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.
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.
It 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.
Charlie 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.