Algalita Marine Research Blog

PRODUCTIVE ZONES AND MILESTONES

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday coordinates: 35.56.263 139.39.169
Log: 2,000 nautical miles traveled

There are many ways to count days while at sea. Days out, by month, or even a countdown to land is often justified. Since we departed Long Beach on June 29, we are marking today as our one month anniversary at sea on this voyage. People wonder if our time out here is flying by… but several crew respond “not really.” Maybe because we are near the equator and due to the shape of the earth time actually moves slightly slower than at the poles, but more likely it’s because of our whacky work schedule, where day and night watches blend, and days of week completely lose their significance. Days become distinct by what we find, and prevailing weather patterns.

Another significant milestone for today is we logged over 2,000 nautical miles traveled. We are definitely in an upswing phase, basking in the calm weather and sunshine as we get to do our work. Today had many high points.

IMG_2788Around 3 pm, we were pulling up the Tucker trawl at Station 4 and BAM! A huge splash about 75 yards off the port stern caught our attention, followed by the sight of huge animals flying through the air. More splashing and excited screaming from crew ensued, and we witnessed a “fly-by” from a pod of about 7 beaked whales – looking a lot like Blainville’s Beaked Whales (Mesoplodon densirostris). Each animals jumped clear out of the water at least once to check us out.
Whales evolved from terrestrial ancestors who returned to the sea, and have two distinct sets of ocular muscles, so they see well both above AND below water. Leaps from the water provide a good view of the goings-on topside. Saying they’re curious is not a matter of being anthropomorphic, and it is also likely no coincidence that the two times we got visitations from these cetaceans, we had interesting items dragging in the water: the sea anchor (a large orange object they circled), and today we had the manta in tow.

After completing the trawls for Station 4, we found ourselves at the start of a windrow, which created a long strip of accumulated plastics and random discarded objects. Charlie and the Drone Gals set up on the bow, and the guys of Team Dingy was ready to make a rapid response to retrieve what the drone spots from the air.

We saw another single breach in the distance, the creature flashing a white underbelly before splashing back in, likely a great white or mako which are known for such aerials, (definitely not a whaley kind of a breach). The guys also got a visit in the dingy, from a shark identified as a blue. We concluded based on all the sightings as well as windrow, that we are likely in a high production zone of the gyre.

The late afternoon brought another adventure – a buoy with pole extending about 6 vertical feet. Captain Charlie decided to use this opportunity and the fair weather to deploy the purse seine net, as there were likely fish congregating around it that could be captured and analyzed. It should be noted, this is no easy task for professional fishermen.

In a production that took several hours and each and every one of us in multiple roles, we managed to successfully deploy the purse seine net and capture 26 small fish – many of which Jesus got to sample and dissect, some preserved. By the time the last rays of daylight beamed down, there were back pats and high fives all around for a job well orchestrated considering this was a bold first attempt. Exhaustion is setting in for each of us in turn and we are glad to stay in place for the next few hours. We can confirm, with high degree of certainty for all on board, is this has been a truly epic day.

Date Posted: July 29, 2014 @ 11:06 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

SQUID SQUADS AND OTHER SEAFOOD MISNOMERS

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday position: 35.16.103 139.06.815

Last night the guys were at it again, fishing for myctophids with nets off the stern, and pulled in another lovely “flying squid” as well, this time a juvenile, so it was released. The adult they caught last night is large enough for a meal for the whole crew. These flying squid were fished mercilessly by open ocean drift netters who would lay 40 km of net nightly, until that fishery was banned in 1992 for excessive by-catch and stocks. This is a great (yet unusual) example of scientific research leading to remedial regulation in a relatively short time. As one who harbors quite an affinity for cephalopods and loves a good ocean success story, it’s nice to see them out here.

While a group of squids is officially known as a “shoal,” a petition has been filed on “change.org” to have them referred to as a “squad” of squid. No word yet on how the scientific community will react to the proposed change, but THIS group of gyre-bound researchers might just conduct a blind taste test to see if one is more appetizing than another. “Wow Chef Dale, that calamari is so delicious, I could eat a whole squad!”

