Algalita Marine Research Blog

Nearshore Sampling Aboard ORV Alguita

Posted by: ORV Alguita

A warm, overcast sky burns into a gentle breeze and sunshine making for a pleasant day of nearshore sampling aboard ORV Alguita. Our work and enjoyment of the ocean scene along the Long Beach coast is, as usual, too often interrupted with balloons. We follow a bundle of silver hearts and an inflated #1 as it drifts out of reach over the water. Facundo skillfully hooks the bundle just after it settles on the ocean surface. Closer inspection reveals this pollution was generated in celebration of a little girls first birthday. Another colorful bundle of balloons reads “Caring with a personal touch”.

Thankfully our first otter trawl yields more fish than plastic (on the left Captain Moore pours the tub of specimens into a tank for further inspection). Later in the lab we will see if these fish have been including plastic in their diet. Above research crew member, Christiana, holds up a bit of plastic she untangled from the net along with these fish.

Above, our second otter trawl yields a familiar reminder of the confusion marine organisms can have when deciphering between plastic and prey (the infamous visual similarity between sea jellies and clear plastic).

We draw a second, less common comparison between a fragment of a moon snail egg collar (on the left above) and the fragment of plastic.

We also sampled the surface water just inside the break wall of the Long Beach Harbor using a manta trawl (above). On the left, Christiana and Emily are rinsing the sample from the cod end of the net into a bowl. Unfortunately, even a quick inspection of this sample reveals that it is largely composed of plastic. Christiana points out some of the smaller fragments floating in the collection bowl beside a plastic bag.

Date Posted: May 15, 2010 @ 5:56 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

ORV Alguita

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Hello from aboard ORV Alguita in the Pacific Ocean! ORV stands for Oceanographic Research Vessel, and Alguita is the research vessel that has carried our research team to the most remote regions of the Pacific Ocean to study plastic pollution. Many of you have joined us on these voyages so I thought you would be interested to see what Alguita and crew are up to now.

There are over 4,000 miles of Ocean and North American Continent between us and the crew aboard Sea Dragon- but we are working together to answer many of the same questions about plastic pollution. Today our job aboard ORV Alguita is to investigate the connection between plastic pollution entering the ocean through our watershed and the marine food web in Southern California. We also had the opportunity to head a little way offshore to observe some of the debris flushed out to sea by the recent storms. (The pic to the left shows some of what we found.)

Marcus and Anna have explained that most of the plastic pollution that they are finding in remote areas of the ocean found its way into the ocean through watersheds. Plastic litter on land flows directly out to sea when it rains. Today we traveled to the mouths of three major rivers here in Southern California: The Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Santa Ana Rivers to see if the large quantities of plastics entering the oceans at the river mouths are also entering the food chain through the mouths of fish. (The pic to the left is of the mouth of the Santa Ana River.)

To find out if the fish at the river mouths have been eating the plastic debris as it flushes out to sea, the crew used an otter trawl to collect fish from the ocean floor. Here the crew is pulling in the net to see what they have caught. For those of you who have joined on past voyages you may recognize Captain Moore, Christiana (our ichthyologist) and Jeff- Facundo also joined in and helped everything run smoothly. Below on the left Christiana shows us two queenfish that she collected in the trawl. Unfortunately a few of the trawls contained almost as much plastic pollution as they did fish. On the right is an anchovy she caught in the trawl along with the plastic top of a soda cup, a piece of plastic packaging, and a black trash bag. The fish will be taken back to the laboratory where Gwen and Christiana will examine the contents of their stomachs.
Today we also had the opportunity to head a bit farther offshore to see how much plastic pollution the recent storms washed out to sea. It was very disappointing to find windrows thick with plastic pollution outside the harbor in the open ocean. We stopped briefly to scoop up what we could. It is interesting to see how similar plastic items congregate in the same location. We found one section of a windrow that was dominated by plastic straws of every color, shape and size- a “strawrow“. Some are striped with a bend, others have spoons on one end for digging through a slurpee. As the straws bob amid loose bits of seaweed they look like the branching canopy of some mysterious underwater plastic forest.
A cormorant surfaces through the “strawrow” adorned with a clear straw- the reality of how we have littered this marine organism’s home suddenly strikes deep. The straws are difficult to catch because they slip through the mesh of our nets- but after a few moments we already have a collection of 32 straws. Nearby we find a section of the windrow where plastic bottle caps have gathered.
Unfortunately today we were also reminded of how directly plastic pollution can harm wildlife. Several California sea lions were sunbathing on a buoy. As we passed by them Captain Moore noticed that one had plastic fishing line wrapped around her neck- a potentially deadly necklace. It was frustrating that we could do nothing for her- she is still strong and if we had approached her she would have slipped into the water and swam away. All I could do was take pictures and ask all of you to be very careful with your fishing line if you go fishing.

