

Noon Coordinates 35°12'19.92"N, 138°24'39.84"W
Day 23 Tuesday 9/29/09
I’ve had a lot of students asking what kind of fish or sea animals do we see - Turtles? Sharks? Dolphins? Manatees? I did get to see some dolphins while scuba diving in Hawaii and saw several sea turtles while exploring Kamilo Bay with Noni and Ron Sanford, but not since then. We swam while dolphin fish, otherwise known as Mahi Mahi, circled below down too deep to photograph. One night, we decided to flash lights over the ocean looking for Myctophids. When light hits them just right, their oversized eyes reflect a florescent red and they’re glowing photophor studded bodies make them look like fireflies of the sea. What we didn’t realize is our lights gave a school of Mahi Mahi the home court advantage and we found ourselves witnessing a feeding frenzy. The little five inch or so long Myctophids, twisted and contorted, zoomed and darted like kids playing dodge ball. I saw one jump over the head of a three foot Mahi Mahi. There were flashing fish and flashing flashlights going in all directions. Next thing we saw were squid getting into or getting out of the way of this dog eat dog world. Blotches of ink plumed the blue lit water.

Since we are on our way back to California with seas ranging from 5 to 7, cruising at 10 plus knots, weaving in and out of squalls, we haven’t had a chance to see much of anything. But today the sky turned blue, the captain put a line out, Bill threw the compost out and Jeff reeled in a Mahi Mahi (see picture above.) It was close to 30 inches long! Gwen examines the digestive tract for plastics and then Jeff took over. We’ll have it for lunch tomorrow. Good stuff!

To keep myself busy I decided to finish a project I started involving a poster using the inside of a shopping bag. We have a group of students from River Ridge High School, Florida who take part in AMRF’s Ship-to-Shore Educational Program that Holly Gray facilitates. Thanks Holly, you’ve recruited a great group of kids from all over the country and Canada!!! Well River Ridge High has a group of students known as the Reef Rascals soon to change there name to SPLASH (Students Protecting Land and Sea Habitats) who are getting some press and they asked for a photo from the gang out here. This was a little dicey since we all needed to be in it and with the boat bounces around so much self portraits are tough. We decided to use my video camera. So we all got in position in front of the camera and then just stared at it like “now what.” Without a “cheese” or “smile” or someone to say “Ready?” it left us all hanging until the captain, being the director of operations, began to sing M.I.C. K.E.Y. M.O.U.S.E. This was the most coherent picture I could extract from the footage. Great footage though.
ANSWERS TO STUDENT QUESTIONS
Q: Hay I am from river rige high school. I was just trying 2 figer out how the plastic has changed its figer from the last time you went out.Were do you do all of your testing is it on the boat our do u wait till u get 2 shower 2 do the testing. i am so happy that some one is trying 2 do some thing about it because if u did not do it how would. you guys put a smile one my face every time you all figer some thing new about the plastic.

A: Hay, hey! Good question! Gwen and the Captain were the only two who saw the results from the 1999 voyage that could comment on the comparison. They both agree that all the survey results they’ve done in the past including the 1999 voyage have been surpassed by this years trawling. We will have to take the samples back to the lab to accurately depict just how much more. You put a smile on our faces knowing that you are as much a part of solution as we are. Best,
Bonnie

Q: Hey! I'm Hannah from River Ridge High School and i'm a junior. I wanted to know, from all of you, what the mot memorable discovery was, and the most memorable part of your expedition. anything you didn't know going in that you know now? thanks!

A: Our most memorable discovery was how many big things there have been out in the ocean. Not only were the pieces that we found in our trawl much bigger this time around in the Garbage Patch, but also, the really big stuff that if our boat ran into them it could have potentially sunk our ship. For example, the big item on the pallet, a log 2’ by 10’, and a 6’ basin. Another huge problem we have had is with ropes, fishing line and ghost nets that have fowled up in our propeller and could have ruined damaged our engines. So plastic pollution can cause serious problems for marine vessels and proven to do so to the ORV Alguita.

Q:have you seen any sharks yet? A: No sharks, but if we do, we’ll be sure to get pictures!

Q: Hola, this is Dan, Garrett, Matt, Tyler, and Landan, better known as the SHARKS. We're from River Ridge High School. We were wondering what was your motive behind embarking on this journey to learn about the pollution in the oceans? When did you guys realize your love for marine life?

A:Sharks!!! I had some elementary students ask me if we’ve seen any sharks, I can at least tell them that I heard from a few! I think I can best answer this by answering the second part first. I never knew I cared so much for marine life until I read the magazine article in “Plastic Ocean” by Susan Casey in Best Life magazine. In it she describes interviewed Captain Moore and explained how sea mammals, birds, and turtles were getting entangled and ingesting our trash. She described “May West” the snapping turtle that is deformed by a plastic band (you can search for more info on the internet.) I was so saddened by the fact that our trash was maiming and killing the smallest birds to the largest mammals that I felt I had to do something. It inspired me to contact Algalita and for a year I hoped I would get to go to sea on the ORV Alguita. Just goes to show you if you put your passion first, anything can happen. Swim on Sharks! Bonnie

Q: Hi i am Claudia from River Ridge High School. My question to you guys
is, can you guys tell where the plastic comes from? is it only from
local waters or do you find plastic from across the globe?

A: Claudia, Now there is a question I can say I answer with certainty. Once plastic get in the water they are free to roam anywhere. (unlike cell phones minutes) Not often (because labels wash off) there would be something on them that we could tell where it was from. And even though we found labels written in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean it doesn’t mean it wasn’t from the US. Overall, most of the plastics are broken down into small fragments and are unidentifiable. Best, Bonnie

Q: Hey guys, its corinne and casie from river ridge high school and we just wanted to know if you guys had an thoughts on why there are less barnicles on large trash items now then there was ten years ago? also why it seems algae is replacing the barnicles in number?

A: Hi Corinne and Casie, We still don’t have a definitive answer to this question. We are hoping a marine biologist would email us the answer. I’ll let you know if I hear anything. Best, Bonnie

Q: Hi, I'm Christina from River Ridge High School in Florida. I was wondering why you think the barnacles attach themselves to the buoys. I also was wondering why you think there is such a difference from the trip in 1999 and the trip you are on now. :)

A: Hey there Christina, Barnacles attach to any solid surface that they come in contact with. For example, in marinas it is the bottom of boats and that is why we have special paint to try to minimize them attaching and slowing down the boat. As for buoys, it is just another surface. In this case they also are floating through new water all the time and thus the barnacles can get the nutrients they need to grow. We are still waiting on an answer as to why there seems to be less barnacles this time through the Garbage Patch. We’ll blog once we get an answer. Stay tuned. Bill

Q:This is Meghan a senior from River Ridge High School. I was wondering what fish you mostly encounter and what kind is your favorite to eat? Also what are you guys looking forward to most after you finish the voyage? September 29,2009.

