Algalita Marine Research Blog

Day 52 Land Ho!!!

Posted by: ORV Alguita

July 31st 9am Coordinates: 21 15.57N, 158 04.07W

Land Ho!

We made it-51 days and 6,890 miles logged! We’re about an hour into landfall and were welcomed by the warm, still sunshine of the islands. The morning has been a bit hectic-we pulled into Ko’olina Harbor on the southwest side of Oahu with an hour and a half to spare before Christiana’s flight to the mainland. We are in the process of fueling up now and then we’ll motor our way 15 miles or so eastward to Kewalo Basin, where the Alguita will be slipped for the next several weeks as she is prepared for the 2nd leg of the voyage-the 10 year resample of our 1999 sample locations on a course from Oahu back to Long Beach.

The next few days will be spent decompressing and taking care of business. Drew will be heading back to the North Shore with his wife, Jaime, while the rest of us stick to the Honolulu area. We will be attending the Hawai’i Conservation Conference open house at ING Café on Saturday August 1st, hosting a potluck with the help of Surfrider aboard the Alguita on Sunday the 2nd (hopefully the boat will be sufficiently aired out from the 7 weeks of sea-funk-mold, mildew, and the wonderful aromas associated with 6 people in close quarters) and topping it off with a “open boat” on Monday the 3rd from 10am-12pm giving the public and press a chance to share in our research.

Update on the missile hot zone: Pheonix 1 wasn’t lying. Out on the back deck, eating cheesecake and watching our last sunset of the trip together, Christiana looked through a gap in the cloudy sky and said as a bit of an afterthought, “Wow, that looks a lot like a missile trail….” And sure enough it was. Off the port stern, there was a distinct missile trail heading to into the west. We were happy to be far enough from the launch to see the action and not feel it.

Thanks to everyone who has been following along on our journey! It’s been a unique and powerful experience for us all. Stayed tuned for a couple blog posts during the next week or so: there will be more pictures (they’ll be a lot cheaper to post and in much higher resolution now that we’re back on land) and personal accounts from the Captain and each of the crew members on our 7-week adventure.

Aloha from the Oahu,
Nicole

Date Posted: July 31, 2009 @ 10:38 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Day 50

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon Position 26 28.30N 159 41.22W

7/29
We are 245 miles out from Oahu and speeding along at 9.1 knots over the ground with 21 knots of wind. We are definitely in the trades now. This afternoon we passed back into the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the U.S. and spotted Frigate Birds, both of which are a reminder that we are getting close to land again.

The day was a pretty standard transit upwind-other than being informed that were in an area which will become a missile hot zone by 5:30 pm tomorrow, the 30th. Jeff was on watch and was getting a crackling and inaudible transmission on the VHF radio. Apparently that inaudible crackle was the military trying to get in touch with us, so they decided to step it up a notch and swoop down over the bow of the Alguita in their plane. This got our attention. With the plane in closer range the transmission came in clear. The plane, which hailed us under the call sign Pheonix 1, informed us that in 24 hours the military was going to be testing missiles-right over the waters we were in. Pheonix 1 stated that as long as we maintained course (we were on a bearing of 140 or so) we’d be out of the way in time. A couple hours later Phoenix 1 made contact again, suggesting that we keep our course as easterly as possible in order to be clear out of the way by tomorrow evening. Needless to say, we are keeping out of the way.

The other excitement of the day was a product of beating into the weather. All the hatches have to stay closed since the foredeck is getting doused by waves–so the cabin is a little stuffy. Christiana gave into the stuffy heat earlier in the day (as we all have at some point) and opened up one of the hatches in the starboard cabin during a lull in splash, only to get her bunk drenched by an unexpected wave. Lesson learned. The hatch remained closed until, again someone couldn’t stand the mugginess of the cabin and re-opened up the hatch. This time the inevitable flood of water drenched Drew’s bunk-sleeping bag and all.

Our ETA is now sometime during mid-morning on the 31st, although this is still subject to the whims of the weather. We have put aside some time on Monday the 3rd, from 10am-12pm, to invite the public and the media to stop by our slip in Honolulu’s Kewalo Basin to check out what we have collected during our 7 weeks at sea. Hope to see some of our Oahu friends there.

