Algalita Marine Research Blog

FLY-BYS AND TRANSITIONS

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday Coordinates 36.33.140 139.11.017

fly by 1This is the last full day we are expecting to spend in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and it is a beautiful one. The term ‘expecting’ is used because the captain has made it clear we have a destination, not a schedule to keep. We are constantly reminded that ultimately nature controls our fate, and plans are mere desires of man. Especially out here, our sailboat in little wind with just a half tank of fuel remaining in each engine and 1000+ nautical miles to go.

After not seeing any television or film for well over a month it was a treat to watch the movie “Plastic Planet” today, which I highly recommend, and includes an interview with Captain Moore aboard this vessel. I learned quite a bit about the unlisted “industry secret” chemicals that go into plastics which also makes recycling a challenge, and the horrors of Bisphenol A (PBA) which is recognized as hazardous in Canada and the EU and banned in baby bottles, but not here in the USA. Seems the FDA is asleep at the wheel on this one. While admittedly I long for the escapism of a good comedy, fantasy or drama once back on dry land, for now staying present in this sobering reality is the task at hand. For a few more days I can film for the documentary I’m writing and co-producing called “Spiral Pacific” which features a segment on the marine debris issue and the work being done by Algalita and affiliated researchers.

As we are effectively at the edge of the accumulation zone, we are still seeing larger fragments like pieces of crates and packaging. Thankfully, a few of the education sample trawls are pulling up less small plastic bits than we’ve become accustomed to seeing.

This afternoon there was some excitement when we saw another sailboat on the horizon for the first time in weeks, gaining on us quickly from the stern. We hailed them on the radio and enjoyed a brief conversation with the vessel “Green Buffalo” a Cal40 en route to San Francisco. Apparently this was their return trip after competing in the Pacific Cup race to Hawaii. Then just like that, they blew by us and were gone.

fly bys 2So begins our 10 day commute home, IF things go according to plan. Not only is the weather fine, but as we prepare to say goodbye to this remote and amazing part of the ocean, a few unexpected emotions surface. While this voyage was truly once in a lifetime considering the weeks spent and scope of the research, will any of us return here to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to continue the work and monitor changes over time? This is a very unique part of the world and we have seen and experienced some incredible things: odd life forms, an island of plastic trash, windrows choked with nasty garbage, to the waters’ intense shade of ‘deep gyre blue.’ All images that won’t soon be forgotten. Sometimes a place just gets to you.

Date Posted: August 6, 2014 @ 7:51 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

What’s to love about this place?

Posted by: Captain Charles Moore

Noon Position: 35 29.679 N    139 56.050 W

After nearly five weeks of hard work getting out here to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and repeat sampling our original 1999 transect of 11 random trawl stations in both rough and calm conditions, we are finally heading for home. Each hour brings us closer to friends, family and colleagues on the mainland, as we note the shrinking of the thousand plus miles we still need to travel in our deck log. We are travelling due north to avoid the headwinds generated to the south by hurricane Iselle in order to reach the area near the 40th parallel where the northeast trades transition to the westerly winds that will bring us safely to port in Long Beach. For me, working in this area for the 10th time, it has been an opportunity to contemplate why I have actually come to love this place—this place so plagued by plastic trash that at times it seems we have stumbled onto the mouth of the Los Angeles River after a rainstorm.

Have you ever seen a rainbow without a bow?—flat against the surface of the sea, and then seen it dip into the sea itself and color the water rainbow colors? I have—out here in the gyre. Have you seen the night sky so dark and bright that the Milky Way reflects the luminescent highway of our spiral galaxy on the mirror calm sea, and each bright star shows a sliver of light across the deep as it sets in west like the sun it is in its own right? Have you dove at night into three mile deep water to swim with creatures so delicate that they cannot be moved to an aquarium—they can only be observed in their incredible complexity in situ, with their transparent bodies sporting curtains of arms and tentacle structures arrayed in patterns beyond belief yet repeated in each individual? This is the habitat of an ocean desert, yet different from a terrestrial desert in that it draws the young of many species to mature here safe from predators. Baby turtles come here to reach the juvenile stage.