A: Meghan, We put our fishing lines out almost everyday, but the only kind of fish we catch is Mahi Mahi. They taste good, but are so pretty . . .
I’m looking forward to wearing clean clothes. We washed our clothes once on the boat and it doesn’t seem as clean washing clothes by hand. On a more serious note, I look forward to presenting at workshops to share our findings to the general public. I will also be presenting my thesis for grad school on this topic in the spring. And last, but not least, seeing my grown children. Best, Bonnie

Q:hey guys, its corinne and casie from river ridge high school and we just wanted to know if you guys had an thoughts on why there are less barnicles on large trash items now then there was ten years ago? also why it seems algae is replacing the barnicles in number?

A:Hi Corine and Casie, We really do not know what the answer(s) are to your questions, but when we do, we’ll be sure to blog the answers! Best, Bonnie

Q: wow you guys are working hard, though you are encountering some troubles, you get done what is needed to get done. Im wondering how is it being away from home? And do you take any of the items to keep for yourself? ....Keep on keepin on. -Hannah H. RRHS-

A: Hi Hannah, Captain Moore is so kind, he let’s us take what we find. So I’ll be bringing home the toilet seat! (although he teases me that we have joint custody of it!)
We appreciate your asking about being away from home and I’d be glad to start. For me, having two children in their mid-twenties, it’s probably good for them that I’m away so I’m not coaching them all the time. All kidding aside, with only six crew members, we’re so busy there is little time to think about home. But this voyage has rekindled my sense of wonder and I’m trying to absorb the knowledge that Captain Moore, Dr. Cooper and Jeff Ernest so willingly share. I am a grad student in the Liberal Studies Program at UNC Wilmington and being a part of AMRF’s research is part of my final project. This has been a hands-on learning experience of a lifetime and one that I will never be able to recreate so I am enjoying every learning second of it.
Being away from home is different for each one of us. For myself, Bill Cooper, with a PhD in oceanography, I spent over the course of my studies 6 months at sea doing field work. The longest cruise I was on was 3 weeks and one gets use to extended periods of time away, particularly when you are conducting experiments around the clock like we are doing on this cruise. We are too busy to even think about home. Capt Moore says he feels the same way. He never tires of the sea, but when he gets close to home, he’s ready to return to his comforts and organic exotic garden. Lindsey Hoshaw misses her email, Twitter and corresponding with her bloggers. I also misses the smell of the desert, she is from Tucson AZ. Jeff misses his dog.

Q:I was wondering if your ship is almost full, and if so how are you going to store all these things when you just got to the Pacific Garbage Patch. Also, did you find anything that was from around the world? Zach and Richard New Port Richey, FL River Ridge High School 11th grade

A: Zach and Richard, You cannot believe the amount of trash we have on board. Hundreds of lbs of trash!!! But we have compartments as well as places on the deck to tie it all down. Some of it will go toward education, some will go to recycling.

Q: I was also wondering if you are going to test these materials/items you found when you get back or are you already experimenting on them? Zach River Ridge High School New Port Richey, FL

A: Hi, I’m Gwen Lattin a marine biologist on board the vessel. The debris we have collected will be mostly for outreach and education so people can see the material for themselves. We have also collected manta samples and samples of fish that have been associated with the debris. They will be analyzed once we return to the mainland. We will count and weigh the plastic particulates, then quantify it by calculating the number of pieces and weight of the plastic per square meter in the surface water and the number of pieces and weight of plastic per cubic meter for estimating the amount in the near surface water column. The fish will be analyzed for contaminants, mainly persistent organic pollutants (POPs). All analysis will take several months.


Ms. Rivenbark (in North Carolina),
I’m so happy to here from you. Hi students, thanks for your awesome questions. I’m having fun answering them. I will have a picture in the blog just for your class. It’s called a dolphin fish and it is the biggest sea animal we’ve seen out here.

Have you seen any sharks? We have not seen any sharks, but I would like to see one. In the Garbage Patch, there are not a lot of fish because it is not a good environment for them to feed on. But if I do, I’ll let the class know!
Have you seen any seals? We have not seen any seals. They are found on island areas and do not go far from land. I will be going to port in California and I might see one there. I’ll let the class know if I see one (and get a picture!)
How are you doing on the ship? We are doing great on the ship. We have a lot of food and the captain likes to cook so tonight we are having enchiladas! The boat bumps around a lot so we look funny when we walk. And at night, we can hear the water swishing around under our beds. It’s a lot of fun.
How do manatees live? Good question, but no manatees in this part of the world. They like to live where there is a lot of marsh and there isn’t any in the open ocean. I sure do like them, they look really nice.
How much trash have you seen? We have seen a lot of trash. We have seen more trash than we could pull out of the ocean. We have tried taking as much as we can and right now have close to 400 pounds worth.
Have you seen any turtles? I did see a lot of sea turtles when I was in Hawaii. Here is a picture of a baby one swimming in broken pieces of plastic. We took it out and put it in a cleaner part of the ocean so it wouldn’t try to eat it. Isn’t it cutes?
Have you seen any dolphins jump out of the water? Yes, we’ve seen dolphins jump out of the water when I was scuba diving they were only a few feet away. They were too fast to get there picture. If we see them again, we’ll send you a picture!!
How cold is the water there? The ocean water is in the low 70s. It is so much fun getting to the water that we don’t even think about being cold. When I get in, the water is so clear, I can look down and see my feet dangling in the pretty blue water below. This ocean never gets as warm as the Atlantic Ocean. (We want to compare the temp to our ocean water.)

Keep the questions rolling.
Bonnie, Lindsey, Bill, Jeff, Gwen and the captain

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 22

Noon Position 30° 0'31.50"N, 140° 6'2.46"W

Day 22 Monday 9/28/09
In the darkness of the morning, we completed our last trawl of the re-sampling surveys. Yet another large item caught in our trawl, a rope 16 cm long accompanied a large quantity of plastic particulates. There isn’t any fishing going n out here due to its oligotrophic state and yet we find fishing gear daily. A notable difference in the trawls of 2009 compared to trawls of 1999 is the number of large items caught in the manta trawl.

