Algalita Marine Research Blog

SEABIRDS AND THE GYRE

Posted by: Laurie Harvey

Noon Position: 34 47.820N 141 59.361W
Today has been a real treat for a bird geek…after several days of heavy winds and seas, which makes spotting birds pretty difficult, we are finally resting at sea anchor under blue skies. Bird sightings in the Gyre are relatively few and far between as a rule, but today we’ve had 3 tropicbirds (2 Red-tailed and 1 White-tailed) and 2 Black-footed albatross (one adult and one subadult) keeping us company for most of the day.
I’ve been incredibly lucky this summer to have observed species like the Black-footed albatross and Red-tailed tropicbirds first in June at their nesting colonies in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and now at-sea in their foraging areas within the North Pacific Gyre. It’s been a rare opportunity to experience first hand both the sheer wildness of the places these travelers inhabit and the many threats to their survival that exist both at sea and on land.
Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 2.42.39 PMHere in the Gyre, seabirds like the Black-footed albatross forage widely for patchily distributed pelagic fish, and end up picking up bits of photodegraded plastic and nets, which they both ingest directly and carry back to their temporarily landlocked chicks. The jury is still out as to why, exactly, the birds are picking up plastic—is it just a visual mistake, or is it a deliberate selection to take advantage of food sources like flying fish roe that have become integrated into the developing plastic-based ecosystem? To what degree does plastic ingestion and associated POPs (persistent organic pollutants) affect the health of our wild creatures?

The sheer scope of the problem is enormous, which makes these questions very difficult to answer. Good scientific research is ongoing to help us understand the mechanisms and scope of the problems, and we need to support all such efforts. However, it seems to me that we really don’t need more information to accept that this is a problem that will take a very long time to properly address, and so the search for solutions needs to be underway…..

Date Posted: July 19, 2014 @ 9:41 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

TAKING A BREATHER

Posted by: Lorena Rios Mendoza


Midday position: 34.47.430  141.40.689

Hoy llegamos a nuestra area de muestreo después de estar huyendo de los fuertes vientos que nos alcanzaron en una estación de muestreo. No hemos visto el sol por unos cuatro días, todos lo extrañamos ya. El Capitán Moore nos dio´ una buena noticia, estamos muy cerca de un estado de alta presión y el buen tiempo volverá. Hoy tuvimos la oportunidad de lavar nuestra ropa y tomar un respiro para ponernos todos en orden y seguir con nuestra odisea en el “garbage patch” Hubo buen viento para secar la ropa, aunque tenemos que tener cuidado de no perder ninguna prenda. Hoy nos comeremos los últimos plátanos en un postre que Cynthia y Laurie están preparando  para la cena, Jesús hizo un suculento dulce arroz con leche, yo hice tortas de papas con queso en medio y capeadas con huevo. Hoy tendremos una cena muy divertida, todos estamos relajados, cansados pero contentos.

Mañana tomare´ una muestra de agua a 10 metros de profundidad, la voy a filtrar usando un filtro de vidrio llamado GF/F de 0.7 micrómetros de tamaño de poro. La idea es ver si podemos encontrar microscópicas partículas de plásticos a esas profundidades. Usamos botellas Nansen y bomba de vacío, el volumen varia de acuerdo a sólidos o materia orgánica, que posiblemente no tendremos mucha materia orgánica. Asimismo, vamos a filtrar agua superficial también, usando el mismo tipo de filtro de vidrio. A manera de extra información, les dire que los filtros fueron preparados en el laboratorio usando una mufla a 450 grados Centígrados por 4 horas.
Mañana será otro día y esperamos que el sol y las aves marinas nos acompañen.

(English Translation)
Today we arrived at our sampling area after fleeing from the strong winds. We have not seen the sun for about four days – which we all miss.  We are very close to a state of high pressure and good weather will return.  Today we had an opportunity to wash our clothes and take a breather which helped us all continue our odyssey in the “garbage patch”.  There was good wind to dry clothes, but we must be careful not to lose any garment. Today we eat the last banana in a dessert that Cynthia and Laurie are preparing for dinner, Jesus made a succulent sweet rice pudding, I made potato cakes with cheese in the middle and layered with egg. Today we had a fun dinner, we all relaxed, tired but happy.
Tomorrow I’ll take a water sample to 10 feet deep and filter it using a glass filter called GF / F 0.7 micron pore size. The idea is to see if we can find microscopic plastic particles at these depths. Nansen bottles and use vacuum pump, the volume varies according to solids or organic matter, which may not have much organic matter. Also, we filter surface water as well, using the same type of glass filter. As an extra information, tell them that the filters were prepared in the laboratory using a muffle furnace at 450 degrees Celsius for 4 hours.
Tomorrow is another day and hopefully the sun and sea birds accompany us.