fin On this trip we discovered a ball of feeding juvenile Slender mola, a strange fish if there ever was one-jet propelled through a fixed circular mouth and side thrusters with counter rotating tail fins. Their skin is as metallic as living tissue can be made by natural means. Small whales and large dolphins of unknown species breach to look at us but once — out of sheer curiosity– and move on. Windrows formed by slabs and cylinders of water that accumulate dead and dying plankton and bring it to the surface and entice albatross, tropic birds and sharks to feed amongst the incredibly diverse plastic garbage that bulks out this planktonic soup.
Captain Dale dove in to inspect one of these yellow-green, soupy windrows of trash and plankton and came back with an extra fin like we wear for snorkeling, chosen from the thousands of pieces of plastic that made this the worst polluted windrow I have ever seen.
The fin bore the logo of Body Glove, a local Los Angeles company founded by two lovers of the ocean, the Meistrel brothers, but the writing on the back said “Quality Product of Italy-DIN 7878 A.” It was green with a black rubbery heel that was missing much of its shape by having pieces bitten off—the feel of the material was definitely squidlike.

Date Posted: August 5, 2014 @ 10:55 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

ENOUGH ROPE….

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Noontime coordinates: N 34.49.656 W 140.22.404

Sitting on the bow of the boat during watch today, I actively scanned the horizon for the mass of ropes and buoys we have come to refer to as the ‘Plastic Island.’ Countless masses of tangled rope and line drift by, from the frayed ends and random pieces to intact netballs. With them, my thoughts drifted to the concept of integrity.

Growing up, my parents ingrained in us the importance of our word, that to honor people and agreements is to live a life of integrity. While often it is necessary to speak up for oneself, there are times it is best to just be an observer, and let people reveal their true character through their actions. Or as the old saying goes “give ‘em enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.”

RopesEyes focus back on the ocean, and as clump after tangled clump float by, a thread begins to emerge. Our work out here doing data collection had to be altered because of a rope mass ripping the wing off our large manta trawl. We stopped to explore what appeared to be a giant mass of unraveling rope which likely served as a fender for a large ship. Yesterday when off in the dinghy filming the boat under sail, I captured another 1-10 kilo sized rope mass in the image. And out there somewhere not too far away from us, that plastic island whose entire foundation was tangled ropes and lines lays in wait and could ensnare more plastic and animals.

ropes 2A rope can be used as a lifeline to pull in an overboard sailor. It can also be used as a noose. It is a most effective tool, and hopefully can serve humanity in a greater sense, as a reminder. That if we keep creating items with lifespans that far exceed our own, what we are leaving behind is a mess for our grandchildren’s grandchildren to deal with. How long does a single bottle of water keep us refreshed for? Certainly not the 300+ years it can last in the ocean. Consider the oil factor as well – for the damages include the petroleum that was used to create and ship it, which contributes to climate change. So while we probably don’t often think of it this way, by purchasing something seemingly innocent – like a bottle of water – we are inadvertently stealing from future generations their right to clean pure water.

While in my heart I am an optimist, today’s message from the gyre may smack a bit of tough love, and hopefully will leave a mark in memory. We must deal with some serious concepts as a society, and not wait for someone else to do something. Just how much rope do we need to hang ourselves? I would bet we have thousands of tangled miles of it out here already… more than enough. Exercising more personal integrity in our lives and choices is a solid place to start, and hopefully some positivity will spiral out from there.