The variety of plastic pollution we encountered today was bewildering, but the strangest item was a balloon. Balloons unfortunately are an extremely common sight on the water, many people throw parties and release their balloons into the air (though I know none of you would do this). We saw balloons of all shapes and colors today but this one was different. We could see this bright pink balloon from quite a distance, when we got closer Captain Moore skillfully captured it with the boat hook. Pink, shiny and adorned with a picture of Hanna Montana the balloon read “Lets Rock.” And sure enough hitting the balloon with the boat hook caused it to launch into song from a small speaker embedded inside.

For me, the day provided a continually changing perspective on our local marine ecosystems. Dolphins joined us to play in front of our bow, pelicans and terns dove from the air catching fish around the research vessel, harbor seals and sea lions basked in the sun barely opening their eyes as we passed- the diversity of marine life in this area is amazing! Similarly to Marcus and Anna’s experience in the Atlantic, as we passed through windrows of plastic litter suddenly the serene ocean scene would give way to an uncomfortable reminder of our impacts on the ocean and how much work we have ahead of us.

Thank you all for joining us -Holly-

Date Posted: February 15, 2010 @ 3:12 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

ORV Alguita on Good Morning America

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Date Posted: February 3, 2010 @ 5:01 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

North Atlantic Gyre: Sea Blog 01

Posted by: Algalita Admin

Posted on January 11, 2010

Three days into our expedition. Blue skies, light winds, and relatively calm seas. We’re motoring along at 2 knots, painstakingly slow for a sailor, but perfect speed for collecting surface samples of plastic pollution. So far we’ve collected five – every one contained plastic fragments, film, line, and pre-production pellets. Small quantities, and small particles, but present nonetheless.

We left the St. Thomas yacht harbor on Friday afternoon, after several days of prepping, stowing, running errands, and squeezing in last emails while the rest of the crew arrived- nine total. Besides Marcus and me, there is Ivan Martinetti from BlueTurtle our title sponsor; Jon Howard- “JT” from Ecousable also sponsors of JUNKraft and JUNKride; Leslie Moyer, an activist and supporter from San Francisco; Stiv Wilson, CEO and editor of Wend Magazine and a phenomenal chef; Steve Amato-Salvatierra, the Sea Dragon’s intern, fresh out of high school and sailing around the world before college; and our skipper and first mate from the UK- Clive Crosby and John Wright, both exceptional sailors and exceptionally patient men.

Already, the busy yacht harbor bustling with tourists and horizon-blocking cruise liners seems far away – our only view now is 360 degrees of Caribbean blue.

After the first evenings wave of seasickness bouts – from mild nausea to hanging over the side of the boat – we’re now settling into a routine: sleep, cook, trawl, eat, clean, trawl, sleep, trawl, scan horizon for debris, trawl. Our goal is to collect at least 25 samples by the time we reach Bermuda in 8 days, and another 25 as we continue on, crossing the Atlantic to the Azores.

We pulled up trawl #1 on Saturday morning, as an eager crew clustered around the manta trawl, flip and digital cameras in hand. “Did you find anything?” asked Jon, always ready to film. After thoroughly rinsing and tossing a few handfuls of Sargassum (link to wiki/other description of Sargassum) we found a few tablespoons of planktonic organisms flecked with small plastic particles.