In all actuality, audible appeal cannot be underestimated, and often that is how seafood gets named – or re-named, as the case may be. Take the Patagonian Tooth fish, a visually unappealing (OK… downright ugly or “fearsome looking”) species of deep water cod icefish from the Southern Ocean, that is particularly long-lived at over 85 years. The tooth fish reside on sea mounts and continental shelves, and exhibit site fidelity (which means they hang around one place rather than migrating). This makes them relatively easy to catch with commercial fishing gear that can penetrate depths, as some reside at over 10,000 feet. In addition to fishers going to extreme depths with the assistance of technology, some are also heading into pristine Antarctic waters, never before fished.

In 1977, a clever fish wholesaler named Lee Lantz wanted to create a new market to appeal to chefs and restauranteurs, so he he simply made up the name “Chilean Sea Bass” for the tooth fish. Diners took the bait, and a new market was created. Considerable demand followed. That species has been hard hit to a point where sustainability is claimed yet questionable, as despite fisheries regulations there is still considerable poaching that goes on. A great read is “Hooked: Pirate Poaching and the Perfect Fish” by G. Bruce Knecht. It’s easy to make wise seafood choices, just carry a little“Seafood Watch” card in your wallet (or find other seafood chooser organizations) and be a consumer in the know, so you can directly help important fish stocks recover.

Back here on “As the Gyre Spins” the night sky was crystal clear, and so even after Jesus was done fishing, he sacrificed needed sleep to stay up, stare up, and drink in the Milky Way. Tough as it may be for us now, someday we’ll look back and really cherish these long hard days at sea. The fresh air, the clear skies… no other humans around for a thousand miles, save mostly merchant mariners delivering goods across the Pacific. And all those pieces of plastic….it’s like we won the veritable “litter lottery” out here.

By midmorning the whole crew was up and about, ready for a drone flight to survey the surrounding area and look for the buoy island. We raised the rasta colored spinnaker, but by noon the wind was so light that even this sail designed for such conditions was luffing. So we dropped it, stowed it, and abandoned our search.

We’re now 33 miles from our sampling transect, and since fuel is a precious commodity and we need to finish our work, the decision was made by Captain Charlie to move on and restart our needed trawling. Much as we wanted to see Hi-Zex buoy island again, we all prefer to conserve enough fuel to get home. Exploration must yield to the SCIENCE we’re all here to do! Besides, there’s just no telling what other anomalies could be waiting for us. A squad, flock, maybe even a squadron of flying squid… or discovery even more unexpected could be just on the horizon.

Date Posted: July 28, 2014 @ 7:16 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

SEARCHING FOR ‘THE BONES OF AVALON’

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Noontime position: 35.39.763 138.51.731

blog 28 3Last night while we were drifting to the south, Charlie was taking advantage of the new moon and stayed up late fishing for lantern fish or ‘myctophids’ for Jesus to test their blood and livers. They are more active in low light conditions, and he was able to get them without trawling, just by scooping them with a net off the back of the boat. He also wrangled us a beautiful squid about 2 feet long, which we will cook up tomorrow. Go Low Tech! The myctophid stomach contents were analyzed and no obvious plastic particles were found, which is interesting and a bit surprising. The liver size and color is significant as it indicates a response to pollutants – the lighter color liver likely suggesting more exposure to pollutants. Jesus also took Captain Moore on a detailed Tour-de-Intestinal Tract of the myctophid – a place few have gone before and lived to tell about it. Charlie is thrilled and learned a lot from Jesus, a gifted teacher.