Date Posted: August 3, 2014 @ 7:03 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

LAST TRAWLS

Posted by: Lorena Rios Mendoza

Noon position: N 34˚ 44.583’ and W 141˚ 44.296

lorenaToday is a special day for me, last night we took the last trawls and today I processed my last water sample. My journeys goal was accomplished with great success! I have several microplastic debris samples for analysis of persistent organic pollutants or POPs and GF/F filters for analysis of microscopic plastics in the seawater column at 10 m of depth. I will go back to my research lab (UW-Superior) to extract, identify, and quantify the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and organochlorine pesticides.

crew photoIn 2007, I found that these contaminant compounds can be adsorbed onto plastic surfaces and the
smaller the size particles the greater ability to concentrate these toxic compounds. Some of them are considered endocrine disrupters. Jesús Reyes will analyze the endocrine disruption impact on fish, at this point we do not know how much is triggered by the POPs adsorbed onto microplastics.

sunsetToday is another beautiful day in the ocean and we are enjoying a peaceful time. I am very grateful to Captain Moore for this uniqueopportunity to contribute with myresearch in plastic pollution and
to Co-Captain Selvam for all these exquisite feasts in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. To Jesús for his indefatigable help, to Laurie for sharing with me her knowledge in sailing navigation during our watch times, and Cynthia for all those pictures that she took. I will keep in my heart all these beautiful sunsets that we are enjoying every single day. Now, before to return home we are doing our last commitment … find the “plastic island” again and maybe something else…

 

Date Posted: August 2, 2014 @ 6:59 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

FROG FISH AND FINISH LINES

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday Coordinates: 34.59.236 141.28.989

IMG_3408The sea state remains relatively calm, although the wind has picked up enough to shatter the glassy surface we’ve enjoyed the last few days. Tonight we expect to finish round two at Station 12, which makes our entire trawl data collection work complete! (Pause for happy dance…) We have been trawling through the night again these last couple of nights, and the crew is showing signs of wear. But the light at tunnels’ end keeps us going, and our devotion to the science is unwavering.  One of today’s highlights was spotting a white bucket, which since we were not underway and he was dressed for the occasion, Captain Charlie hopped in and swam to it, in case there was a fish lurking inside. Indeed there was, and he returned to the stern and passed up the 5 gallon bucket which contained a lone frog fish. These critters are generally found on coral reefs around the tropical Pacific, yet also have been known to raft on clumps of algae. Since out here in the gyre ‘plastic is the new algae,’ it’s home was this tiny plastiphere.

One of today’s highlights was spotting a white bucket, which since we were not underway and he was dressed for the occasion, Captain Charlie hopped in and swam to it, in case there was a fish lurking inside. Indeed there was, and he returned to the stern and passed up the 5 gallon bucket which contained a lone frog fish. These critters are generally found on coral reefs around the tropical Pacific, yet also have been known to raft on clumps of algae. Since out here in the gyre ‘plastic is the new algae,’ it’s home was this tiny plastiphere.

IMG_3426 - Version 2This odd-looking creature is in the anglerfish family, and designed to stay in one region rather than being a free swimmer. It moves about awkwardly with side fins, sometimes with it’s tail, or by jetting out bursts of water. It has funny pectoral fins that resemble hands, and a modified fin that acts like a fishing pole mounted atop its head called an “illicium” and crowned with the “esca” or lure which it uses to draw in other curious fish, then makes a sudden movement opening it’s huge mouth which sucks the fish in with a gulp of water in up to 6 milliseconds. One very cool technique employed by ambush predators.

Frog fish are popular with scuba divers, as when stationary make willing subjects for new underwater photographers, and likely in no small part due to their name “sargassumfish” which inspires many jokes. They were called this because many are found in deeper ocean regions, living on clumps of drifting sargassum algae, and reportedly have been found as far north as Norway.
They have the keen ability to take on the color as well as texture of their surroundings over time – although not instantaneously like a flashy octopus. Especially during mating season you’ll see them in pairs, the females several times larger than the males. The one we found had yellow coloring which matched the shade of algae growing in the bucket, the white matched the bucket itself, the black mirrored barnacles. They come in a variety of colors and textures including bright yellow, orange, dark red, sandy brown and outlandish combinations thereof. The specimen we collected graciously ‘donated’ his liver to science under the steady hand of Jesus for testing.