What at first appears a scant amount compared to our Pacific trawls is still reason to reflect: in this vast ocean, several hundred miles from the predicted accumulation zone, using a relatively tiny device – we’re finding evidence of plastic. This short clip shows how we conduct our sampling.

Other notable trawl findings: a small, translucent jelly with a chip of blue plastic in its body – an example of organisms interacting with debris; a large sheet of plastic packaging, a small piece of plastic film, two fishing floats, one plastic crate, and a partridge in a…

In four days, we hope to reach the center of the Sargasso Sea, where the plastic accumulation zone is predicted to be. Meantime, spirits are high, crew is fueled by our mission, and were constantly reminded of the tremendous support it took to get here.

Read more about this voyage on the 5Gyres Blog:

Date Posted: January 12, 2010 @ 4:46 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

The Warm Welcome Home

Posted by: Bonnie

Thank you Algalita and friends for the warm welcome home. Marieta Francis and Jeanne Gallagher – you two were a sight for sore eyes. Along with many others including Jeff’s parents, Kent and Kathy Ernst.

The last few miles in, I sat on the bow ready to video any sea lions or dolphins sightings so I could send a picture back to Vicki Rivenbark’s class at Holly Tree School back in Wilmington, NC. The only thing we saw as we neared Alamitos Bay was plastic trash making its way out to sea as we headed in. Things like Styrofoam containers, chip bags, bottles, and even a soccerball accompanied by a bottle. But the most disturbing was actually witnessing a seagull pecking at a floating plastic bag. “It looked like we were back in the gyre.” Lindsey turned to me and said, “This is where it all starts.” Thank goodness the Algalita supporters where out there to distract us. It was all too overwhelming to see so much trash in its origin- from land. It played out like a scene in “The Twilight Zone.” I, personally, felt like our trip out into the gyre was some kind of victory, only to return to business as usual. The jaded twist to the end of our journey.
It’s going to take a lot more people, like Marieta, willing to lend a hand not letting plastic pollution go out to sea.

I do have a better ending to our last night together though. We left Avalon early Tuesday morning after a dinner the night before at the The Lobster Pot. The waiter asked us where we would like to sit and Lindsey, spying a table for six elevated by a handful of steps into the back of a sawed off boat, said “How about there?” We all looked at the stern nestled up against the wall, shrugged, and climbed the stairs. Why not, what was one more meal elbow to elbow enclosed by the sides of a boat.
Bonnie Monteleone over and out

Date Posted: October 8, 2009 @ 2:49 am Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

ORV Alguita Arrives in Long Beach

Posted by: ORV Alguita

ORV Alguita and crew have returned safely to Long Beach, California after a successful research voyage. Thank you all for following along! In the photo below the crew receives their well deserved chocolate, chocolate cake.

Here are links to read more about Alguita’s arrival in the News:

Date Posted: October 7, 2009 @ 6:05 pm Comments (1) | Show Comments(1)

Day 29

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon Coordinates 32°47’42.48″N, 118°18’19.20″W

Day 29 Monday 10/5/09
When I woke for my last morning alone on the ORV Alguita, it was anything but. Gwen, who does the watch before me, decided to stay up with me due to the problems Lindsey and Jeff were having with the auto pilot. The wind kicked up to over 40 knots causing the auto pilot to fail. The only way to handle the situation was to change course, and if need be steer. There was no beating into the winds. It would also require a sail change from the genoa jib to the staysail, but the captain didn’t want to risk someone getting hurt or blown overboard by the assaulting winds so we traveled off course at 10 knots per hour getting nowhere fast. Bill, who comes on after my shift, was also up due to the outlandish banging under the ship. Few could sleep.

Gwen, who takes good care of this blogger, often times let me sleep in an extra 15 minutes. Today it was an hour. I didn’t change my watch when we sailed into the Pacific Daylight Saving Times yesterday so when I looked at my watch at 0345, I figured I was ahead of the game. It was actually 0445. Not letting on that I was late, nor did she try to wake me, Gwen had just started the tea pot on the stove for me.