Very noteworthy of our research so far has been what we’ve been finding with the Tucker Trawls – which is NOT a lot of plastic compared to the manta surface trawls. One might have expected that in a higher Beaufort sea state, the plastic would be pushed down and collect just under the surface, possibly to 10 meters, which is where the Tucker trawls. But that is not what we are seeing, and runs counter to the quantities other investigators have speculated would be present.

blog 28 IIToday all efforts were focused on relocating the plastic buoy “island” we discovered a few weeks ago. We sent the drones up for a few recognizance missions, which admittedly is one of the really fun parts of being out here – neat toys! (Ahem, I mean exceptionally valuable pieces of research equipment.) As we are over halfway through our fuel supply with 19 days left to go out here, we’re putting up the sails and will work hard to conserve remaining fuel. Dale made some repairs to the Genoa sail as the wind is still not right to utilize the lovely “Screecher” sail COORC provided. Squalls still pass though in the distance, but sea state is gentle. The sky was mostly sunny and beautiful, a glorious day to be exploring the gyre.

A ship passing by is indeed an exciting event these days, as it happens so rarely. Around midday Jesus spotted something on the horizon the radar verified – a large car carrier ship would pass just 8 miles away from us. We decided to hail it on the VHF radio and have a chat to see if they had seen anything on the horizon since their bridge is over 90 feet above sea level (compared to ours at 10). The vessel Green Ridge, who was on it’s way to Guam, responded they had seen individual buoys, but not seen anything resembling a black plastic buoy mass in their passage so far, but would let us know if they did while still in range. Soon after we sent up the drones for a look around, but again saw nothing. One last flight with the Phantom just before sunset was spectacular, both in life and on the drone screen as well. We collected various items, including a rice paddle, oyster spacer tube, 2 random single black buoys, a spar buoy, and several crates – one of which actually had hard white coral growing on it and through it’s holes- the first we have seen.

blog 28I long to see the skeleton fish at the Mausoleum again, and view the odd assemblage of inhabitants of that strange, almost mystical island from the start of our journey. I am reminded of Arthurian legends of the Isle of Avalon, tales of the mists and bones of the disappearing island. Though not a shangri-la or place of hideaway and healing for us, it certainly is for the gyre creatures who swirl and float around with it, calling it home. For sailors in races (such as the Vic/Maui race or the Pacific Cup, now in progress) and those in smaller craft than our 50′ catamaran (with reinforced hull), it’s a major navigational hazard and poses collision risk. But for now, it drifts on in the night obscured from our vision. The plastic island eludes us…until we begin again tomorrow.

Date Posted: July 27, 2014 @ 7:28 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

TRAWLING UNDER SAIL POWER

Posted by: Captain Charles Moore

Noon Position: 35 49.316N 138 29.779W

After recharging our personal internal batteries with an entire night of deep sleep, we set off this morning to begin the second phase of our trawling program. In a sense, we were lucky to have rough conditions at the beginning so that we could complete the first phase of our program with sea states in the range of Beaufort 4-5 (11-21 knots of wind). Our research plan was developed to investigate the mixing of surface plastics into the water column in rough vs calm conditions. With the rough conditions out of the way, and the cooperative high pressure system around us providing calm seas, we began trawling at the beginning of our 11 station transect under mainsail power. The fact that we can collect volumes of precious data with miniscule energy inputs, means that we can conduct research on a shoestring budget that no other entity can match. Previous estimates of how much plastic is mixed into the water column in what is known as the “mixed layer” where wind and waves affect dispersion of surface debris had predicted rather high levels of plastics below the surface. Our Tucker trawls at 10 meters deep have not been pulling up as much plastic as expected. In some, we could see no plastic visible to the naked eye, and in others, only one or two pieces. This is in contrast to the corresponding manta trawls done at the same time as the Tucker, which produced hundreds of plastic pieces. Final results will have to wait laboratory analysis, but we will have on the order of 22 separate trawls at each sea state using each type of gear which should give us a very good picture of how sea state and depth affect plastic distribution in the gyre.

I can’t find words adequate to express the huge increase in the amount of plastic we are getting in our manta trawls and that pass by the boat since I last sampled here in 2009. It has always been rare to get large objects in our manta trawls, but this time nearly every one has large pieces. I got a four and a half foot long piece of plastic gutter in one and just now we pulled in one with a broken part of a buoy and several pounds of rope. We get bottles and eel traps on a regular basis. We have been careful to preserve the planktonic organisms that come in with this debris, but the ratio of plastic to actual life here in the gyre is increasing beyond the bounds of believability.