Date Posted: @ 6:09 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

There is no away…

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday position: 33.37.849  138.07.326

alguita_islandOne of my favorite quotes from Captain Charles Moore is “there is no away,” which brings to light the fact that most people are so disassociated with what happens to our trash, we act like there’s a magical place things go to when we no longer have use for them. We can put trash in landfills, yet the chemicals creep back to us through polluted groundwater. We toss things or they are carried by waterways downhill into the ocean, and – especially out here – we are reminded there’s no such place as “away.”

Case in point: friends know I’m normally a pretty good cook, but I made my first loaf of bread in the machine the other day, and it was a monumental flop. Looked more like a pale brick with a sunken pit in the middle. Some bold crew mate sliced off a corner (maybe as experiment as we are all scientists), but the rest of the loaf sat untouched and unloved for a day or two before disappearing. Food is so precious out here we try not to be picky, but there are of course limits to what is tolerable. So everyone was relieved when it no longer appeared on the counter, and I didn’t question it’s whereabouts. Until well into the next day, as we were looking for trash and debating getting in the water for a swim, someone exclaimed “what’s THAT??”

breadTo our shock and my personal horror it was my nasty loaf of bread – soggy and disgusting, but completely intact, save the missing corner. It had not sank or been eaten by anything out here, it came back to haunt me. No escaping my own bad cooking, I guess. Or the situation we humans are putting ourselves in as we fill this pristine ocean environment with plastic debris. I do find it telling that as is evidenced from the nibble marks often found on plastic fragments, fish frequently eat and ingest plastic, but snubbed my bread-like creation and left it unscathed.

We have now been on the move for 2 days to find calmer weather as it got too rough to even work our research area and do trawls. We will move to the south end of our transect line, then will move north again once things calm down. Today we were under sail all day, plotting along at 150 degrees, now just 900 miles from San Diego. I wonder if when we return and finish our trawls, if we’ll be able to relocate that amazing trash island again near Station 2, and I can dive it one more time. See the Angry Angelfish Posse again, characters I will never forget that dwell in that bizarre ecosystem of human rubbish. Hopefully my bread will sink or be lost at sea, and not join that growing island.

Date Posted: July 17, 2014 @ 9:38 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

SOUTHEAST TO CALMER WATER

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday coordinates: N 35.00.922 W 138.22.099

We woke up at sea anchor, which night crew set just before dawn and so Charlie could conduct his live interview on the Weather Channel. After those exciting days of discovery on the plastic island, we were all a little exhausted. Our shipboard batteries were run down as were the crew, so we took a few hours in the morning to go over things, recharge, tidy up and take inventory.  Basic engine maintenance was done, including changing fuel filters on both engines. We also did maintenance on trawls, and as the morning pressed on into day, the predicted winds arrived and the sea state grew.

tucker_trawlWe set out and made it to the start of Station One where we were planning to do another Tucker, but by the time we were ready to drop the sea state was well over a 5, and too rough to sample. The Captain looked at the extended weather forecast and made the call to instead follow the wind and sail southeast to get into calmer water. This will take us out of sequential station data gathering, but will help us maximize our time out here in the gyre in the long run.

We hoisted the main and staysail, and set a course of 148 degrees which made for a much smoother ride. I cooked the fresh mahi mahi for the crew, marinated in ginger/soy/guava with dusting of toasted sesame/hazelnut crust (which was described as “astounding”) along with quinoa and veggies.

We’re still processing photos and video in excited anticipation for the live event Algalita is having on July 20th at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. Hope to get more letters from students in our Ship to Shore program as well, or submit questions to us on Facebook.