Date Posted: July 30, 2009 @ 3:32 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Day 48

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon Coordinates: 31°37’12.00″N 158°35’60.00″W

July 27
We are motor sailing along at 6 knots on a course is 176, heading almost straight south towards Oahu with only 568 lovely miles to go. We’ve logged 6200 miles on the trip so far. Without our days broken up by trawling or stopping to dive a large piece of debris they’re all kind of starting to run together.

We hit winds of a steady 25 to 30 knots over the weekend….with gusts up to 40 and 50 knots! AS Jeff’s father pointed out to us, during this period we made the most headway in 24 hrs than we have in any of the past several voyages he has tracked!

It was a bit of a rough ride, beating into weather most of the time. At that point we were flying along at 8-12 knots with the weather hitting us at our beam. These conditions made for a noisy couple days. “Water bombs” were going off left and right. “Water bomb” is the term Drew has been using to describe the jarring “BOOM” that happens when the Alguita slaps down onto a swell. Walking around the vessel was quite a task during this weather. You don’t so much get the option of choosing where you are going as being forced to land somewhere by the yawing and slapping of the boat. The galley transforms from a place to prepare the food, to a passageway full of counters and random objects to brace yourself on your rocky journey to, well…the other side of the boat. Heavy weather also meant that the bilge alarm was going off again. There’s a hole somewhere that let’s water invade the port hull when the weather picks up (we thought we fixed it in Hawai’Ii, but apparently not). So what this means is that someone gets to pump out 5 gallons of mucky bilge water every 12 hours or so-which I must say is a small price to pay to keep the boat afloat.

The night shift on the 25th (Saturday) was particularly hairy-this was the night we saw gusts of 50 knots. The auto-pilot went out on Joel’s shift around 10pm and then morning team had to hand steer the vessel because the auto-pilot wouldn’t correct the course adequately.

The way Captain puts it, the Alguita is kind of like an albatross. When there is enough wind an albatross barely has to flap its wings-saving its energy and gliding along on the gusts. Only when the weather is calm will you see an albatross flap. Likewise, when there is enough wind the Alguita glides along, powered by sails and no energy is being spent. But when the wind dies, the boat has to flap its wings and so we turn on the engines.

Plans for our arrival in Oahu are in the works. It’s a little difficult to get things set up when our ETA is, well, a little fuzzy to say the least. We are hoping to arrive by the 30th. So far our plan is to get into the harbor at Kewalo Basin, take a day to clean-up the vessel a bit, and then invite the public and press to take a look at the debris we’ve found. There are also opportunities for us to present our research in a more formal setting. With the help of some of our Oahu based friends from Surfrider and Roz Savage’s support team we should be able to get something good going on the island.

If you live on the island and want to come by and say hi or have any ideas for a reception please contact Holly Gray at vesselsupport@algalita.org and she can put you in touch with us!
To all of our family, friends, and supporters thanks for continuing to follow the blog! It’s been refreshing to get the supportive and insightful comments from home.
On the home stretch,
Nicole

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Date Posted: July 28, 2009 @ 4:23 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Day 45- Living on Liquid

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon Coordinates: 35°11’24.00″N 164°39’0.00″W
As we return to Honolulu and near the completion of our historic 6,000 mile voyage through the plastic soup to the International Dateline, I should tell you something about the extraordinary vessel that made all this scientific sampling of ocean plastic pollution possible. My “Little Kelp Plant” Alguita was not built on an assembly line. She was the product of a lifetime of sailing experience, years of research into vessel design, and collaboration among experts from the other side of the world. Her virtue is that she is the smallest, most economical vessel that can carry a crew of 6 in relative comfort while monitoring vast areas of the central North Pacific Ocean. You see, living on a liquid is different from living on solid ground. First off, you have to live in a container. Innumerable containers for this purpose have been designed over the years, but for sailing ability, interior space and providing a stable platform for research, I believe the catamaran tops the list.

Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita, Is 25 feet wide and 50 feet long, her two aluminum hulls set wide apart to provide stability. The underwing that attaches the two hulls together also serves as the floor or her ample bridge and galley. In a car, the noise of the tires rolling over the road can be made nearly inaudible to the occupants, but there is no way in a small boat, despite insulation throughout, to silence the whoosing of ocean waves being thrown out by the hulls. Additionally, the low slung underwing is only about 18” above the water surface, so that the whooshing is punctuated by waves confined between the hulls hitting it with a bang that feels like a car crashing over a tree stump. In moderate to heavy seas, we get frequent reminders that the particular liquid we are living on is not compressible. But what a sailor she is, with her main and genoa on a beam reach, she can easily do half the wind speed, and with her spinnaker set downwind, she sails along smartly.