Back on our research vessel Aguita, supplies seem to be holding fairly well considering our length of time at sea. There are a few eggs left (once a hot commodity), but since encountering several rotten ones, it’s been over 3 days since anyone has dared break one open. It’s an amusing waiting game to see who will crack…all bets are on Charlie as he’s a poster child for not letting food go to waste and loving a big breakfast.

Our remaining fuel has been transferred from the holding barrels, and we have just 3/4 tank left for each engine. Also running lower than we would prefer, is our toilet paper supply. Which begs the question, does high seas etiquette allow us to hail a passing ship and ask the proverbial question: “can you spare a square?” We might not even have to hail them, for the sound of our rejoicing after this last station is complete may be echoing across the gyre tonight.

Date Posted: August 1, 2014 @ 6:51 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Reflections of Gyre Magic – Ocean Secrets – Myths – Deepness – Fading Light – Darkness – End

Posted by: Captain Dale

Noontime Position : 35.41.169 W – 140.54.216

slendermolaeyeTossing and turning in the rack after trawling late into the morning hours.
My brain racing with sea mans dreams.
Now, three to three, ye stand. Commend the murderous chalices!
Bestow them, ye who are now made parties to this indissoluble league.
Drink ye harpooners! Drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow.
Strong winds, building seas, sails luffing, pull on the sheets.
Whew, what a day of dinghy, drone flying, filming, collecting samples, trawling into the wee hours…
Dreams.

pyrosomaglowI get up out of my slumber half asleep and find Captain Moore and Jesus fishing for Myctophids(Lanternfish) for Jesus’s samples but they both had an incredulous look of awe and childlike discovery on their faces.
“What kind of a dang deal was that there?” yells Captain as he skips across the aft deck.
“It’s a moving mass, a blob like sea creature “
“There it is!” cries Jesus.
Through my dream filled eyes I see a wavering mass in the ocean eerily lit by our few lights emanating from the Alguita.
New to me.
“Whats in the petri dish Captain?”

mola tail“Theres all sorts of weird stuff out here”
“Whoa, there it is again.
I tape a GoPro and a powerful dive light to our longest pole and thrust it into the glowing mass.
It feels like the glowing creature is trying to pull me into the impenetrable deep darkness.
Little pulls and tugs, like a thousand tiny hands coaxing me in to dance with them.
With anticipation the camera comes out, as the film runs, the secret is revealed…

Rarely seen, especially juvenile, rarely photographed, the mysteries of the Gyre never cease to amaze.

Goodnight,
Captain Dale

Date Posted: @ 6:23 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN

Posted by: Jesus Reyes

Noon time position: 36.01.488 W 140.08.975 N

IMG_3171For those of you that have been following our progress, I am letting you know up front that this blog will not be as well written as previous ones. Today we awoke to a silent giant, for most of this trip we have seen the majestic and powerful ocean, with swells, that although not enormous, are good enough to make some of us catch our balance and play with us like a see-saw. Yet today, it was very calm…….no seriously, it was extremely calm. Like being in a lake on a windless day, the Pacific Ocean took time to rest today. Calm enough that Lorena, who has horrible balance by the way, was up early filtering water. We therefore were lucky enough to begin work on station 5 under a sea state of zero. We were able to perform a drone flight and dingy retrieval mission that netted another buoy, various pieces of plastic that were definitely at sea for a while and a single water bottle that was very visibly “new” and was a new visitor to this environment. Luckily we removed it before it became a permanent tenant.

The rest of the crew was well rested after a great day of work yesterday. This is where the not so well written part comes in. Since the age of 5 I have known that I wanted to be a Marine biologist, since the age of 15 I knew that I wanted to deal in areas of human impacts. I was fortunate enough to have a great Professor; Kevin M. Kelley at CSULB who nurtured that intrigued by allowing me to basically construct my own project, which I have continued to work on since I graduated. The way we impact this world goes beyond adjectives and description. The lack of
understanding and knowledge in some cases is tough to swallow. But that’s why most of us are out here and why we do what we do. I have been fortunate enough to be allowed the chance to try and change this world for a better one with all the students I teach and all the little kids I visit at schools, more importantly the work that I do with my organization (Pacific Coast Environmental Conservancy) is something that I think also helps people understand what we are actually doing to this environment and to many others.

