Sunday, April 4, 2010

We've arrived in Mauritius!

April 4, 2010

We've arrived in Mauritius! The mountain top jets out of the horizon like the spine on top of a trigger fish. The last three weeks have been amazing. We accomplished many things. First, we documented plastic pollution in the middle of the Indian Ocean Gyre. We also successfully developed a high-speed trawl for future excursions. We were able to trawl at 8-10 knots, and found plenty of plastic in every trawl.

Now we will return to Los Angeles to plan for our next expedition to the South Atlantic Gyre in November 2010. Check back here for more photos and/or videos soon, to read our summary of this expedition in a few weeks, and to learn more about what's ahead!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 2: Unidentified Swimming Objects

Latitude: 20 33 South, Longitude: 63 58 East

"What on EARTH is that??"

Yesterday, we found perhaps the strangest organism we've ever seen in a trawl. Wrapped around a broken plastic coffee scoop was a silvery, eel-like fish as long as a pencil, with tiny, spines lining its sinewy body. Its body shape suggested it swam vertically.

No one has any idea what it is, not even the marine scientists on board. Our resident naturalist/author Redmond O Hanlin has a very fun hypothesis, but we won't bias you with his guess yet. Can anyone out there ID this fascinating creature?

2 days from Mauritius, and we're undoubtedly seeing an increase in plastic. This morning's trawl was full of trash - a broken cup, piece of a bowl, loads of broken down plastic film, and dozens of fragments, along with 6 small triggerfish, 5 pterapods, a few pelagic crabs, a strange, broccoli-like sea plant, several halobates (marine water skeeters), and another tiny, unidentified fish, possibly related to the Sargassum fish.
By the next blog entry, we will have either spotted land or landed. An incredible voyage coming to a close - and a third oceanic gyre now explored for plastic pollution. Though our research here will end tomorrow, the Beagle crew has agreed to continue gathering samples en route to Cape Town, hopefully coming closer to the center of the gyre. We will eagerly await their findings.

Click here to send a comment or question to the crew!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 1: Pufferfish & Java

21°15S, 71°10E

After weeks of tweaking, refining, head scratching, and testing again, the high-speed trawl finally works like a charm. One of the crewmembers, Johann the Bosun, took a special interest in the design and added several key modifications – some wooden skies, a few metal fins, and a longer bridle. And now, with 4 days to go before reaching Mauritius, we have a super Macguyvered trawl fashioned from scrap material that can be towed continuously at high speeds. We call it the “Flying Dutchman”.

Yesterday, we tried our first 24-hour trawl from the side of the boat. No sooner did we toss it in, the ship’s hotel manager Martin, a 6’8 boyish blonde with twinkling blue eyes, approached us apologetically. “I’m terribly sorry, but I forgot about the trawl, and threw coffee grounds over the side of the boat!”

Sure enough, the trawl was full of grounds, with something else....a thick ring of plastic packaging, a few nurdles, dozens of plastic fragments, and a pufferfish! In its final moments, the poor puffer was likely the most caffeinated fish in the Indian Ocean. The entire crew gathered around for a look at this beautiful little creature, inflated like a miniature porcupine.

Thanks to the Flying Dutchman, Johann and his team will be able to continue collecting samples for us, between Mauritius and Cape Town. Wind permitting, they will be able to venture deeper into the gyre, And with some additional samples, we should be able to publish our findings – a first exploration of plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean.

Q: Hey how did you guys know where the gyre is? Lawndale high school;
California and lawndale; im in the 10th grade; Toan;

A: Please visit and click on the "Research" section. You'll see a computer animation of where the 5 large subtropical gyres are. The animation was done by Nikolas Maximenko. His research paper is on the website as well. Basically, oceanographers release drift buoys into oceans with GPS technology on them so they can track their movements. This data allows us to see where the circular currents are, and where buoys drift to. When they get to the center of the gyres, they get stuck, just like plastic debris.

Q: Hello, Lawndale High, Hawthorne California, 10th grade. My questions
are 'Are you collecting the trash, if so what are you planning to do
with it?'

A: The small amounts we collect in our nets will be analyzed for total weight, size, color and type. We'll write a research paper about these findings. We'll describe where we found plastic debris, how much we found, and what kind of debris it was. After that's done, then we'll store the samples in case any other scientist would like to see it. In science, it's always important that you keep your samples in case someone doesn't believe what you've said.

Q: It appears, the choice is in mankinds hand but some people are simply
aiding the numerous amounts of debris we already have in the Gyre. How
would you truely feel if your home was simply a center of waste? ~Eric
T. a Sophmore at Lawndale High School located in Lawndale California

A: I'm not sure if I would call my home a "Center of Waste", but I cannot deny that we consume and throw away plenty of stuff. Waste is not a problem, as long as it's used by someone or something else as a resource. Think of nature, everything makes waste, but some other living thing eats it. In nature waste is food. In our society we make things out of products that are difficult to recycle, and when lost to the environment they do not biodegrade. Throw away plastic products are like this. So one way not to be a "Center of Waste" is not to have the things you consume be useless after you. One step would be to end the Age of Throw Away Plastic.

Q: Why did you and your reserach team choose to investigate the Indian
Ocean Gyre than any other Marine related issue, like the unbalance
equillibrium of marine ecosytems? ~ Lawndale High School,CA,USA,10th grade, Asanti

A: We each have personal reasons why we choose the field of science we work in. There is plenty of work to do to keep our oceans healthy. I choose to work on the issue of plastic waste. There are many other scientist working on sea level rise, ocean acidification, depleted fisheries, climate change and much more. When you speak of "Unbalance equilibrium of marine ecosystems" what do you mean specifically?