We have gotten the winds we wanted for our sail back to Honolulu, with a gigantic cyclonic low smashing the high that creates the gyre, and are currently whooshing along on a beam reach at 9-11 knots in a blustery 25-35 knot gale. Free fuel (wind), free energy (a kilowatt of solar panels), and free water made from seawater by a solar powered reverse osmosis system. With conditions like this, our range, like that of the albatross, is truly unlimited. Our most recent voyage was a lot like that of the foraging mother albatross, Amelia, in Carl Safina’s lovely book, Eye of the Albatross – leaving the Northwest Hawaiian Islands we passed through the Musicians Seamounts, reached the International Dateline, headed due north to the subarctic frontal zone, grabbed the westerlies there and headed back down to the islands. Alguita has provided hot water for showers, cold water to drink, fresh food to eat (we still have squash, eggs, onions, cabbage, garlic, yams, leeks, and a small watermelon and a pineapple), frozen food to thaw, a propane stove to cook on and an oven to bake in. We have done day and night dives and refilled scuba tanks with our electric air compressor. We have accessed our extensive spare parts locker to replace a failed water pump, used our many tools for numerous repairs, including a tap and die set to reset a stripped bolt on the port engine, and repaired many lines and sails with our marlinspike seamanship skills. We even patched a leak in the underwing, which gets impacted by debris like heavy fishing floats smashing into it as they pass between the hulls. So our container is an amazingly versatile and functional one, not only for living safely and economically on liquid, but for studying its unknown, but important qualities. Thanks to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, we have been able to keep Alguita involved in research important to marine conservation for the past 15 years.

Whooosh – woops, there’s another treestump, bang thump, but hey, for 10 free knots of boat speed its worth it!

Captain Charles Moore
1000 miles north of Honolulu

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Date Posted: July 24, 2009 @ 7:58 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Check out the voyage in Google Maps!!!

Posted by: ORV Alguita


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Date Posted: July 23, 2009 @ 11:46 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Day 43- Balloon

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon position: 39°18’31.80″N 170°23’19.20″W
5400 miles into the trip, 8knots over the ground, 20 knots of wind

Captain has been on a cooking spree the past few days: a curried lentil and squash soup one night, green chili beef and bean stew the next, and hamburgers tonight. These tasty meals followed by relentless snacking (Jeff is the king of killer snack plate composition) have made for a sluggish crew the past few days. Well, sluggish in between the sail changes and boat chores. No trawling can be done in this sea state (we learned our lesson on the first leg with the broken Manta, plus our priority is making good time to Honolulu) and the weather hasn’t exactly created the most welcoming deck conditions (it’s rainy, and windy, and cold). Drew has still being doing his morning debris watch which involves tracking the minutes to his first debris sighting of the morning. He clocked a record 10 minutes the other day. That was the longest period of time he’s had to wait to spot debris after walking out on deck.

Needless to say, we have a lot of time to reflect on what we are finding out here. The other day we pulled up a balloon out of the water. It was the knotted end of a bold turquoise balloon attached to some sort of plastic clip. There was no fouling and it appears to be fairly recently deposited. It would have taken years for the balloon to make its way out here via ocean currents. Perhaps it caught some wind off of Japan while it was still inflated or maybe it was released off of a cruise ship passing through the Pacific.

This is the second balloon fragment of the trip. Towards the beginning of the voyage we pulled in a balloon ribbon on one of our fishing lines. As Captain Moore has pointed out several times-balloons are key examples of a frivolous use of plastic. They are mass produced and are now a celebratory staple of sorts at birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, school dances-the list goes on. I remember arches of hundreds of balloons created for high school pep rallys and football games. After the events, sometimes the balloons would get popped and other times they’d been ceremoniously released into the sky.

I was recently a part of a team from CSU, Long Beach’s Environmental Science and Policy Department that was focused on trash accumulation and categorization at the Colorado Lagoon. The Colorado Lagoon is remnant of the historical Los Cerritos Wetlands Complex which is one of the few (although highly degraded) remaining wetlands in Southern California. Balloons, or fragments thereof, surfaced several times in our transects. They are polluting the most remote parts of the world (the middle of the Pacific Ocean) as well as our terrestrial ecosystems.

