Posted by: Cynthia Matzke
Noontime position: 35.58.838 140.07.899
At times it becomes exceedingly clear that in addition to a voyage of data collection and discovery, we are part of a strange social experiment and cosmic test of spirit and endurance. After almost 1800 nautical miles traveled, of the 24 days out here, we can count the calm ones on a single hand. We grow weary of sample after sample filled with deteriorating plastic trash, and fight off the various types of gloom that surround us with thoughts of loved ones and why this work is important. Even out here in the most isolated region in the world, the human fingerprint is more like a hand clenched around the throat of our sustainer, mother ocean.
For out here we are indeed fighting ghosts. Derelict fishing gear creates tightly wound net balls, which wander the ocean and continue to kill well beyond their usefulness to humans. They offer refuge to small fish, and provide habitat for sessile organisms and algaes –so they draw life – but can also ensnare their residents, whose rotting flesh draws more fish, and with all that life weighing down the net causing it to sink. Once below the photic zone (the area where light penetrates and no new life based on photosynthesis can occur), bacteria and deep sea dwellers pick at it until the decomposition reaches a point that the net regains buoyancy and resurfaces, to hunt unwitting prey once again. This phenomena has been termed the “Yo-Yo effect.” These are called “ghost nets” because of this cycle of life and death they bring, and they collect other nets and debris and reach some twisted state of inconceivable longevity that borders on morbid immortality. “Plastics, like diamonds, are forever” says Captain Moore. These ghost nets also haunt us here on the research vessel, as they have become so prevalent we are pulling them in our samples and have to modify our collection techniques just to minimize contact with them.
The following photo I took while free diving Plastic Island, exploring some expression, creative license and a camera setting I don’t play around with often but couldn’t resist trying. I set my Canon G1x to HDR setting (for High Dynamic Range) and it seems to shoot 3 shots in sequence – one each at slightly different exposure, then blends them. Since the fish were moving, it gave this effect, and was not altered in photo shop. At least to this author, it seems to reflect the ghostly essence of the day.