We pulled the manta in at 0500 and let the sails out at 0800 after battening down the hatches, securing our collected items from the sea, removing bathing suits from the line, and repositioning the last of our fresh fruits and vegetables. The sky was blue long enough for the genoa and main sails to bloat with fall cool air and pull us down a few miles toward home and into a perpetual squall. When we started we were 1035 nm away from Long Beach, California, but because of the 30 knot winds we’re making good time traveling 120 nm by 2000 on free fuel.

This is the first day that I have spent the entire time inside. The bad part was not being able to survey the ocean from the deck and collect plastic items. Yesterday the captain pulled in a crate that looked like it a grocery store bread crate. A perfect example of how we are finding things in one piece out here more than other areas of the Pacific we have surveyed. With the sea state pushing seven, water fanning over the bow as we careened 10 foot slopes, it was too dangerous. Sitting on the back deck had its own host of hazards. Water would sometimes hit us from behind and lap over the sides of the ship. Lindsey was sitting out on the aft with Jeff when we heard her let out a little yelp. A wave so powerful rocked the ship hard, knocking her off her seat. So they moved back into the galley where we sat all together sharing stories and sipped tea. It’s the first time since the voyage started that we have had little to do but to hang out.

The ship has its’ own way of communicating. It lets out blasts of noises from underneath with whining lines and jerking booms on top. I mentioned how I like to listen to sounds and name them. The captain laughed when I called one “the office” - it sounds like a slamming file cabinet drawer. Then there are the “after burner” noise that rocket out of the back. Like an oversize wave squished between the two pontoons, when it reaches the back of the ship it explodes its way free. There is also the “rollercoaster” noise that sounds like the chain pulling cars up a huge incline. The captain had one too, he calls the Mike Tyson punch. They’re all going off right now as we fishtail around across the other side of the Garbage Patch heading east via the north east tradewinds. More later, Bonnie

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 21

Noon Position 30° 0'31.50"N, 140° 6'2.46"W
Day 21 Sunday 9/27/09
Is this yours? I spied this from the galley window as it slid down a nine foot wave that dwarfed the size of this package. If you look closely, you can see it is strapped to a pallet which gives you an idea just how big it is. I’ve become keenly aware of debris floating after my 10 games of “How Long Can I Go without Seeing Plastic?” I had been outside most of the daylight hours even though a series of squalls kept me dodging for cover. One in particular, I watched as the silver veil of rain drew an exaggerated stiff line just after the horizon and then marched like locusts looming toward a cornfield (not that I’ve ever seen what that looks like.) I stood there for a good seven minutes watching it close in until I felt it on my face. Squalls rolled in and out throughout the day, but I was determined to stay out there in the cool damp air so that I could report my unscientific yet revealing results. I became so hyper-aware of the stuff that didn’t belong in the ocean that I couldn’t pass a window without looking out and shouting. “I see something!”

The 20 minute games took two people to play - one as an extra set of eyes to confirm the sightings and one to write down the time, dimensions, and color. We did not count anything we saw under an inch in size. After reviewing all 10 games, the longest we went without seeing a piece of plastic was . . . . . .7 minutes and 20 seconds. The average number of plastic pieces per 20 minutes was 15.9 pieces. The smallest pieces we saw were bottle caps (of which we saw a lot of and according to Big Sweep, bottle caps are the # 2 item found on the beach outside of cigarette butts.) The largest was a six foot trough with a rim like an old bathtub. One of the unique items was a blue man shaped bottle. Sorry Perry, it would have been a good one for you, but we couldn’t take anything out of the ocean because we were trawling.

Our trawls have been coming in with Texas-sized plastic fragments. Twice just today, we had to feed items back through the trawl because they were too big to fit through the codend. The captain said it was a rare occurrence to have large items end up in the trawls in previous years, it would happen, but very rarely. It has happened 9 out of the 11 trawls we’ve done for the re-sampling in the North Pacific Gyre. Items like a detergent bottle, a banana float, a handle and part of the top to a five gallon bucket, a good portion of a broken buoy, an Oral-B toothbrush, oyster spacers, and an umbrella handle just to name a few.

We have our 12th trawl tonight at 0130 and that will complete our 10 year anniversary re-sampling of the North Pacific Garbage Patch. We’ve had unusually rough seas throughout our sampling. The high pressure system that helps facilitate the accumulation has not been able to ward off the storms that have continued to hang around. The sea state has waned between four and six. These conditions usually don’t provide the best representation due to the fact that rough seas submerge many of the plastics. Yet, the captain and Gwen feel the quantities we are getting will surpass the samples of 1999. More later, Bonnie

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 20- Oh Buoy!

Noon Position 33°29'47.58"N, 141° 0'2.58"W

Day 20 Saturday 9/26/09

Oh Buoy! A day doesn’t go by that we don’t see several plastic buoys and rope roll past the ship. Today was no exception. But a morning reflection about the 1999 voyage got the captain talking about his general observation of not only the mere number of buoys we are seeing since his 1999 voyage, but the changes he’s observed this time more so than any of the previous voyages. The change has been in the number of barnacles he is NOT seeing on the buoys and the amount of algae that is on them instead. The number in buoy count doesn’t surprise us. With the amount of fishing competing in our deep waters, commercial vessels that are floating factories able to go to far reaches of the ocean bringing with them fishing gear that local fisheries can’t afford to lose. What he doesn’t know the answer to is where are the barnacles going?

To further his point, the captain sat us down and showed us slide after slide of fouled buoys with strands of barnacles like this one that are several feet long. We haven’t found anything even close to the examples he showed us - a time lapse up until the winter of 2008. And it wasn’t just the buoys, bottles too! We haven’t found one fouled bottle with barnacles and we have a repository of bottles. Is it a natural occurrence that their abundance reduces during certain seasons? Are they knocked off in rough seas? We’re a curious bunch way out here 1050 miles from Google and we’d like to use one of our life lines and phone a friend. Anyone?

Day two of our re-sampling brought in a collectors item. The captain has been collecting umbrella handles over the past 2 or 3 years. His collection has grown to a whopping 50 +. All of them have come from various beaches, but most of them have come from Kamilo Bay, Hawaii. Today was a first. While emptying the codend of the manta trawl at 0400, out plopped an odd shaped, dark brown umbrella handle, along with half of a flex-handle tooth brush, two bottle caps, and two oyster spacers. The captain is confident the tooth brush and umbrella are from land-based sources because it’s futile to bring an umbrella out at sea and there are too many uses for a toothbrush on a boat. The other interesting finds with these trawls is that there have been a higher concentration of identifiable objects as well as items too big to put in our sample jars. That is not to say that there aren’t a lot of plastic particulates and loads of them. Other odd finds today were a children’s toy cup (olive green/Tupperware?), Popsicle stick, and a travel size detergent bottle.

