Friday, January 15, 2010

Highlights from the Atlantic Voyage Leg 1

Day 1 We left the St. Thomas yacht harbor on Friday afternoon, after several days of prepping, stowing, running errands, and squeezing in last emails while the rest of the crew arrived- nine total. After the first evenings wave of seasickness bouts – from mild nausea to hanging over the side of the boat – we’re now settling into a routine: sleep, cook, trawl, eat, clean, trawl, sleep, trawl, scan horizon for debris, trawl. Our goal is to collect at least 25 samples by the time we reach Bermuda in 8 days, and another 25 as we continue on, crossing the Atlantic to the Azores.

Day 3 We pulled up trawl #1 on Saturday morning, as an eager crew clustered around the manta trawl, flip and digital cameras in hand. After thoroughly rinsing and tossing a few handfuls of Sargassum we found a few tablespoons of planktonic organisms flecked with small plastic particles. What at first appears a scant amount compared to our Pacific trawls is still reason to reflect: in this vast ocean, several hundred miles from the predicted accumulation zone, using a relatively tiny device – we’re finding evidence of plastic. This short clip shows how we conduct our sampling.

Video: First Research Trawls
On day 3, about 200 miles northeast of St. Thomas the research team pulls up some of their first trawl samples of the voyage. They find plastic fragments, plastic sheeting, plastic line, sargassum, and a sea jelly with a fragment of plastic inside.

1st Trawl in Caribbean from 5 Gyres on Vimeo.

Day 6 Clear skies cede to gray clouds, howling winds, and boiling seas. And with it, our ideal trawling conditions come to a temporary halt. Crew stumble around the galley grabbing onto handholds for support, while poorly stowed pots and pans rattle until someone gets the hint. Now, we don foul weather gear on our night watches – life jackets and “deadliest catch” sea suits, harnessed at all times to the boats safety lines.

Just as suddenly, she turns again – the seas settle to a gentle ripple and we resume our trawling. “The calm before the storm” remarked Stiv. How right he is...A spectacular double rainbow stretches across the horizon. We reel in trawl #11 – to find the by now predictable handful of Sargassum, a few pelagic crabs, a dozen halibates (like a water skeeter, the only marine insect) and the plastic fragments we’ve come here to research. Though we’ve found plastic in every trawl, the pieces have been tiny, and few – nothing like the density we’ve seen in the Pacific. And then we came across our first windrow – a series of counter currents that create a slick line of debris on the oceans surface. “A plastic bottle!’s a BOOT!” Bobbing amongst a patchy line of Sargassum was a large rubber boot, covered with barnacles and algae. As our skipper Clive shifted gears to backtrack, we began spotting more and more plastic trash. “A bottle cap, another bottle cap! A roller blade wheel!” Marcus stood at the bow shouting directions to Clive, while we dashed from port to starboard with our modified pool skimmer, netting as much as we could. 45 minutes later, we’d collected some 17 bottle caps, a shotgun shell, a plastic roller ball from a deodorant stick, numerous plastic chips, several plastic milk jug rings, and finally – the boot. fter 45 minutes of conditions calm enough to explore the windrow, the winds regrouped, and we’re now slamming along over fairly rough seas – too rough unfortunately to trawl. We’re hoping for another break in the weather, to gather a few final samples before racing to Bermuda to beat a nasty storm on the horizon.

Video: Chasing Windrows: A Trail of Plastic in the Sargasso Sea
The research team observes and collects a variety of plastic from a windrow, including; bottle caps, shotgun shells and a boot.

Chasing Windrows from 5 Gyres on Vimeo.

Video: Night Trawl in the Sargasso Sea
The research team pulls up their 17th trawl sample in the early morning about 100 miles south of Bermuda. The sample is thick with plastic, including fragments and the piece of line shown above. (Click here to learn more about how the team samples for plastic pollution.)

1 comment:

Lucy in the Skies said...

Kids will love to see these pictures tomorrow. I can't wait to show them. Are the waters safe to be touching with the bare hand?