Date Posted: July 15, 2014 @ 7:08 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

The Artificial Habitat

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday position:  35.51.028 138.43.925

net nightThe last couple of days have been utterly surreal. The discovery of an island of plastic took us all by surprise, but as we continued to map and explore this new anomaly we realize it is probably not the only one of it’s kind. The power of the tsunami that violently tore items from shore and swept them out to sea is evidenced in the twisted mass of ropes, nets and lines that are now inseparably intertwined. Together this conglomeration creates the foundation. From tiny bits of plastic to the giant black aquaculture buoys that keep it suspended, it appears almost like a sea creature itself, drifting along slowly swirling currents, rope tendrils reaching down toward the abyss. A wide variety of species cling to life here in this artificial habitat, from algae to nearshore creatures like anemones, to large subtropical reef fish aggregations lost at sea, a thousand miles from land and the environments they were designed to live in.

net_aSeveral of the species we came across were new to me, including a type of black and white angelfish. They were beyond bold, and after charging me several times and getting bitten once, I realized they would defend this toxic territory, as it was literally their lives at stake. Without any other habitat for refuge, getting run off this synthetic Shangri-La was certain death. At least most of the species were in schools and had their conspecifics for company. I recognized one random juvenile sergeant major fish which I see back home in Hawaii frequently in healthy schools, yet there it was out here alone, unlikely to ever find a mate. Lucky, in fact not to be lunch today for the other larger residents, though admittedly tomorrow’s fresh catch is still undecided.

We stayed two nights total on the island to thoroughly document this place and then left in the morning after we shot an interview ON the island, for KABC television Channel 7 in Los Angeles. Meteorologist Sam Champion has been following us, and he will be interviewing Charlie for a news segment on our discovery. It was no small feat to conduct the interview on this moving mass of plastic, as the wave height was growing, but we pulled it off. We wrapped the shoot by noonish, disconnected from the buoys, and I waved goodbye to the little plastic island and it’s inhabitants I had grown strangely attached to. Again we were back on our vessel Alguita, and underway.

Having spent so much time underwater there, I got to see and film the 50 or more mahi mahi that were the perimeter crew, cruising just outside the visibility zone of the island. A couple times we wanted to go catch them so Jesus could do a blood sample for toxins, but some other task always came up. Last night when Charlie was going to set out for a sunset troll to get one, the dinghy engine didn’t fire. Lorena and I started calling them “Ha-hee Ha-hee” since they leapt from the water all around us but we couldn’t catch one. To our delight, the captain sped up to 6 knots, put out a line, and within minutes we landed a big male. Jesus brought it in, and the 4 foot long fish helped fill both our data set and our freezer.

We’re heading back to Station One again to redo the Tucker Trawl which failed to record the distance through the water the first time. Stronger winds are headed our way and we feel the waves increasing as the sea turns from serene back to sloppy. It sure has been a strange sojourn to explore that odd oasis and meet some unexpected residents here in the Pacific Gyre. It fades from our radar but not our memories.

Date Posted: July 14, 2014 @ 8:18 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Hi-Zex Island

Posted by: Captain Charles Moore

mapAlguita and Crew spent the night moored to the approximately 7 ton island of Hi-Zex brand buoys made by Sanshin Kako Ltd. The ropes dangling below the buoys were carefully spread apart and had scallop shells inserted, apparently as a recruitment site for oysters. When the tsunami hit on March 11th, 2011, it must have ripped out this array and sent it out to sea. We can thus date the time this island has been afloat; 3 years and 4 months. In addition to the buoys, the island is anchored by metal dangling from the ropes, perhaps part of the anchoring system for the shallow oyster aquaculture operation. Jesus and I mapped the island this morning using the dingy length of 10 feet and a tape measure to get its size and the dimension of its coves and rope beaches and reefs.

Before discussing the interesting aspects of this plastic island in the middle of the Pacific, it should be noted that this large floating object constitutes a significant hazard to navigation. It would be capable of causing considerable damage to even large ships. As such, I felt obliged to call any passing ships and inform them of the danger. The US Coast Guard issues Local Notices to Mariners for such things in US waters, but out here there is no entity to provide such information. I spoke to the motor vessels Nordpol and Ikan Jervius and the sailing vessel Avalon to warn them of the danger as they passed by. We do not have the equipment to either tow or dismantle and transport the island, so we will leave it as we found it more or less.

island_bHi-Zex Buoy Island supports large biological as well as plastic debris communities. Since it has been a fairly stable part of the gyre for years, it has an established fauna consisting of Gray chubs, large angelfish, Hawaiian sergeant, and Rainbow runner under and near the island and further away, Mahi Mahi or Dolphinfish. We found a live clam, several mussels, a shore crab and some seaweed and sponges among the matted ropes that make up the “beaches” of the island. We had been seeing Black footed albatross regularly before we arrived at the island and none recently. There is no guano on the island as there are no roosting birds in the area.

alguita_islandThe plastic debris the island has accumulated is substantial, and we saw all the things we regularly pull up and then some. We got a dust pan for the ship, and Cynthia found a glass ball for her collection. Dr. Rios wanted some plastic fragments from the rope beaches of the island and Dale was able to surprise her with a 5 gallon bucket filled to overflowing with small plastic fragments like those that wash up on Kamilo Beach in Hawaii that I have been collecting for many years. There are over 17,000 meters of water underneath us and the highest spot on the island is about a meter and a half. For years I have been telling people that there is no such thing as a “plastic island” in the Pacific Gyre. I now have a map of one that has aspects of permanence, a metal anchor 40 feet deep, solid rope beaches, some of which you can walk on as if you were on land.