I have a new game, it’s called, “How long can I go without seeing plastic” I’ll share with you more about it tomorrow. My goal is to have played it 10 times before I reveal my average.

More later.

Bonnie

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day 19

Noon Position 34°45'35.10"N, 142° 2'49.56"W

Day 19 Friday September 25, 2009
Today we reached our destination into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and began our 10 year anniversary sampling. The day started with a sea state of two/three which was doable for sampling. At 1155 the captain came over the loadspeaker announcing this monumental event and then had us hustle to the stern. Under gray skies and comfortable seas, the manta trawls went into the water at 1205 for an one hour and five minute swim.

Shortly after the manta launch, Gwen noticed a Japanese glass float drifting by. It was a gorgeous emerald green (not a color one sees a lot of out here, not even in plastic.) It looked to be about the size of a volleyball. These are a rare find and worth chasing after. Within minutes Jeff and Lindsey were heading off in the dinghy to find it with a hand held radio and GPS in hand. Within minutes they were completely out of sight and with every minute the sea state started to turn advancing to a sea state of four and looked like a giant washing machine on the "heavily soiled" wash cycle. It was a long 25 minutes before we could see them in the distance bouncing toward us. The emerald glass buoy lost its luster as the minutes passed. So when they returned without it, no one seemed to care.

The ocean has not calmed down since early afternoon and has progressed to a sea state of five. With 6-8 foot swells, 19 knot winds combined with the ship going at 6.5 knots, it’s much like driving fast down a hilly road. Sometimes the car catches some air and you can feel it in your stomach. My stomach has been flying around all day - one perpetual rollercoaster. Sometimes when we bounce low, water washes over the bow, up over my bed’s porthole window, rips passed the hatch and then back down again. It’s such a trip bouncing around in this capsule as the ocean does its thing out there.

Jeff’s dad has emailed a list of questions and I decided to incorporate them since there might be a few others who have similar questions. Now these are some questions in need of some answers.

1. Will you begin surveying Friday 9/25/09? Yes, we started at 1205 today at the coordinates set from the 1999 survey. The sea state was about a two at the time, but has jumped up to a five due to some squalls that seem to be following us.

2. How many days will you need to complete the survey? We are looking at four days to complete the 12 stations, but it is weather dependent. The forecast does look in our favor after today.

3. Are the winds still giving you free power or are you motor sailing? It’s been very patchy with the wind. We sailed three nights ago, but took them down in the morning. Charlie and I put up the Stay Sail yesterday at 0500, then put up the main at 0900 and then took them down in the late afternoon. With the tight survey schedule, we’ve been motoring at about 6.5 knots which is eating up some fuel. We did get to sail for a few hours while we trawled our first repeat sample survey though! But to truly answer your question, most of our sailing has been accompanied with a motor. Except for Tuesday night it was beautiful to sail through the silence of the night.

4. Your position report said you were back down to 33 degrees north. Is that a typo or did you swing south? Yes, we did some jockeying around trying to hit some algal bloom patches that Dave Foley had asked us to try to survey.

5. The January 2008 crossing from Hawaii was a little dicey regarding fuel consumption. How are you doing with your fuel consumption? Our fuel situation is still looking good, but being in the dull drums and having to hit locations at certain times may have us riding home on fumes.

6. I am getting the impression that the ORV Alguita is finding more trash with every mile over previous voyages. Is this the case? Today, I videoed the captain as he gave us his impression of this voyage, and he said this is nothing like what he witnessed in 1999, it is far worse. For one reason, every time we stop for a swim (and one time while we were in transit) our props and/or the ruder are fouled with derelict fishing/boating gear. Just this morning, the captain went under the boat after we retrieved a 3’x18”buoy, and found both props had rope around them. This was the second day in a row! Also, Jeff had to go under the boat two nights ago because the engine died and it was because of a huge ghost net. The captain fears that this area is becoming a navigational nightmare. Here’s another example, every time we put our fishing polls out, if they are out for more than an hour, one of them brings in a wad of rope. Another thing that is really concerning the captain is the quantity of stuff we are seeing float by. The trawls have been heavy with plastic, but to truly determine if it is more, we have to get the samples back to the lab.

7. Do you see evidence that the plastic pollution has increased in density on a per day at sea basis? I asked your son this question and he felt that the plastics are so patchy, it is difficult to say. I asked the same question to the captain and since he has been looking at this for 10 years, he felt that over the past 10 years this is the worst he’s seen it. Thanks Chief, keep’em coming.
More later.
Bonnie

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 18

Noon Position 31°54'51.46"N, 144°31'35.82"W

Day 18 Wednesday 9/24/09

I got “schooled” on anemones today. As sad as it may sound, I knew nothing of them other than what I saw in the animation “Finding Nemo.” With my childlike preoccupation, Jeff had to ask, “Haven’t you ever been in a tide pool before?” And then urged I go spend some time in one. You may wonder how the topic of anemones came up while out in the deep ocean, 100s, if not a 1000, miles from any tide pools or reef lines where anemones live. It has to do with yet another game I made up while trying to quantify or if nothing else, wrap my head around all this plastic I see daily floating by in all different shapes and sizes. Since the sea state was a two, it was good enough to get out on the bow and start hunting for plastics.

I made a hand drawn spreadsheet with categories of: color, item description, and then a series of columns for size increments i.e. 0-1 cm, 2-10 cm, and so forth. We started exactly at 1400 and intended to go for 30 minutes. Bill shouted out what he saw; I would write it down. Occasionally, he would try to pull them out. To keep it simple, we only counted and collected from the starboard side. If it were a competition between the white fragments and any other color/size, white fragments 0-1 cm would win hands down. With only nine minutes to go the captain pointed to a white piece roughly 3x5 inches small. Bill scooped it out of the water and when I pulled it out of the net, the white piece of plastic was covered with anemones which were covered with plastic. The captain was equally taken aback. An array of plastic particulates stuck to the anemones with a duck tape grip on the front and back of the plastic piece. Here we were with a total of 98 pieces that we counted in 26 minutes and this one piece of plastic looked to have an equal amount. So after a photo shoot, I started counting the number of pieces on each clumped mat of anemones. There were 14 clumps with a total of 131 pieces of plastic particulates attached to them, all clinging to a larger piece of plastic - 132!