We are now approaching station 2, which is where we found the Hi-Zex Buoy Island, and with various projections of its location furnished by Drs. Hafner and Maximenko, we will search tomorrow after we trawl this transect. We will greatly expand our field of view by using the drones and hopefully relocate the island.

From the not so great Pacific Garbage Patch,
Captain Charles Moore
ORV Alguita

Date Posted: July 26, 2014 @ 7:22 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

AT SEA ANCHOR

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Noontime position: 36.46.353 138.26.108

At sea anchor today, enjoying a bit of time off to take care of laundry, chores, etc. After the embarrassing bread incident, I took advice offered by friend and blog follower Dayna Kennison-Gentile and with the assistance of crew member Laurie made a decent loaf of rosemary bread, my ‘redemption loaf.’ Today many crew members are making a variety of dishes: Jesus, our vampiric vegetarian (we joke – as he eats no meat but extracts fish-blood for analysis, often to myctophids or ‘lantern fish’- on night watch) made a “chilaquiles”, while Lorena fried up some Mahi as she loves her meat. Charlie made homemade hash browns for breakfast, and I whipped up a batch of special oatmeal bars, with Tahitian vanilla and dark chocolate almond bits mixed in which we’ll have after dinner. Spirits are being sipped, and lifted. Rumor has it there might even be dancing and karaoke later. The video camera shall remain well stowed.

Being out here for so long compared to modern standards, my thoughts turn to the many seafaring folks who crossed this path before, and wonder what they might be dining on while traveling this route. “Hard tack” or ships biscuit, and salted meat with a pint of grog? Fresh turtle, as they used to be plentiful and easy to catch?

So far we’ve only seen a single turtle- numbers are greatly decreased due to hunting, fishing practices, and – you guessed it – ingestion of plastics, which look a lot like a favorite food, jellyfish. They spend their juvenile years in the open ocean, where predators are less abundant. Certain species like the Hawksbill used to be hunted for their prized shell, but with the invent of plastics that could mimic the shell, hunting decreased. Yet ironically the plastic epidemic means what once saved them now threatens them.

Many turtles are also being affected by debris on land, such as Kamilo Beach on Hawaii. Large pieces can cover available nesting area, but even small fragments can have an affect. Turtles lay eggs into nests, or clutches, that are dug into the sand and sex of individuals is determined by the temperature of that sand. Warmer sand hatches more females, cooler sand makes males. Plastic doesn’t hold heat as well as natural sand from rocks does, so overall temp is lower. Hank Carson, a scientist supported by Algalita at UH Hilo discovered this and published a paper on that phenomenon.

Yet Lorena was telling me that chemicals in plastics are endocrine disruptors, and are making creatures (including humans) more female and creating “super-females.” Considering these factors and possible implications can make your head swim.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 10.05.54 PMToday Charlie took a midday reading with his sextant, a tool mariners use to navigate but is falling into disuse by readily available GPS. “They wouldn’t have seen this much plastic while sitting at sea anchor” he interjects. But like the sailors that came before us, we enjoy some of the same simple pleasures – a tasty meal, an occasional rum ration, good conversation, an epic sunset, plus fair winds and a following sea.

Date Posted: @ 5:06 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

THE COMPANY WE KEEP

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday Coordinates: 35.45.575 138.46.124

We’re plugging along the transect line, trying to knock out the rest of the stations before the sea state drops to the flat calm predicted. The crew is eagerly anticipating the change, and the chance to do laundry and relax a little. Now that we’ve passed day 24, we’re just over halfway through this very long voyage. The music selection played is watch crew’s choice, and is getting progressively more funky (at times incredibly bizarre, especially on Dale’s watch) as the ipods cycle through. Any break in the monotony is welcomed.