Anyway, the point is we have stopped questioning some of the cultural practices that contribute to our excessive waste stream. When looking at the practice of celebratory balloons from a rational point of view, it’s a waste of resources and a ridiculous use for a material that is known for its long life span. Balloons are used once, typically on the scale of hours at a time. Why use an everlasting material for this sort of practice? Furthermore why release this material ceremoniously into the environment. Balloons aren’t even close to being the dominant source of waste in the NPSG, but they serve as an allegory for the effect our normalized actions can have on the bigger picture.

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Date Posted: @ 2:31 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Day 42

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon position: 40°50’29.98″N 173°19’55.80″W

We are 5,200 miles into our journey and back in the western hemisphere, starting to make our way south with a heading of 115. Our speed over ground (SOG) is 7.6 knots and we’re getting winds out of the west at 20-25 knots. These are the winds we want to see-the Captain and crew are anxious to make it to Honolulu. We all have prior commitments that have been put in jeopardy by the weather conditions.

The winds started really picking up yesterday evening, jumping from 6-8 knots in the AM to 20-25 in the PM as we headed north. We took advantage of the situation by sailing downwind with the lovely, yet hard to please, spinnaker. For a while the winds were hovering around 30 knots, throwing large rolling swells at us which compromised the accuracy of the autopilot system. We were flirting with a disastrous collapse of the spinnaker and it became necessary to steer by hand. Drew was first in line for the job and Captain came in to relieve him after an hour. Christiana and I were watching his technique (how much to turn the rudder to compensate for the swells, when to overcorrect, when to make small adjustments, etc.) when we looked up to the sudden, violent collapse of the sail.

The crew donned life vests and rushed to the foredeck to fish the sail out of the water. The damage to the sail was pretty severe. On top of a second broken spinnaker halyard there is now a huge tear running up from the foot of the sail. We lost the most efficient sail for the current weather conditions-which lowered the morale a bit. Of course, we still have other sail options and have been making do with various combinations of the Genoa jib, Stays’l, and mainsail. Part of our issue is that the nature of the area in which we have been sampling is a high pressure zone. High pressure zones are characterized by light winds. We needed to spend the fuel to motor through these calms to in order to even run the Manta trawls. The past several days have been working towards an escape from these conditions, using sail power and not trying not to use the ever dwindling fuel supply. Our plan of escape: sailing north. This may seem a bit illogical since our destination is way south of us, but there just so happens to be a rhyme to our reason. Here’s Joel on the subject:

“Since we are a sailing vessel and we must sail to get home, we need to find where the favorable winds are. The wind and currents in the North Pacific Ocean are dominated by the large gyre at its center. The wind in the California Current flows from north to south and is the eastern edge of the gyre, the Trade Winds blowing toward the west and southwest make the southern boundary, the Kurshio current flows south to north off the east coast of Asia makes the western edge of the gyre while the westerlies blow back toward the West Coast of North America and make the northern boundary of the gyre. (note: keep in mind that winds are named for the direction they originate from. Thus westerlies come from the west, easterlies from the east etc.). All together they make a giant clockwise circular current and wind system with high atmospheric pressure and calmer variable winds at the center known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. It is one of five major gyres in the world’s oceans. There are three in the northern hemisphere (The North Pacific, North Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean) which spin clockwise. In the southern hemisphere the South Atlantic, South Pacific and Indian oceans spin counter clockwise.

The most direct course home would have been to motor into the trade winds in the southern part of the gyre, but since we need to sail to get home we must go north and find the westerlies which blow to the east. Once we go far enough east we will make a right hand turn and will have to pass again through the center of the high pressure system which is blocking our path to Hawai’i. The light and variable winds from the gyre will eventually hook us up with the trade winds and we can use them to hastily return us to Oahu.”

The Corilolis Effect is the driving force behind the current and wind systems Joel described above. In the most basic sense, the Coriolis Effect is a result of the west to east rotation of the earth. This means that air flow is affected by this motion. For example, an object on a trajectory directly from the North Pole directly south would be deflected to east. In the southern hemisphere, an object traveling from the South Pole northward would be deflected to the west. Air pushes water to create surface currents, thus the deflection I just mentioned from high pressure systems, combined with boundaries created by earth’s landmasses encourage the dominant currents, like those described by Joel to maintain their clockwise (northern hemisphere) and counterclockwise (southern hemisphere) rotations.