IMG_3071 - Version 2Thus far, I have been able to sample many fish from different locations to look for any potential impacts that the debris may have on them. Whether the organisms are being impacted through the chemicals that leach out of the debris items themselves or by the lipophilic compounds that are attracted to the debris items, my job is to determine how severe that impact is. Unfortunately, chemicals like these impact the endocrine systems which regulate important physiological mechanisms that control growth, stress, development, immunity and reproduction. Blood sample after blood sample; liver sample after liver sample and parasite after parasite, I get excited every time we obtain a fish. Not because I take joy in the sampling process; in fact that’s a bit of a stretch (documented by the thousands of times ive said sorry to the fish before I sacrifice it to collect my samples). But I know that each sample gives us a better picture to the extent of how we affect the organisms that call this environment home, and how much potential strength and power each sample may have to make someone; whether it’s a parent from inner city or a public figure in office, say “I cant believe that’s what our actions are doing, we need to do something about this”.

IMG_3173Thus I write this blog coming down from a high of excitement after sampling myctophids in the wee hours a few days ago with Captain Moore, and from a successful dingy ride with Dale Selvam yesterday that allowed me to sample 8 pelagic fish followed by another successful purse seine tow that obtained another 9 pelagic fish of the same species…….yet the excitement of the next time I get to sample is still there. Far beyond my fatigue from late nights and inability to sleep is the energy I get from being out here in a beautiful world that few see and too many affect without thought. As you read this, we are on our way to station 6 and on the way we know the drill, a copious amount of debris both large and small and information for us to obtain. Although I am still completely focused on the work at hand, I look forward to next step; analyzing what we obtained
and using the information to make change happen. Just as I know the Great Pacific Ocean won’t stay calm and quiet for long and will return to her powerful self, we too will follow that lead once we return home.

Thus far, I have been able to sample many fish from different locations to look for any potential impacts that the debris may have on them. Whether the organisms are being impacted through the chemicals that leach out of the debris items themselves or by the lipophilic compounds that are attracted to the debris items, my job is to determine how severe that impact is. Unfortunately, chemicals like these impact the endocrine systems which regulate important physiological mechanisms that control growth, stress, development, immunity and reproduction. Blood sample after blood sample; liver sample after liver sample and parasite after parasite, I get excited every time we obtain a fish. Not because I take joy in the sampling process; in fact that’s a bit of a stretch (documented by the thousands of times ive said sorry to the fish before I sacrifice it to collect my samples). But I know that each sample gives us a better picture to the extent of how we affect the organisms that call this environment home, and how much potential strength and power each sample may have to make someone; whether it’s a parent from inner city or a public figure in office, say “I cant believe that’s what our actions are doing, we need to do something about this”. Thus I write this blog coming down from a high of excitement after sampling myctophids in the wee hours a few days ago with Captain Moore, and from a successful dingy ride with Dale Selvam yesterday that allowed me to sample 8 pelagic fish followed by another successful purse seine tow that obtained another 9 pelagic fish of the same species…….yet the excitement of the next time I get to sample is still there. Far beyond my fatigue from late nights and inability to sleep is the energy I get from being out here in a beautiful world that few see and too many affect without thought. As you read this, we are on our way to station 6 and on the way we know the drill, a copious amount of debris both large and small and information for us to obtain. Although I am still completely focused on the work at hand, I look forward to next step; analyzing what we obtained and using the information to make change happen. Just as I know the Great Pacific Ocean won’t stay calm and quiet for long and will return to her powerful self, we too will follow that lead once we return home.

Date Posted: July 30, 2014 @ 6:11 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

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

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