Jeff told me that these critters cover themselves with rocks and shells to protect their soft jelly tissue against predators or from being scrubbed against rocky surfaces near shore. I found a book that described yet another detail, it said, “To prevent the fatal loss of water from body tissues during low tide, they [anemones] retract their tentacles and cover themselves with light-colored rocks and shells that tend to reflect, rather than absorb heat. Studies have shown that anemones have trouble maintaining fluids above 55 F. Gwen explained that the anemones use nematocysts as a way of attaching plastic to themselves and also added that they could be trying to feed on it, as well. So it was plastic that swept them out to sea and it was plastic in the ocean environment they found to cover themselves with.

Speaking of feeding, the captain treated us to yet another fanciful meal - a Chinese dish of Sweet and Sour Mahi Mahi - a 30” Mahi Mahi he and Bill wrestled in at 0900 this morning. Just in time before the seas jumped to a three and rock and rolled us until noon. The sails have been going up and down the past two days, but with less than 60 miles to the Garbage Patch, we’ll try anything to get there before our first scheduled 10 year anniversary trawl tomorrow at 1600.

More Later,
Bonnie

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

ANSWERS TO STUDENT QUESTIONS
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 <http://www.theplasticocean.blogspot.com> 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 www.Algalita.org <http://www.Algalita.org>.
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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 16




Noon Position 33 41.703N 149 36.926W

Day 16 Tuesday 9/22/09

Today is yet another travel day. It’s hard to believe that the latitudinal line we started from stretched across the Pacific and slid beneath the Baja Peninsula, nearly 1000 miles down from the US/Mexican border. The ocean temperature had been in the high seventies/low eighties, the air hot and slightly breezy. Over the past 1,440 nautical miles we’ve felt the hot air fade away as the winds picked up and the water cooled. Most of us are wearing long sleeves and pants. Jeff sports a cap when it gets below 80.o I’ll be breaking mine out that Danielle Andre made for me just before the cruise. Thanks Danielle, I’m going to need it! After we leave the Garbage Patch it’s going to be much cooler as we head back to Long Beach, California.

We have 414 more nautical miles to go to begin our sampling in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We should be there in two days allowing us to start sampling on Friday September 26th. We will be re-sampling the precise locations AMRF sampled 10 years ago that led to Captain Moore’s first publication on plastic pollution. The sampling will take three solid days or more depending on conditions. The captain explained that it should be warmer in the Garbage Patch as the winds will die down along with the sea state due to this area typically being monopolized by a high pressure system. We look forward to getting back in the water to video and take some stills underwater as well as what we find on the surface.

In the meantime, the captain continues to entertain us with crazy awesome connoisseur concoctions. We had homemade limeade with lunch and since he was cleaning out the fridge, he decided to make smoothies out of random fruits on the verge of going to the dark-side. He added some soymilk for good measure and BAM, it shamed Smoothie King. Tonight he’s preparing Chicken Mole which I guess is chicken with a chocolate sauce along with a side of sweet candied squash dusted with cinnamon. I never had it, but he hasn’t let me down yet!

Since we are catching some perfect winds at 16 knots over a sea state of four, we don’t have the ability to maneuver to pick up plastics that float by so we’ve been counting. Just in buoys today alone, Jeff has seen a dozen and Gwen five. As I was asking her how many she counted she looked over my shoulder and said, “There’s one now!” And sure enough, there was a black one floating by our ship. I’m a neophyte yet and have only counted seven floating by in two days. Bill, the captain, and Lindsey say they lost count. On board, we’ve collected 17 so far. We could make our own totem pole of buoys with the number we have seen. Not that these are the only things we see out here, 100s of random things float by daily and that is just what we see.

“Corners,” I said in a trance-like state as I stared at the white corner of a crate or something similar that floated by. We see a lot of corners of objects. We guess it’s because corners are likely to be sturdier than the other parts. The captain pulled one out yesterday and entered on our data sheet along with many others that we’ve collected. Two days ago, I had a huge piece with two corners intact making a “U” shape. We were traveling at about five knots so when it came rapidly floating toward me, I squared myself to the bow. I concentrated on my timing watching it as it decided to float on the starboard side. It was coming around the pontoon when I made my move. Half of it went into the net, the other have wrapped around the pontoon - clung to it like a child around its mother’s leg. It was ridiculous. I had the net on one end of it, but was afraid to pull for fear it would go down the other side of the pontoon. I yelled to Bill who was filming at the time to come help. Just as he got there, it let go. I clawed at it as it floated past me and on it went. I hung my head. “Don’t worry,” Bill said, “there’ll be plenty more opportunities.”

More later.
Bonnie

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 15

Noon Position 33°37'42.84"N, 152°28'43.80"W

Day 15 Monday 9/21/09
At the stroke of midnight last night, Lindsey was finishing up her 2200 to 2400 watch when all halyard broke loose. Actually, it was the spinnaker. Lindsey ran to Jeff’s berth, but he was already on it. He knew what it was just by the sound. “The sail tore!” The three of us in the other cabin were aroused by the commotion and the captain confirmed the urgency by chiming a bell. While Gwen took the helm, we all clambered in different directions grabbing clothes and slipping on life jackets then pressed on into the cool night air. The wind howled just like in the movies. The captain, Bill and I worked the lines down from the winch table on the aft while Lindsey and Jeff finished pulling the remains of the spinnaker on to the bow. The captain, Bill and I worked our way to the bow to find Lindsey and Jeff sitting on the spinnaker so it wouldn’t take off into the 30 knot winds. While Bill collected the lines from around the sides of the ship, I unlatched the head of the sail and secured the spinnaker halyard. I then took Jeff’s place so he could finish bringing in the lines. The boat rocked over large swells and dipped into cavernous water trenches. Water slammed from all directions in a confused state as the spinnaker laid wounded on the bow The beautiful and enormous sail that has carried us 300 miles just on the last run, blew out on one side and tore a 30’ hole down one side. We all worked in tandem to get the Main and the Stay Sails up and by 1 a.m. the drama was over.

We’ve average 8.5 knots since changing the sails. Alguita climbs over and rips through some 10’ plus swells without hesitation. The ocean sounds angry beneath us as if challenging the unfettered stability of this catamaran. The bumping and banging take turns every few seconds, some sounding like a Giant trying to fist holes in the bottom. Most the time we can block out the sounds, but the punchy ones usually get this novice sailor’s attention.
Inside the ship everything expresses itself. The dishes clank, the spices rattle, hanging towels pendulum, while the water bangs below. Even the sink has something to say, it gurgles and sometimes geysers. Lindsey laughed straight out loud the first time she saw it. A foot and a half geyser shot straight up out of the drain then straight back down. I didn’t dare tell her how I found out it did that. I discovered this unique phenomenon while standing over the sink. Later the captain said it was mostly sea water since the drain connects directly to the sea. It made me feel a little better than thinking last nights dishwater ended up on my face.