A sad note is that the jagged metal below the island has snagged monofilament gill nets with fish caught in them that have decayed, which we named the mausoleum. There are also driftwood logs caught in ropes. As far as I know, this is the first pelagic plastic island found floating in the North Pacific Gyre, with features that mimic hills, rocky coastlines, coves, beaches and ponds. In total area, it is about the size of our Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita.

Date Posted: July 13, 2014 @ 8:12 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

On the horizon…Plastic Island Ho!

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Midday position: 35.40.297    138.46.075

The weather was flat and calm, a near windless and gorgeous day in the Eastern Pacific Gyre. By midday we got to do a dive and film the Tucker trawl in the full glory of 4K (or Ultra High Definition), take the drones on a test flight, and we arrived in the vicinity of Station 2. While our pilots Dale and Laurie flew the drones, Charlie used the goggles to relay info on what the drone was seeing and doing. Jesus and I got named the Drone Reconnaissance and Recovery crew, and got a ‘crash course’ in dinghy operations in case we had to go rescue a fallen drone.

As we were en route to Station 2, Charlie spotted a black spot on the horizon he thought looked to be something industrial. We started to head for it, then it disappeared on the horizon as if a mirage. A few minutes later, Lorena and I were on the bow, and while watching a traveling black footed Albatross, again spotted something dark on the horizon. This time Charlie suggested that Jesus and I go check it out in the dinghy, and before we knew it we were off on an adventure.

DSC00478
It did the same appearing/reappearing trick with us, but we managed finally to verify it and approached cautiously. Scenes from the book and movie “Life of Pi” flashed through my head as we approached, and I wondered what could be waiting there for us. By the time we were several hundred meters away, we could see a series of black buoys, maybe 70 of them, with a few orange floats mixed in as well. To be less conspicuous and not disturb whatever might be living in, on, or around it, Jesus rowed us in for final approach as I radioed the boat our GPS coordinates and they started heading toward us to back us up.

island shotIt was a horrible yet spectacular site for trash hunters like us – an entire plastic trash reef island oasis here in the middle of the gyre. As we got closer, we saw flashes of yellow color and fast motion zip under our boat, and we soon realized our little dinghy was surrounded by schools of fish.  The size and flashes of colors hinted they were mahi mahi, and rainbow runners swirled beneath us as well. The drone operators sent a aerial survey up to film us and the island, and we waited, I filmed, and Jesus and I remained relatively silent, just catching each others eyes on occasion. Once the aerial survey was completed, we returned to the mother ship and I set out to set up my dive gear and camera again as quickly yet carefully as possible. Having seen this before, I knew that the first visit from humans will send a ripple through the foreign ecosystem. Predators (if present) may take interest or flee, and critters lower on the food chain could hide and retract into the plastic fragment sludge and rope mass. Being a tad obsessed with sharks, if there was one near this plastisphere taking advantage of the bizarre for web, I wanted to capture it in Ultra High Definition for my documentary. We did not see one, but I still felt a bit on edge knowing we were in thousands of feet of water, and things from miles around could sense us. It was amazing to see the school of more than 50 mahi mahi, and they did swim by me and take interest, but stayed just beyond the range where my camera could get the epic shot I hoped for.

IMG_0113Charlie called it and we decided to stay awhile, and tie up to the buoy island for the night. After exploring it in the last rays of day, the full “Super” moon began to rise orange on the horizon. The scene was somewhat surreal from both above and below. We gathered and began to log and process some early samples including fish. After filling tanks which seemed to take an eternity for this eager night diver, by 1 am Dale and I were geared up and ready to splash into the inky water. Gates Underwater Products, who jammed to get this awesome 4K housing prototype in my hands before departure, also loaned me a light so bright it turned night into non-night. It lit the scene up and Dale and I worked as a team – I filmed in 4K and he illuminated our subjects and worked as my safety diver.