Once we finish the transect in this Beaufort sea state of 3 and over, we will try the whole thing again in a calmer state for comparison. We hope to relocate the trash island again, and will begin the hunt tomorrow as we’re back at Station 2, the vicinity in which it was last seen. Although connection is spotty, we’re fortunate to be in contact with the outside world as one of the strengths of a scientist is the rich network of colleagues and specialists that can assist dynamic field research.

Our team called upon expert Nikolai Maximenko from UH Manoa who has been modeling the projected path of the tsunami debris based on currents and wind patterns. Given the dimensions, date and last known coordinates of the ‘island,’ Dr. Maximenko and Jan Hafner graciously created a map for us to fine tune our search. The drones will be a great tool in providing a needed overview of our search pattern. This information will be incredibly useful as we try to relocate this oasis of concentrated life in the vast desert of open ocean.

Personally this has been the highlight of the trip for me so far, and I jump at the chance to splash in again and film more rafting species. Being from Hawaii, home is an incredibly remote island chain that boasts a high ratio of endemic species (around 30%) found nowhere else in the world. This relatively low biodiversity (variety of life) means we are increasingly vulnerable to invasive, or non-native species. I am curious what else might be rafting out here in the gyre on plastic debris, coming closer to Hawaii and potentially threatening the established balance.

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 10.03.56 PMOn that note, we were delighted to receive questions from a class who inquired as to the origin of many of the species we saw on Plastic Island. “Did they originate from Japan? What was the most shocking to find?” To answer this we had to do a little sleuthing work and again call upon experts. I could identify tuna, mahi mahi, and rainbow runners, which are normal to find out here. Also present were chubs and sergeant majors, which are subtropical species commonly found in Hawaii. But then there was also a species I incorrectly referred to as an ‘angelfish’ that were black and white in color, and I had not seen before. There were about 6 individuals creating an aggregation so territorial that one bit me! Quite the attention grabbers.

I sent photos and contacted dear friend and coral reef biologist extraordinaire Darla White on Maui, as well as fish photographer Keoki Stender, of MarinelifePhotography.com. They both replied almost immediately with “Oplegnathidae!” and Keoki linked me to this page: http://www.marinelifephotography.com/fishes/knifejaws/oplegnathus-punctatus.htm and Darla linked me to http://www.fishbase.org/summary/6538. Yes, that is indeed the perpetrator – an aptly named “knifejaw” no less. They are common in Japan, are established on Midway and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and may be moving beyond as they have been known to raft as juveniles on seaweed, and now rafting habitat is increasing. As they grown up to 28” and have attitudes, one wonders if they would change the dynamic at reefs around the Main Hawaiian Islands.

As this blog was being, a crew member called out and a big rope mat was spotted. We geared up, grabbed camera and splashed in. There were few organisms present, not even many barnacles. Then it became apparent that the single, and likely hungry lone fish resident was in fact a juvenile knifejaw! About 10” in length, since this fellow was a singleton and outnumbered by the two of us two-legged divers, instead of attacking and defending the rope mat, he disappeared into it and was not seen again. We are beginning to believe that these predatory knifejaws may have eliminated the many species of smaller fish associated with rafts during pre-tsunami voyages to the gyre.

The photos we took of the rare beaked whales were sent to a cetacean specialist Robin Baird of Cascadia Research Collective. He was also out doing field research but responded quickly. Since few whale researchers (or people, for that matter!) hang out in the gyre, this area is rarely studied by cetacean ecologists, so our sighting interested him. He agreed it could be a Blainsvilles beaked whale as we guessed, but there’s a chance it’s an even more rare species that has only been identified before by their skeletons. A closer look to see if our camera captured any protruding teeth will help solve the mystery. We’re going to get him more photos for analysis, so stay tuned. Either way, today we acknowledge our support system of colleagues that wraps the globe. Our team is thankful that the company we keep is so willing to share their expertise with us.

Date Posted: July 24, 2014 @ 5:04 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

HAUNTED

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.

ghostnetFor 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.