Yesterday I was running late too, only that time it was because I was making my way out of the top bunk, a wave came and literally threw me. I fell out of my bunk 4” down landing on the top of my left toes (don’t ask). To add insult to injury I slammed into the side of Gwen’s bed, trashing my leg all in one full swoop. It took a minute for me to rub out the sting. The captain, who has something for everything, came out of his state room with some all natural salve that eases out bruises. It worked on my leg, but the middle toe on my left foot is perhaps broken. Ugg.

We rolled into Avalon, Catalina Island, with a circus show of several sea birds and sea lions. (they swam beside our boat as if so happy to see us!) 3,460 nautical miles later!!!

We walked around the island like drunken sailors though not having a drink. It’s called dock rock. Once on a boat for any length of time and then off, one feels the world rock when while off the boat! We met Faith in the restaurant we had dinner at tonight, a six year old Girl Scout who her and her older sister had accolades for the captain’s work on protecting the oceans. Great to meet both of you!!!

We’re rocking on the island and look forward to seeing everyone at the Algalita Headquarters tomorrow afternoon! Thank you Gwen, Cooper, Lindsey, Jeffy Pop and especially Captain Moore for an experience of a lifetime, but more importantly, allowing me to see the unseen, plastics accumulating in our defenseless ocean.

Hopefully I’ll see many of you tomorrow! Bonnie


Date Posted: October 6, 2009 @ 2:50 pm Comments (1) | Show Comments(1)


Posted by: ORV Alguita

Tuesday October 6, 4pm- 6pm (Arrive as early as possible)
Location: AMRF Office
148 Marina Drive, Long Beach, CA 90803
Click here to view the location in Google Maps
Phone: (562) 598-4889

Come celebrate Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita’s return from her historic 10th Anniversary Expedition to “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” This will be a great chance to congratulate Captain Moore and the crew, check out the research vessel, eat cake and celebrate!!! All you need to bring is enthusiasm, and comfortable shoes for walking on the dock. Try to arrive as early as possible!

Driving Directions to AMRF
Directions from southbound 405:

Exit Studebaker
Right onto Studebaker
Right onto 2nd St.
Left onto Marina Drive
After 2nd stop sign continue straight into Alamitos Bay Landing parking lot
We are located between Khoury’s and Buster’s Beachouse restaurants

Direction from northbound 405:

Exit Seal Beach Blvd.
Left onto Seal Beach Blvd.
Right onto Westminster Blvd. (turns into 2nd St.)
Left onto Marina Drive
Continue past second stop sign straight into Alamitos Bay Landing paking lot
We are located between Khoury’s and Buster’s Beachouse restaurant

Click here to view the location in Google Maps

Hope to see you there!!!!!!

Capt. MooreSincerely,
Holly Gray
Research Vessel Support Coordinator
Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Date Posted: October 5, 2009 @ 10:12 pm Comments (1) | Show Comments(1)

Day 28

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon Coordinates 30° 8’41.40″N, 121°39’11.94″W

Day 28 Sunday 10/04/09
We are winding down to our last 48 hours on the ship. The air is too cold to sit outside for more than a couple of minutes especially since the sun hasn’t shown its face for more than a few minutes each day. Strange to think a week ago we were melting from the heat. Lindsey went for a walk around the ship and was back in less than a minute. Stiff legged and arms out like a scarecrow she was soaked from head to toe. That didn’t stop the captain who put on his swim shorts and headed to the bow to take on the ocean spray head on. The water is a refreshing 65 a shade warmer than the air.

We have been pinched between the Tropical Storm Olaf (sp) below us and Gale winds above us. The sky wants to rid itself of the stainless steal clouds, but it is a losing battle for most of the day. Tonight they loosened up enough to give us our last sunset. Tomorrow night we will be in Avalon, Santa Catalina Island which will block the view of our final sunset set at sea.