Images to follow along with more descriptions, but it was stunning. My favorite part was this particularly creepy sunken net ball with dead fish and skeletons in it, which we nicknamed the Mausoleum . I watched as the fish living in this plastic universe plucked at the flesh off the recently departed. At one point Dale got his fin snagged  it, and I stopped filming to help free him. Currents cruised through fast, sometimes pulling us down. After just under an hour, we resurfaced, showered up and broke down gear, and I made it to bed before sunup. Can’t wait to get back in at first light and see what the day brings.

Date Posted: @ 5:57 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

LOVING LIFE AT SEA ANCHOR – STATION ONE – A PERFECT PLACE TO PAUSE

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

After several days of fever pitch to get out here, get trained up, and get our first round of samples in rough sea, we finally get a second to slow down. Captain Charlie started the morning with a great crew talk where we had the opportunity to reflect on our journey out here thus far. We talked about what our plan was for the bulk of our time out here in the GPGP (Great Pacific Garbage Patch) and coordinate our work as we are doing so many different kinds of science at the same time. To keep things orderly and efficient we came up with a clear game plan which was fine tuned today. Just seeing the various types of gear all throughout the boat is mind-blowing. Like the Scripps or NOAA research vessels I’ve been on, but a much compacted version with a small crew and sails!

One new piece of gear we brought out today for the first time was the Nansen bottle, which is used to trap water at a particular depth. While we’re trawling the Tucker at 10 meters, we’re using a filter net at the “cod end” that is 333 microns (1/3 of a millimeter). That sounds small by most accounts but one of the properties of plastic that makes it so insidious is that it is “photo-degradable” which means that with sun and wave action plastic breaks down into small micro bits and particles. That is what makes it so difficult to clean up – it gets fragile and becomes hard to trap.

algalita scubaBut the work that Lorena is doing will allow us to see what the naked eye cannot. Once the water from a particular depth is trapped, she can then bring it aboard and filter it. After filtering she will analyze any bits trapped by her filter down to one micron in size! Today we were working on the trigger mechanism and Dale and I got to do our first scuba dive so we could see the Nansen at depth. I also got a chance to test my new camera housing.  There are several challenges with diving in such clear water that is over 17,000 meters deep – and contrary to popular thought, it is not fear of sharks! The scariest shark we might encounter out here is unlikely to be a great white or a tiger shark, it would likely be a cookie cutter shark. And while they are fierce creatures for being under 12 inches long, they are nocturnal so relatively easy to avoid. And due to our research schedule we will only dive at night on rare occasions. The caution comes in because the water is so clear it can cause disorientation – but we are seasoned dive buddies and todays dive was about going over protocol and techniques so we can work together safely in this unique blue-water environment.

algalita anchorWe took some shots of the sea anchor, which took on the appearance of a majestic giant orange jellyfish when viewed from below. By all accounts, today was a great day to be out here doing research, and tonight we stay put one last night at Station One before heading out tomorrow to Station Two.

 

Date Posted: July 12, 2014 @ 5:22 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

HEADED TOWARDS STATION 2

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

Noontime position:   35.44.542 N 135.33.157 W

Our team plugged on working out the kinks with the Tucker trawl and later relaunching the manta trawl into the wee hours of the morning. The usual watch shifts were shifted, and due to still relatively heavy seas and deploying the weighty trawl it was an all-hands-on-deck kind of night. Before sunrise the dawn patrol crew set out the sea anchor and we enjoyed a little less of the motion of the ocean.

whale photoBy midmorning, we got a most delightful and surprising visit out in the ‘backyard.’ A small pod of beaked whales (approximately 5), passed behind our stern and caught our attention with a series of obvious splashes. The main culprit was a juvenile whale, about seven feet long and roughly half the size of the adults in it’s company. The feisty youngster used a series of tail lobs – rapid beats of the fluke from an inverted or belly-to-the-sky position – that served the purpose of getting our attention, if nothing else.

The pass by our boat was quick, and it was still squally and raining, so positive identification was difficult (as it notoriously is with pelagic and often shy deep diving beaked whales) but we believe they may be Blainsville’s Beaked Whale, due to the spotted pattern on the adult. Either way, it was a rare treat to see this species who have amazing physiological adaptations that allow them to stay at significant depths for extended periods of time without succumbing to nitrogen sickness problems. Truly remarkable creatures.

Just the other day via our Ship to Shore program, we received a wonderful letter from Professor Ken Wheaton of Chuo University in Japan who is following our blog with his class, and remembers when Charlie visited his class in Tokyo for a Marine Debris Symposium. His comment was that he hopes that future generations may be able to witness lovely sights such as these in the open ocean, instead of trash and plastic particles.