Date Posted: July 23, 2014 @ 9:41 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

MISSING MANTA WING

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Noontime position: 35.41.165 140.53.640

Our crew has become nocturnal the last day or so, trawling under the moonlight. Squalls still come and go over us, the waves growing then receding, and the sun has been obscured by a thick fluffy gray blanket of clouds for over a week now. Our chemist crew member Lorena from Wisconsin is not getting the tan she was hoping to return home with, but with three weeks remaining we hope the sun will reappear.

Last night we trawled, and when the manta was pulled in, the entire left wing of the manta was absent. Gone. Just plain missing – “desparecio!” as Lorena exclaimed. The assumption is that we likely encountered a ghost net or piece of debris large enough to ensnare the metal wing and rip it clean off. Our speed was a slow 2 knots, and the aluminum wing was 26”x26”x4” thick, so the item must have been formidable. For now we’re going to use the suitcase manta, until later when we may have time to rig a prosthetic wing out of some available items like aluminum strips and a boogie board. You get creative with repairs out here at sea.

In other repair news, our satellite system went down (AGAIN!) and so we stalled our work, put out sea anchor, and Captain Charlie and Jesus set out to repair the flailing KVH unit. The guys used two of the blue rubber bands that come on broccoli bunches to tension the belt. While at rest, Lorena and Dale cooked and I did a mid-trip deep cleaning of the galley. We plucked a passing by piece of trash that turned out to be a hard hat with two interesting inhabitants – a very pregnant iridescent blue crab with a pouch full of eggs, and a small striped fish that looked exceedingly nervous as we put it in a bowl and took some photos. I wondered if it might be some amazing pelagic species, like a striped marlin, that if given the chance to live long enough might help restock the seas we are depleting. Since we got the satellite going again and are eager to get back to the trawls, we decided to spare the little striped critter and set it free.

We are now just arriving at Station 7, and delighted to get to work! All hands on deck, we’ve got trawling to do.

Date Posted: July 22, 2014 @ 12:07 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

PUSH BACK PLASTICS

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday coordinates: 34.56.662 141.23.451

Charlie has been talking to us onboard about how this time out, his 10th to date, he is visually seeing more plastic than previous years, (though of course the trawl data has yet to be delivered yet alone analyzed, which is an expensive and time consuming process). Inarguably there are likely none more qualified to make this observation than he who has been obsessed and actively monitoring our deep sea state for years. Last night two of our evening trawls fouled. One came up sans cod-end, which could be from being excessively overfilled, and the other where a large rope mass got caught on our manta trawl and we had to bring the sample in early to disentangle our unit. Strange large blueish-purple crabs fled from the lines and scurried off of to hide in crevasses on the deck, as we tried to grab and stuff them into collection jars.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it. We’re now having to split the longer trawls into two parts, because of the quantities of debris” said Captain Moore, totally discouraged. “It’s maddening when people say it’s getting better!” Today we are back at it, headed for Station 9.

We are always thrilled to have questions from those following our journey from land, and today we take one from the far north. Sent to Laurie from a voyage supporter Tommy D from Oslo, Norway: “What would be the most useful way in daily life for consumers to combat this path we are on?”

We had fun asking your question around the boat: Laurie’s personal recommendation is to “start making a basic change in consumer perspective from single use/fast food style convenience to more careful selections of day to day products. This can be as simple as BYO washable shopping bag or mug, or choosing products packaged in glass over plastic. All these can impact our oceans.”

Lorena weighs in that it begins with communication to the general public. “Information can make the difference, and middle and high school kids need to know about plastic pollution to change future use and stop abuse of plastics.”

The quotable Captain Charles Moore’s response was: “Commodities enslave modern man. Stop being a consumer and become a producer. Grow and utilize local foods and stop purchasing commodities transported over long distances.”

But if for some reason you can’t quit your job and become a farmer, Jesus said it starts at the home. “Our family takes the younger members to the store and involves them in the selection process, so they learn firsthand how to make good decisions on what to buy. From organic produce through the packaging, it is all part of the the education.”