The wind is up and the seas are down to a four, perfect conditions to be traveling an average of nine knots without the restless baseball bats banging below. When I say the wind is up, I’m talking straight up. According to the captain these winds are going to take us all the way in.

By dawn we will be traveling right past Cortes Bank which is about 100 miles off the California shore. This exclusive location has attracted the attention of surfers from around the world. It is said that Cortes Bank has the potential of making 150 foot waves due to a deep canyon that has one wall that stretches to just six feet below the surface creating a reef effect for the waves to curl on. It doesn’t happen all the time, but given the perfect conditions, the surf is up like no other in the world. Surfline’s Sean Collins, crew and surfers waited 10 years for the conditions to be perfect for them to go out and surf there. On 11/26/02, the conditions were ripe and they arrived to find 60 foot waves. Because the captain had the video “Making the Call” from the event, we were able to see it with our own eyes. Unbelievable! Chances are, we won’t see this phenomenon, but from what the captain says, it is a great place to fish for tuna. I’ll keep you posted if either materializes!

Remember to keep Tuesday afternoon open to stop down the Algalita headquarters to view our North Pacific Gyre loot! (email to find out the details)

More later,


Date Posted: @ 3:36 pm Comments (2) | Show Comments(2)

Day 27

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon Position 30°19’29.82″N, 125°29’6.84″W

Day 27 Saturday 10/3/09
When the sky turns gray the vast ocean turns a dull shade of purple. Today it was purple all day. The sea state remains a treacherous six with the winds in the high 20s and the waves frothing at 10-12 foot peaks. The captain says they are trying to conform, but are still battling a confused state. We repeatedly see Everest-ridged waves whitecap then avalanche, cascading down near vertical slopes, leaving a temporary white stain in its trough. A sight I have yet to tire of. Sometimes the ship catches the wave in its throat causing the white froth to slam into our windshield. It reminds me of home in NY when the wind gets under a car hood full of snow and momentarily blanks the view. It’s a lot less scary on a boat!

The captain and Bill changed our sails again this morning, taking down the staysail and putting up the genoa jib. The reason why is because we are now catching the northerlies we’ve been desperately needing in order to connect to the north-westerlies that will get us to shore. Bill couldn’t dodge the froth that heaved over the bow, caught him in the back and nearly swept him off his feet. The 68 degree water, about the temperature of the air, felt even colder with the wind chill. The last time we changed the sails the captain had me working the winch table. I’d like to report that dyslexia translates well into the sailing world. I wittingly grabbed a sheet and it just happened to be the wrong sheet and didn’t go unnoticed by the captain. Darn dyslexia. The good news is we are now traveling at 10 knots and it’s looking up that we will port for the Tuesday afternoon welcome home. I’ll continue to keep you posted on the status.

Our on-board marine biologist Gwen Lattin received a special delivery today. A beautiful flying fish flew up on the bow in the night to volunteer itself to science. These fish are even more beautiful than I imagined. Even though I saw them when I was in the North Atlantic Gyre, out here I got to see one up close and personal.

Tonight’s dinner started last night with Jeff brining a plump chicken. It was ready this evening when Jeff plucked it out from the oven along with purple jams, and orange squash. Yep, we’re still eating fresh veggies with two days to the finish line. The captain slit the outrageously good jams in half then mashed them adding coconut sauce, it’s to die for!!!

We ended the night with a special treat. Jeff made homemade hot cocoa and then we shut off all the lights and with only a coalminer’s headlamp, the captain read us a short story from the book, The Bedtime Book of Sea Stories called “Three Skeleton Key” by George E. Toudouze. It doesn’t get much better than that!
More later, Bonnie


Shawn, Thank you from all of us that you are spreading the word about Algalita’s work. I have been lucky enough to go to the Garbage Patch to witness with my own eyes what Captain Moore has been seeing over the past 10 years. I will continue to bring peoples attention to the issue more than ever. Best to you, enjoy the beach for us. Best, Bonnie

Date Posted: October 4, 2009 @ 6:43 pm Comments (2) | Show Comments(2)

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