Furthermore there are several convection cells of air resulting from the combination of the rotation of the earth and the differential heating of the earth. So the sun hits different parts of the earth at different angles. The more direct the angle of sun exposure, the more that surface will be heated. This is why it is so hot along the equator, where the sun hits directly for much of the year, and so cold towards the poles where there is little direct sun exposure. This differential heating results in the rising and sinking of air. Cool air sinks, warm air rises. So as air is sinking and rising (on the macroscale) as well as being subject to the Corilolis force dominate wind patterns, such as the Tradewinds (named for the reliability of the winds for trade) are established.

On another note, reports from the wildlife front: Christiana dissected two fish today-a large flying fish (we think it’s Hirundichthys albimaculatus based on the key we have on board) and the first tuna of the trip (it was an Albacore). No plastic to report in either of them.

Two nights ago we were visited by a half dozen friendly Leach’s Petrels. Well not so much friendly as they were attracted to our running lights. It’s a dangerous situation for the birds to be hovering so close to the moving vessel, there are far too many lines and hard surfaces for them to maneuver around. But it’s also not an option for us to shut off our running lights-that would put us in a lot of danger. The story ending happily though-none of the birds were hurt and we were entertained by their spastic flapping and their almost monkey-like chirps.

We are still finding debris, although it is significantly sparser. The areas we are transiting through at the moment are thought to be contributing waters and not accumulation zones of debris. Visual observations from the crew confirm this theory-although the waters have been quite choppy which makes anything but the large and prominent debris very difficult to spot. Bottom line, we still encounter debris after a few minute stint on deck and we have yet to pull in a trawl (we’ve done 42 so far) without plastic fragments.
From the Pacific,
Nicole

Date Posted: July 22, 2009 @ 10:10 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Day 39- A dolphin encounter unlike any other!

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon position: 39° 8’11.98″N 179°59’47.76″E

July 18, 2009
As a SCUBA instructor for Surf and Sea in Haleiwa Oahu, I do get periodic times to swim with Hawaii’s favorite spinner dolphin, I have even had the opportunity to see bottlenose dolphin. Be it all of these encounters were wonderful and exciting in their own right, nothing prepared me for what I experienced last night.

After my usual 2 am wakeup call from Jeff to begin my night watch on another night of motoring through a windless calm at about 4 knots, I noticed an unusual glow coming from the water off of the stern of the boat. I quickly realized that the green column of water trailing the boat for about 100 ft was the bioluminescence resulting from the port engine propeller. Bioluminescence is the glowing green light emitted by a reaction within certain planktonic organisms, when their surrounding water is disturbed. Unless you are on a boat at night in plankton rich water, the next best way to see an example of bioluminescence is to swim, snorkel or dive at night, then turn off your lights and move your hand back and forth through the water. You should see some tiny green swirling lights around your hand. The more plankton in the water, the more lights emitted.

Well the waters out here are so rich with plankton, that when Jeff told me I should see the bioluminescence from the bow, I was astounded at what I saw. The catamaran left 2 bright glowing green waves and green swirling lines that followed the bow wake pattern. All the while, bright green bursts could be seen as larger sources of bioluminescence were triggered by the pressure wave in the water. The sound waves of the engine would trigger the reaction in the larger pelagic planktonic organisms deeper and further ahead of the boat, so they would “light up” as we approached. The waveless, windless night combined with a vantage point less than 3 feet from the water’s surface made this a once in a lifetime occasion for me.

I decided to take my camera and a cushion to lie on and see if I could capture this incredible visual spectacle on videotape. Well as any digital videographer can tell you…yeah right! Although the Sony SR11 donated by Reef Photo, is great for the underwater video application, there is no consumer camera with that capability to record what I was seeing.

After 10 minutes of just gazing at this phenomenon, I was suddenly startled as 2 large green streaks shot from beneath the boat, between the hulls and splashed to the surface right in front of me, then split to either side of the boat. Three more streaks shot in from port side and I could see clearly through the water that unmistakable shape…Dolphin!

The only way I could describe it was the dance of the sugar plum fairies out of the movie Fantasia, only with dolphin making the trails. I could watch them go deep and the green glow would get dim and then get brighter and brighter as they got close to the surface again…then splash they would break the surface. The shape was created by the glowing green bioluminescence generated as the graceful swimming machine moved through the water.