Traveling this fast via wind has such a different sensation. It’s like front wheel drive instead of rear wheel with the engines. The cat seems to flatten out over the water better. Even though we are traveling this fast, the squall that has been tailing us finally took the lead creating some fussy winds that forced us to add the genoa. Jeff, Lindsey and the captain managed to “get’er done,” while I videoed. Nice work crew!
More later.
Bonne

ANSWERS TO STUDENT QUESTIONS
Q:Clay F. Grade 9 East Hills 4H San Leandro, CA How is the Pacific Garbage Patch ever going to get cleaned up? Who will pay for it? Will it be a joint effort or a single country? What methods can be used to collect the plastic and not marine life?

A: Hello Clay, You pose some very good questions that don’t have easy answers. The first thing we HAVE to do is stop the flow of trash getting out here. Plastic pollution that makes its way out here is mostly from land-based sources such as litter and poor trash disposal. It’s like an overflowing tub because of a running faucet. You wouldn’t clean the water up before shutting the faucet would you? No, because you would just have to keep mopping. The same with the Garbage Patch. If we keep cleaning it, but we don’t stop the flow to it, we’ll have to keep “mopping” it up continuously. We need to all work together, all countries and every citizen needs to help stop the flow of plastic pollution by using less, reusing what we can and use non-plastic materials. Lastly, we all need to be proactive in picking up litter whether we did it or not. It’s the only way to prevent it from getting into our waterways and washed out to sea. We have to change our habits of using plastic and maybe you could be the one that figures out a way to do that. It’s going to take young inquisitive people like you to help solve this puzzle.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to pick out the plastic without harming marine life. Almost everything we hand-pick out of the ocean has marine organisms living in it, on it, or both. There are people working on technology to attempt to clean it up, but nothing has been implemented yet. Thanks for the questions. And keep in touch. Bonnie

Q: Hello, my name is Sean Peterson and I am currently attending Las Positas Community College in Alameda, Ca. First I would like to thank you for your research and the creation of this blog; I feel it can be used to help bring public attention to the plastics pollution problem we face. I was hoping you might be able to expand on the divergent-convergent wave forms and why plastics travels specifically in the convergent zones. I was suprised to learn that the plastic was not simply scattered but rather traveled in packs. Thank you again for your research!

A: Hi Sean, Thank you for contacting us with this question. Like many oceanic phenomena, it is not uncommon to find patchiness, that is, to find areas of higher concentration from place to place. Under calm or relatively calm conditions windrows are set up and these windrows can be areas of surface convergence which act to concentrate materials in the surface layer and in our case, plastics. On a recent cruise I took into the Sargasso Sea, the same phenomenon occurred with windrows of Sargassum. In some cases the Sargassum trapped the plastics and carried them into the windrow, but as we’re finding out here, the plastics float like Sargassum and form areas of higher concentration. As the seas get choppier, the plastics float by at a much more random rate. Best, Bonnie

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 14

Noon Position 33°37'5.94"N, 155°48'44.52"W

Day 14 Sunday 9/20/09

I finally got the rest of the story about the Explorer’s club flag. The Explorers Club started in 1905 and is a prestigious group to belong to with such members as Thor Heyerdahl, Don Walsh, and Sylvia Earl. In order to be a member you had to have two sponsors. Charlie was approached by Don Walsh to consider becoming a member when Charlie took a ship-of-opportunity with the Explorers Club cruise to Japan in 2004. Charlie went on the ship so that he could study the plastic accumulation in Japanese waters. While collecting data, Don Walsh, who was on the cruise, became very interested in what Charlie was doing and asked that he present his research to the Explorers Club members that were on the ship. Don Walsh offered to sponsor him and shortly after Sylvia Earl became the other sponsor. After filling out an application to carry their flag on his next expedition, Charlie received a letter stating he was selected. Charlie chose to carry Flag # 134 because of the unique history it had. This same flag in the picture was carried in 1948 in the 3rd Danish Central Asia Expedition, the 1987 Yangtze River Expedition by Joel S. Fogel, and the 1998 Illi Tiki Explorations Manteno Voyage by John Haslett. Other Explorers Club flags have gone on the Apollo 8 and Apollo 13 flights. It is an honor to have been selected to carry the flag and well deserved I might add. To learn more about the Explorers Club go to http://www.explorers.org/

Let's talk about the weather. I never knew that stars could be bright enough to cast a reflection across the ocean water given it was dark enough. I witnessed this around 3am Friday morning. With the moon cycle near complete, the stars reigned. At first I thought maybe it was an airplane headlamp coming straight toward our starboard side, but then I noticed another one on our port side. I couldn’t believe how low the stars hung and yet a few so bright as to leave a string of pearl lights caught on tips of waves that pointed to Alguita. That would not be the case Saturday nor this morning... Our five day run of sunshine and calm, windless weather ended yesterday morning. The clouds had worked they’re way across the tapestry of stars, making it a black, moonless early morn.

According to the captain, we have a low coming out from Siberia that is heading toward the Gulf of Alaska. We are sailing on the rim of this system which has produced some nice free energy. We’ve been averaging about 8 knots an hour since yesterday at 1000. We’ve traveled 260.7 shortly after I came on my 1600-1800 watch. As of 1630 today, we had another 708 miles to go to get to our first waypoint in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We are nestled between the low and the high convergence zone so we can see it raining off our port side, but we haven’t got but a few drops of rain. It’s such a great ride.

We were traveling twice as fast last night and with a sea state of five, we were catching some air. Well I was anyway. My berth is a top bunk (see picture), closest to the bow starboard side and when I laid down last night my head literally levitated off pillow. With my muscle relaxed, I feel my body moving around effortlessly to the rhythm of the ship. Not that I’m going to fall out of bed, but the motion is like being on a water bed with a couple of small children jumping on it. Along with the boat being pushed around by waves and wind, the speed bumps were more like car wrecks. I laid here wondering how this boat could take such repeated pounding. I might have been thinking about it too much last night.

Because we’re in transit, not a lot of collection going on. We’re moving too fast, not to mention we are several days behind schedule and will not be getting back until October 1 at the earliest. With the captain not tending to sampling, he’s been cooking up a storm. Last night we had oven roasted lamb with purple sweet potatoes, and to top it off we had cheese cake for dessert. Tonight, he put together an Indian dish, which included his own curry, rice, lentils and fried bananas. Bill called it ”Charlie’s spice bazaar in the middle of the Pacific.” With all the great food we’ve been enjoying, Lindsey is missing her running and before dinner she did laps around the boat - 23 of them!

