Posted by: Jeffery Ernst
Its time to get this thing up and running again. The Alguita hasnt been doing much in 2009…. yet. We will sail over 11k miles before the year is over, and there should lots worth talking about along the way
Below is the project description for our main research cruise this year, along with the rough dates for each major section.
A Little Bit of Background:
The Alguita was the first vessel to sample the surface waters of the area that has now become known in the popular press as the great pacific garbage patch, and our research team was the first to develop a standard methodology for this sort of sampling. The end result of this effort is a set of data for summer, and winter surface plastic debris levels, and accompanying zooplankters (<300mm) in the north pacific subtropical gyre (NPSG). The data from these first two trips will be significantly strengthened by a summer sampling of the same transects and beyond during this year. The levels of plastic can then be compared to the levels found ten years ago, and related to our model predictions, allowing for a determination of growth during that period
Very little, in regards to direct mitigation; can be done about small particle plastic pollution, and potential impacts of this mid-late 20th century phenomenon are wide ranging and poorly understood. The exclusive economic zone (EEZ), of the United States extends 200 miles in all directions from every US coastline including the NWHI. This line marks the distance in which US federal environmental management groups, are mandated to mitigate negative impacts to protected species and to the environmental wealth of the country. This means that the open ocean waters of the world are a difficult place to justify government spending on research or cleanup efforts, unless impacts to the US Economy (i.e. damage to a fishery stock from plastic ingestion), can be, beyond all reasonable doubt; proven to government (remember we have been arguing wither cigarettes are bad for us since the 70s).
Because of this reason, direct sampling of the central ocean gyres of the world has to come from nonprofit groups like Algalita Marine Research Foundation. At least until the issue is present enough in the consciousness of the general public to bring about change in what has become a true tragedy of the commons for a global generation.
Moving Forward: 1st leg of the gyre trip June 10th to July 25th, 2009
The most logical expansion, of the monitoring and quantification being done in the NPSG; is west of Hawaii encircling the NWHI and Midway. We intend to travel Northwest form California turning around at the International Data Line at approximately 35N Lat and returning to Hawaii on the northern side of the NWHI chain. The total trip duration will be approximately 6 weeks and will provide both trawl and fish tissue samples for analysis back on land. Based on remote sensing data, models, and NOAA monitoring efforts within the NWHI monument, there are two major reasons for choosing this as the next expansion of our study area.
NOAA estimates, from a 2001-2005 study; that the annual accumulation of debris within the national monument is 52 metric tons. A significant amount of material and yet there is no study of the impacts or mitigation plan for small particle plastic pollutants in these areas. We believe based on model simulation (OSCURS, DELI) that a significant amount of the plastic pollution currently cycling around the North Pacific passes through the NWHI at some point on its journey, a great deal of it most likely does not become ensnared by the islands or reef making the area a suspect for high concentration of small particle pollution.
The other great reason for wanting to conduct a study at this site is that it represents one of the most pristine coral reef habitat left on the planet with one of its most endangered marine mammal, the Hawaiian Monk seal, as well as critical turtle and bird nesting areas. The importance of these islands for a myriad of species, mean that a full understanding of how these animals and their environment are interacting with plastic pollution is in dire need.
Spreading the Word: 2nd leg, August, 2009
In early August approximately two week after arrival in Hawaii we plan to have the vessel depart Honolulu as a part of a major media initiative to help bring awareness to the issue of ocean plastic pollution. Since mitigation seems unlikely, especially for the small particle sizes; education is the best tool to fight this issue. The general populous of the world has to become more educated about the final destination of a wide range of disposable goods. And at the same time the plastic and disposable good industries need to provide innovative alternatives that will appeal to the general public.
Peligro Pictures in conjunction with Billabong and ScubaDrew Video will be taking part in a two week giant loop approximately 100 miles NE of Hawaii into the NPSG, which will include not only the Alguita, but the Billabong Seaplane and their own long range vessel as well. The combination will provide a platform for celebrity guests to come out and witness the problem first hand, while providing their thoughts and commentary on the issue.
Resample of the NPSG: 3rd leg, September, 2009
The trip home from Hawaii back to California will include a resample of the original 1999 summertime gyre crossing. This 10 year time span will allow for much stronger statements to be made about the rate of growth and about the seasonal changes in plastic density. This trip will also be comparing the amount of fish caught in the manta trawl (surface zooplankton net), with a particular interest in the family Myctophidae (lantern fish); to levels caught during the winter transect run last February.