It was like watching an animated movie with special effects…it was surreal!!!! I could clearly see the details of each animal as it swam under my nose just out of arms reach. Tails, fins, body, were all clearly visible with the green outline through the clear calm water. Within seconds I had 10 to 12 dolphin doing what dolphins do….playing in the wake of a boat. The dolphin kept shooting in from the sides, darting up from the deep, two or three at a time, swirling in front of my face, each with its own green silhouette and ocean meteor trail extending at times, up to 20ft behind each powerful tail.

For only the second time in my life, my breath was actually taken away. I sat for what must have been 5 minutes in complete amazement by the visual ballet being performed just for me. With tears building up, I thought this is not fair that my wife Jamie couldn’t be here to experience this with me, this is just one of those times you want to share with loved ones. I then thought, maybe I should wake the crew.

Well Christiana was first to show up and the dolphin continued the show. At one point we saw a big green ball rise from deep beneath the boat only to explode into 5 individual silhouette trails dancing apart, then coming back together as the graceful sea mammals continued their dance while trails from flying fish scattered about. Nicole and Charlie finally got up in time to see the show before the dolphin went on their way, but Joel and Jeff didn’t leave their bunks…oh well, their loss. We think they were the same pod of common dolphin that came by after the sun came up.

One of the things that crossed my mind while watching this light show that was taking place, was the question of what it must look like from underwater and the realization that, dolphin have good eyes so they get to see this all the time from under water. Just another reason why I believe when it comes to rank on the life ladder, we are several rungs below the dolphin, they are just designed too perfect…they don’t need technology to create their own light show.

This will rank as one of the greatest experiences of my lifetime! It’s just sad to think they have to swim through all that plastic that I see during the day.

Writing and photography by crew member Drew Wheeler (Thanks Drew!!!! )You can learn more about his underwater videography at http://www.scubadrewvideo.com/ and follow his account of the voyage on his blog at http://trashvoyage.com/

Date Posted: July 21, 2009 @ 3:38 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Day 38

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon position: 37°30’18.00″N 179°12’18.00″E Photo: ScubaDrew videoworks
Today was gloomy-starting and ending with rain, although it was kind of nice to get a break from the strong sunshine. Since we are motoring at such a slow speed anyway, anywhere from 2 to a whopping 4 knots, we decided we weren’t loosing much headway by throwing out a manta trawl this afternoon-and yes, there was plastic. Based on reports from Drew about the density of debris particles flowing by the boat we expected to see a lot more plastic in the trawl. It seems that by the time we set up and deployed the Manta trawl we had already passed through the denser band of debris.

We pulled in the third industrial grade white plastic bag today, although this one was a smaller piece and did not have the blue Japanese characters. Based on the fouling level and the identical nature of the plastic material we are pretty sure it’s a member of the same bunch. That makes three within four days.

Strange event of the day: an attack by a wooden spool stuffed with beer packaging. Drew spotted something “really big” dead ahead of us from his debris gazing spot on the foredeck. I popped up through the hatch with some binoculars and discovered that is was a large wooden spool for wire (about 3.5 ft tall and 3 feet in diameter). We approached it with the boat in idle forward and tried to hook it from the front. The cagey little spool evaded the debris wranglers and ended up bouncing off the port hull. Oops. No harm done thankfully.

Captain dove of the aft deck and into the water to attach a line to the spool before it got away. We hoisted it up on deck with the gantry to find two Baltica brand 6-pack beer packages (it’s a Chilean beer) stuffed inside along with a couple stowaway crabs. Upon closer inspection we could tell this was relatively recently deposited debris (based on the lack of fouling and perfectly intact structure) and Captain estimated it was likely jettisoned within a 100mile radius of our position (37 33.84N, 179 13.25E).

The spool was wooden with metal odds and ends, so it will all eventually degrade into basic elements and it is relatively inert. An object of that size is however a significant threat to ocean going vessels-as we experienced firsthand today. According to MARPOL Annex V (the International Agreement on Maritime Pollution) placard displayed on aboard the vessel (a legal requirement on boats over 25 feet long), plastic is the only material regulated over 25 nautical miles off of land. While plastic is banned from being dumped from vessels throughout the entire ocean as it should be, it seems to be a bit of an oversight to allow large and hazardous debris to be dumped at any location. Even some place as remote as the middle of the gyre is still periodically traversed and things deposited out here will eventually find their way south toward the higher traffic waters near the Hawaiian Islands. MARPOL is up for reauthorization soon, and given that the information on our placard is correct, this might be an issue worth looking into.