More later.
Bonnie

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day 12

Noon Coordinates 32°14'12.18"N, 159°24'5.82"W
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.

More later.

Bonnie



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.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 11

Noon Coordinates 30°47'42.00"N, 158°41'3.12"W

Day 11 Thursday 9/17/09 The Visit

We had a little problem this morning while making freshwater out of saltwater and I was in the middle of it. It’s called desalinated water and I have to admit, you can’t tell. In fact, it’s good. The problem wasn’t the water, it was me. When Gwen left me on duty she told me we were making water and to keep an eye on it. We were trying to get both the port and the starboard tanks full before all 12 guests arrived. I checked it every 15 minutes. At about 0515 I knew they were full, but didn’t know exactly how to turn it off. I went down in the engine room and stared at all the controls, but nothing made any sense so I woke up the next person scheduled to be on watch. He told me not to worry about it and that the captain would be up to take care of it. My gut was saying go wake the captain, but my head was saying, let him sleep, he was up from 0200-0400. I should have listened to my gut. The tank overfilled. Not a way to start the morning. After getting the water situation under control, the captain went out on the dinghy looking for plastic accumulation areas. He was gone a long time and when he came back, he had a boat load full of stuff. There was barely room for him in to sit.

So back to the guests. The GreenLandOceanBlue film crew attempted to interview Captain Moore while out in the North Pacific Gyre today. Michael Prickett, the producer, scheduled the meeting to take place more than 550 miles off Hawaii’s shores via a Billabong owned seaplane. The captain changed into his uniform shortly after we got the call from the plane saying they were minutes away. I grabbed my waterproof camera jumped into the dinghy with Jeff and we rode off to find a good front row seat to film the seaplane coming in.

We could hear it before we could see it and then it busted through a small patch of clouds and headed right toward us. It’s a crazy moment being in the middle of the ocean on a little dinghy with a double prop seaplane heading right at you. The pilot zoomed over our heads then passed low in front of the ORV Alguita. The Surfrider, AMRF, and Pro Esteros flags that the Captain and Bill put out waved over the bow. The ship looked great from a distance especially since I hadn’t been off of it except to swim. Jeff carted me around like Miss Daisy as the plane tried to land in a few different places. But after one attempt that caused the seaplane to bounce three times across the water before it found air and speed to climb back up, they aborted the mission. The pilot came over the radio saying they were unable to land due to the confused nature of seas producing large swells with only five knot winds. The captain said he understood and saw the rough ride they had with the attempt to land. And the pilot came back, “You should have seen what it looked like from here. It could have ended badly.”

But all was not lost. The captain asked if the pilot he would check for any debris sightings. After making several laps around the area, the pilot came back on the radio to report they saw not one but two huge wind-rows of plastic debris. He started rattling off things they could recognize from above including a coat hanger. On his last lap around, the pilot preformed an air drop. The packaged contained something the captain had asked him to bring for a badly needed part for a generator- Thank you!

There is one more cool part of the story. It has to do with something in the first picture.

More tomorrow.

Bonnie

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 10

Noon Position 30°46'22.26"N, 158°51'4.26"W
Blog 10 Wednesday 9/16/09
Last night, we sent a picture of stuff Captain Moore pulled out of the ocean while riding around on the dinghy. The fish he caught in the picture were actually inside the plastic pollution while others were living on it. Here is what you can see in the picture (even though there were many more):

2 trigger fish
2 Hawaiian sergeants
2 different crabs
2 fire worms (polychaetes)
2 Goose neck barnacles (that you can see)
Pretty impressive catch I’d say!

Yesterday’s blog hinted toward a lull in action as we waited to hear if our guests were coming. It looks like it’s a go so here it is. We have a production company flying out to this location via a Billabong seaplane. We don’t know who the cast members are yet, but we do know some main players are Captain Moore and some plastic pollution. Mike Prickett is producing the film. They’ll be snorkeling and interviewing and we’ll all be talking trash as we run PowerPoints and share the mission of AMRF. We’re pretty stoked!

Even though ORV Alguita hasn’t done much but go around in circles for 48 plus hours, we are getting quite the well-rounded perspective on sea animal and human transportation. This morning on my watch, we had not one but two more ships pass by. One was only 3.5 miles away which is something like a near miss. No worries, the captain watched over things to insure we didn’t have some unexpected visitors. Three ships in less than 12 hours - pretty exciting considering we haven’t seen any marine vessels in eight days!

Speaking of marine vessels, here’s a fish with its own (see photo above.) Bill took me out on the dinghy so I could practice videotaping dinghy style for tomorrows big seaplane landing when we noticed a large plastic dish-looking object about 18” around. We drove over to it and found not only a trigger fish lying on its side in the dish, but also a Hawaiian sergeant. We aren’t sure if the fish were sunning or stuck. Compliments of ocean plastic, we aren’t the only ones with flotation devices.

We stopped seeing the red-footed boobies. They only travel so far North and for the past five nights we haven’t seen a hide nor feather of them. But interestingly enough, we have started to see black-footed albatross (photo above.) They are a magnificent bird that can fly a 1000 miles foraging for food and if the wind conditions are right, they only need to flap their wings a few times. Their nine foot wing span and unique wing design may have a lot to do with it. Check out this black-footed albatross as it gets a running start while launching itself through the air. Seaplanes and albatross - what fantastic opportunities we are getting to witness out here over 550 miles from land.

They aren’t the only things that can fly. Check out Lindsey getting ready to launch off of the mainsail beam to plunge 9 meters down and me showing her how its done. Good times.
More later.
Bonnie

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 9

Noon Position 30°43'58.02"N, 158°57'52.98"W
Blog 9 Tuesday 9/15/09
First, I have a correction. The sea anchor is closer to 24 feet in diameter. And I have to admit, it’s been a little bit of a preoccupation for a couple of reasons. One reason is, we are drifting trying to keep a location as best we can for the past two days so there hasn’t been a lot going on. I went out on the bow today and watched the sea anchor swim deep below the surface. (The water is that clear!) Because it has several lines that connect to the bridle and then two lines that connect it to the front of the ship (one on the starboard side another on the port side), it looks much like a huge jelly fish. The lines emulate tentacles as the parachute fills wide with water then squeezes inward and repeats the motion. I had no idea such a simple concept could hold back the 25 plus ton RV Alguita from traveling faster than a knot. Pretty cool.