That beautiful sight I wrote about while leaving on this trip I have seen one other memorable time, and interestingly it was on my first expedition with Algalita and 5 Gyres, where our team traversed and studied the Western Pacific Gyre, sailing from the Marshall Islands to Japan on the Sea Dragon, to that very symposium.  After being at sea for three weeks and seeing little in the way of marine life, save what we pulled in our trawls, as we approached within a hundred miles of Japan we saw Mount Fuji as our first landfall. That night as we sailed in we were escorted in by a pod of dolphins lit with seemingly electric green diatoms. Now that I am getting the chance to study and experience the other side of the Pacific Gyre, Professor Wheaton is spot on – it is these rare moments we are reminded of the profound beauty and life that once thrived here but now is being impacted. It is a gift every single time, and keeps us going in sometimes depressing conditions. It is also great to get letters and questions out here from students and blog followers, so please, keep them coming to keep us going!

Today we had a few equipment challenges once again, so we stayed put. Our manta trawl got damaged last night in the weather, so will need a little repair work before relaunching. Our satellite system also went down again just before Charlie was scheduled to do a phone interview with Ron Kilgore of KNX radio in Southern California (also the only station we pick up way out here in the gyre).  Thank goodness our Iridium sat phone came through and Charlie was able to speak with the station. By the time the sunset colors lit up the sky, the satellite system was up and running again.

We plan to stay put here at sea anchor tonight and make a few more modifications in the morning and doing a couple more trawls here at Station 1 before heading out to Station 2. Will be nice to get the chance to enjoy the moon tonight.

Date Posted: July 11, 2014 @ 11:44 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

ROCKING AND ROLLING AT GYRE STATION 1

Posted by: Cynthia Matzke

So begins our first of 30 days to be spent out here in the heart of the Eastern Pacific Gyre. By midmorning we were in the vicinity of our first location after a 10 day commute, and we decided to take advantage of the elevated sea state and do our first Tucker trawl. This trawl is conducted at 10 meters, which is unique because it will be able to reveal what is often obscured. Before we get too far into that, let me describe a few key oceanography terms so we all share a clear picture and understanding of measurement methods.

The Beaufort Code is a empirical standardized scale that is used to describe wind speed, which in turn affects sea state or calmness of the surface wave action. For example, a Beaufort state of 0 – 1 would be still to a light breeze, a 5 would represent a “fresh breeze” with moderate waves with white caps and wind under 20 knots, and a 12 (the highest state) would represent full hurricane force wind and waves.

IMG_0599Manta trawls have been traditionally used to sample for plastics in the gyre and work by being pulled along the surface behind the boat (far enough back from boat wake so water is undisturbed) and combined with data from the flowmeter, we can calculate how much plastic is in that bit of ocean. However due to the nature of plastic fragments, when the water is calm, many particles float to the surface. When waves and surface chop exist, these particles get pushed down under the surface. So while we may be traveling through a part of the ocean that has a substantial concentration of plastic present, if the sea state is rough it won’t be picked up by the manta trawl and the ocean will appear less impacted than it actually is. It make take a couple days of calm weather for smaller particles to float to the surface to be counted by the manta trawl.

PIC_0148Which is where the Tucker trawl comes in. The Tucker trawl is heavy and requires special equipment just to maneuver, compared to the light manta trawl. Chain, cables, wenches and safety lines all must be properly placed and working to be conducted safely. The Tucker is deployed and sinks to 10 meters, or 30 feet (our chosen target depth, although deeper trawls can be taken) and can get to measure the plastic fragments held under by wave action. Our first couple times deploying it were about getting down both safety protocol as well as making sure the mouth of the trawl stayed open at the exact angle to be effective. And since our sea state today was a 5, it was tricky to deploy such a heavy piece of equipment in rough bumpy waters, but our crew of professionals were up to the task.  In fact we are several hours into a Tucker trawl now, and won’t pull it up for another hour or so.

IMG_0588This will be the first time Algalita will have the time to conduct this series of Tucker trawls, and we hope to do several studies at the same stations in different sea states, so we can compare it and maybe take a look at data already collected in previous years in a new way. So while it’s tricky, we are taking full advantage of this relatively rough Beaufort state now, as things may return to typically calm gyre weather in the next few days. Day one out here was a long, productive day and we know we have our work cut out for us in the weeks to come.

Date Posted: July 10, 2014 @ 9:07 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

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