Captain Dale launched into a rant that began “look at all the caps we find out here! Soda is sugary and disgusting with zero nutritional value, and plastic water bottles are unnecessary! If you want lemonade, go find a lemon and juice it!” He was not available for further comment as he wandered off to find a citrus grove, mumbling to himself like a madman.

Speaking for myself, I enjoy the chance to “push back plastics” whenever I can. Sometimes at a store if the product I’m buying is over packaged in a giant plastic shell, to make a point I’ll cut it out right there, leave the plastic on the counter and say to the clerk politely “please toss this for me, and be sure to tell your manager we don’t need it, don’t want it.” If stores begin to choke on their own waste instead of drowning us and in turn ocean creatures with it, a more rapid change might be triggered. And in this war we’re fighting against senseless over-packaging, it actually feels pretty good.

Date Posted: July 21, 2014 @ 12:01 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

A LIFE OF GREAT MEANING

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday coordinates: 34.51.826 N 141.47.116 W

Today, three weeks and about halfway into our mission, the crew got to participate and be featured in an event put on by Algalita and the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, held at the aquarium facility in San Pedro, California. Over 200 people showed up to learn about the plastic pollution problem, and what it is we are doing out here and why. The event was the brainchild of Algalita team member Jeanne Gallagher, who navigated her idea from inception, through a myriad of challenges, to the result of an wonderful day that was as educational as it was memorable.

There was a panel that was moderated by Dr. Marcus Erikson of the 5 Gyres Institute, and panel that included Dr. Kevin Kelley, Shelly Backlar and Beth Terry all contributed and helped facilitate the discussion. Audience members participated and were able to ask questions of both the panel, as well as the crew aboard our vessel via satellite phone.

For my portion, I spoke of diving experiences and observations from beneath plastic trash island including the relatively high concentration of a limited variety of inshore species, now dwelling under that synthetic, alien habitat. At the end of my interview the moderator asked a question I hear frequently when presenting to groups and school children the word over: what can we do? A list of action items fell from my lips: reduce and REFUSE plastics, share info and educate your friends, create extended producer responsibility, and support legislation to rid us of this plastic plague.

But the truth is a couple hours later I felt frustrated with my answer. The panel members and participants who took their Sunday to come to this amazing event deserve more. I have been actively working on the marine debris issue for over two decades, and while these are decent options and reasonable action points, I want to do more. What can people actually DO? And then I thought of our Jeanne Gallagher and the events of the day.

She has been an integral part of team Algalita for a number of years, and is in fact the heart of the organization, many say. I know that in Hawaii she won over a huge variety of people and got them involved, from politicians in the mayor’s office, to television station managers, to Hawaiian kupuna (elders). Her passion, hard work and genuine caring gained the issue many allies. She is a master at the delicate art of collaboration. The success of today is a tribute to her tireless efforts and a profound caring that goes far beyond the scope of a job, it is her life’s work.

Inspiration and follow through like Jeanne’s are the result of a long and productive life following her creative passion. This June, at graduation many students were encouraged by speakers to find and follow theirs. This search is not straightforward, and the signals are often muted and weak. Sometimes necessity delays the process, but when one finds a role for which they seem uniquely fitted, and they are lucky enough to be able to pursue it, magic happens. Captain Moore smiled and exclaimed “Today was Jeanne’s magic day and we aboard Alguita are grateful to have benefitted from the interaction with the public she made possible.”

So while there was no roadmap for the events that unfolded today, Jeanne created one. That is the message I took and hope to impart: follow her lead- listen to the inner voice. A solution may come across as gentle as a whisper, or as brash as a shout. Each of us carries a unique problem solving skill set, if we listen and act we can elicit change. So in honor of a woman who at over 80 years on this earth still has fire and constantly seeks new solutions, carve out a little time and put a few brain cells to task today. From the crew of the research vessel Alugitas out here in the blue, hats off to you Jeanne, for living a life of great meaning.

Date Posted: July 20, 2014 @ 11:02 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Next Page »