Wildlife report: Captain and Drew spotted two Fin Whales, a cow and calf, this morning and there were some more spouts spotted later in the day. Backtracking to critters from the night dive: I completely neglected to mention that we spotted a Hyperiid amphipod (Phornima sedentaria). Why is this exciting and what is it? These critters are crazy zooplankton commandos that commandeer the body of salps to make a salp suit. Just before we dove Christiana was telling us the alien from the movie “Alien” (the creepy little thing that bursts from the stomach cavities of the crew) was designed after the Hyperiid amphipod. Look up a picture-you’ll see why.
From the gyre,
Nicole


Date Posted: July 18, 2009 @ 2:54 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

Day 36 & 37

Posted by: ORV Alguita

Noon Position (Day 37): 36° 3’19.80″N 179°36’5.40″E(Nudibranch- awesome photo by Jeff Ernst!!!)

Yesteday, Day 36, was the day of black water-we did a black water tank cleaning and had the opportunity for the first “black water dive” of the trip (aka: night dive, thankfully not some sort of foul operation involving the boat’s waste water). The starboard cabin crew (Drew , Christiana, and myself) have the wonderful opportunity of living right above the black water tank. Most of the time the cabin/tank relationship isn’t an issue. When it’s starts to get full however, our cabin takes on a VERY pungent seweresque fragrance. Over the course of the trip it’s started to be more persistent, so we decided to battle the stench front of our cabin with a mouthwateringly scented Cherry tank cleaner (yes, it’s inert-no harm to the ocean). Lack of tank stank equals a happy crew.

We set out 4 trawls throughout yesterday, still finding plastic in all of them, although in varying densities. We are starting to bring up some different and interesting critters in our trawls. A couple days ago one trawl was filled with Nudibranchs -adorable little guys.
Still logging disturbing amounts of debris throughout the day, although under sail it becomes much harder for us to maneuver to retrieve them. We found a replicate debris item yesterday, a white industrial plastic bag (similar to a trash compactor bag) with blue Japanese characters. The first one we logged was on the 14th and was lightly fouled with fish eggs and bryozoans. The bag from yesterday was also fouled with a few barnacles and some bryozoans. This got us to thinking about the source-a container spill or a waste lost from the same vessel perhaps.

The day progressed into the semblance of a delicious Thanksgiving in July feast-mashed yams with glazed walnuts, grilled chicken, and cranberry sauce with some other random dishes thrown in. We had been waiting for perfect night dive conditions, which decided to come around as we were heavy bellied after our meal. But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Joel, Drew, Christiana and myself dove on tanks while Jeff free dove with the Sea Dawg-an awesome underwater scooter. Captain stayed on board, monitoring the divers. Being 40 or so feet underwater, surrounded by bioluminescent creatures, 3,100 miles out from Long Beach, with a couple miles between us and the bottom was surreal. At one point Joel, Christiana, and I huddled together, shut off our lights, and let ourselves get a full dose of the bioluminescence. It was like floating in a bed of stars-very serene and surreal. By waving our hands through the water or kicking our fins, we could light up a swath of critters-enough to clearly see each other in the pitch black water (with some help of Drew’s camera lights). We surfaced to a vibrant night sky with a perfect view of the Milky Way. We are a lucky bunch to have the opportunity to be out here. Although the subject of research is a little grim, there are many positive angles to our situation like diving in a place where no other humans have likely ever set foot (or boat?) We are able to stargaze, free of urban light pollution. Jupiter drifts low across the night sky and we’ve come to notice that it has its own “moonbeam” on the ocean’s surface–pretty cool!.

(taken during the night dive by ScubaDrew Videoworks)

We woke a tired yet content crew from the night excursions. The trawl was put out some today and Drew and Joel worked on educational footage for their grant with Kahuku School. Given that we have been working diligently to collect data, it time to focus on a timely return. The priority is being shifted toward making it home. We are crossing our fingers that we will pick up some stronger winds as we head north a bit and then end up in the easterlies which will deliver us to Hawai’i.

From the Pacific, Nicole

Date Posted: July 17, 2009 @ 4:24 pm Comments (0) | Comment Shortcut

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