The other reason why I’m trying to keep myself busy is because we’re waiting on visitors. Remember I mentioned there was a reason for holding our position. Well, one was to try the experiment that didn’t bode well and the other is, we are waiting on a special visit. They were supposed to arrive tomorrow, but due to ocean conditions it’s been delayed. Right now the sea state is working back down from a five this morning to a three. We need it to be closer to a one to make it happen. It’s all very exciting and I’ll keep you posted as the potential event unfolds.

We did have an unexpected ship sighting that was about six miles away. “Research vessel Alguita to Antonis a Gelicousis can you read me on channel 16 over?” Captain Moore sent over the airways. And after several attempts a voice came back with either a French or Asian accent, we couldn’t decide. The voice came back requesting us to change the channel to 12 so we could talk. We explained that we were doing research and were anchored making it difficult to change positions. The Captain asked where they departed from, and the voice said, “Los Angles,” then the Captain inquired about their destination, and the voice replied, “Singapore.” Each Captain wished safe travels and then it was over. Check out this picture Jeff Ernest took of it when it was six miles away. It looks like a ghost ship.

We’ve been cleaning the place up for visitors. I cleaned windows and the bathroom. Gwen vacuumed, and Bill got rid of some food supplies that didn’t make it. It’s a team sport! The Captain made the day more interesting by going out on the dingy looking for plastics. Since the sea state is still rough and we aren’t really traveling vary far, we aren’t seeing the swath of Open Ocean like we had in previous days. Not long after he left, he was back again with plastic gadgets from the sea. “Any one lose a toilet brush? How about some caulking?” Look at all the animals that live in or on the plastic pollution the Captain found, can you count them? (see the photo at the beginning of the blog)

More later.

Bonnie

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day 8

Noon Coordinates: 30°50'57.96"N, 159° 1'9.24"W

Monday 9/14/09 -The Experiment

We’ve been trying to hold a position since last night. That is, as best we can with a sea anchor. Since it’s too deep to have an anchor reach the bottom, we use a sea anchor. How a sea anchor works is it has a 10’ diameter circular opening at the front end but only a 2’ diameter circular opening on the back end. It works like an underwater parachute, slowing the boat down as it drags it through the water. So we’re moving but usually under one knot.

Since AMRF started, Captain Moore has wanted to try an experiment, but there’s never been enough time. We found a couple of days to try it. So last night, with a sea state of one, we tied nine buoys together with the huge freighter rope that we retrieved and made an island of plastic that was tethered to the ship. The idea was to see how long it took for marine life to take refuge under it and to also see what types of fish it would attract.

We woke to a sea state of three and by 1000, the sea state jumped to a six. Constant whitecaps frothed with 10’ swells that took our experiment and twisted into a bunch of knots. Before any of the buoys could be torn away by the force, we had to get them out. Not trivial. It took all of us - using the winch to lift it enough to untangle it while hanging over the railing looked much like riding a mechanical bull. Sometimes a knife was needed. Using a knife when the ship is riding up the side of one swell while being rock sideways by another and then slapped back down is a scary thought. I was happy to run the winch or carry the untethered buoys to the back of the ship. With the wind up at 25 knots and the waves crashing against Alguita, it was difficult to hear. It took unspoken cooperation of all of us - each watching the actions of the others so as to know when you could step in, reading each moment knowing that this was a serious situation and we all depended on each other. Here was a perfect example of how the ocean can change and present a situation that will require all hands on deck. And here, on the ocean, creates many opportunities to work for the common good.

Before the ocean decided to turn on us this morning, the Captain and Lindsey took the dingy out so Lindsey could get some pictures of Alguita as well as look for some big pieces of plastics to bring in since the ship was anchored. But because the sea state was much rougher than the day before, they weren’t finding much of anything. They did find some tangled up, photo-degraded rope, but it was down too deep for them to retrieve by hand. Here’s why, when the surface is rough, the plastics cannot float as easily on the surface making them impossible to see. This highlights another issue with determining just how much plastic is out here. What we have been trawling for and the items we have been collecting only express what we are finding on the surface when it is relatively calm.

After our buoy ordeal, the Captain thought it best to bring the dingy on deck. Here’s where Jeff, who Marcus and Ana call "Boat Monkey", lived up to his nickname. Remember the sea state is a six and the dingy is not only rockin’ and rollin’, but its getting slapped full of water every couple of waves. Without a second thought, Jeff jumped from the stern into the dingy. He fought to keep his balance as he bailed with one hand, pulled in oars that were on they’re way out, and ducked the line from the ship that came close to clothes-lining him a few times. As soon as he got most of the water out a huge swell came and nearly knocked him out as the rouge wave rolled in. He rode it through like a rodeo with the rope flying, his hands flailing as his ride bucked several feet in the air. Amazing balance and coordination! Shortly after the dingy rested on the stern, the Captain declared the remainder of the day a Rest Day
ANSWERS TO STUDENT QUESTIONS

Several good questions from Brooksbank Elementarty School! Here are a few answers in response;

First, ORV Alguita is a mighty ship for her size. She is a 50’ Catamaran with a 25’ beam and a 70’ mast. I was curious about where the name came from too so I asked the captain and he explained. Alguita means little kelp plant. Before he did the research on plastic pollution, he had a personal interest in algae and kelp. He was involved with transplanting giant kelp beds that were nearly destroyed in Baja, California. Captain Moore feels algae and kelp play a very important role in our oceans so Little Kelp represents his feeling about its importance.

Second, regarding our hypothesis about how plastic concentrations will compare to those ten years ago-Great question! Based on the winter survey done in 2008 that revealed an increase, we are anticipating a higher concentration than our results from the research we preformed 10 years ago. Currently, we have found plastic in every trawl we have done over the past several months and in places beyond the International Date Line.

Paul Clarke, thank you so much for your question. You are correct in that it takes calm seas to see the plastics, not to mention we were doing a trawl at the time so we were going 3.2 knots. I put a picture in the blog yesterday to illustrate the size fragments we were seeing. After looking at the image, I’m confident you will see them if given the opportunity to go to sea again. We found the same fragments in the North Atlantic Gyre in July. We would retrieve them the same way. Because the Sargassum in the Atlantic acts as a trap for these particulates, we also pulled in the Sargassum. From personal experience, it’s a matter of training your eye to see it. Dr. Maureen Conte, an oceanographer for Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, has been on the water for 30 years and she said she never noticed the fragments before we did research on her Oceanic Flux Program cruise this summer.