Posted by: Anna Cummins
The following beautifully written guest post is by Brian Miller, a dedicated LA educator who worked with Global Explorers this summer leading students on a trip to Costa Rica. Read his account of studying plastic debris on beaches where Sea Turtles nest.
My alarm went off at 5:15 am but, muffled by the chorus of the Costa Rican tropical forest and waves in the distance, it was hardly audible. I met my group of students and teachers from Oakland California traveling with the non-profit organization, Global Explorers, and walked the 3 minutes to the beach hoping to get a glimpse of young sea turtles emerging from their nest. I stepped onto the dark sand and could already feel the equatorial sun radiating back at me. Looking up, it appeared that a tractor had spent the evening zig-zagging back and forth from the crashing waves to the green forest at the edge of the sand.
âHey, look up thereâ one of the high school students yelled. From a hole the size of a large bathtub, the shell of an Atlantic Green Sea Turtle could be seen moving in jerky motions followed by long stretches of rest. I could see the determination in her ancient eyes as she struggled to camouflage her eggs and return to the see. In the dim morning light, I was able to make out the details of her face that I had missed in my previous night patrols for turtles. With the students, we noticed the subtle shades of greens, and greys, and the way that the shapes on her neck appeared to be a mosaic of tiles assembled just right. From her large deep black eyes, tears formed a line down her face and into the sand. She left the nest and moved slowly back towards the sea leaving behind her own tractor-like prints in the sand. For miles in both directions, I could see the evidence of other holes like the one she had dug and then covered. Some had scattered egg shells strewn about where dogs and other animals had raided the nest. Many were surrounded by plastic! Shoes, bottles, tooth brushes, lighters, and other reminisces of the âplasticine eraâ littered the beach. The previous day, the students had surveyed the plastics on the beach and found that the beach was a confetti of tiny particles of plastic that had been broken up by the sun and waves before landing on this beach in Tortugeuero. In the studentâs study of the plastics on this beach, they found hundreds of nurdles (pre-production plastic pellets) and filled a zip-lock bag full of small straws that they concluded were the sticks that hold lollipops.
The students, teachers, and I walked the beach for an hour picking up plastic trash to throw away. I showed the students the arm of a doll that I had brought with me from home. I had found the dollâs arm on a similar beach that I had helped to clean and I explained to the students that I kept the dollâs arm on my window sill at home to remind me to work on reducing my use of disposable plastics in my everyday life. I encouraged the students to do the same. As if comic relief for our otherwise eye opening beach clean up, students found and brought me a plastic doll leg and later torso to complete my souvenir doll.
The students from Oakland have since returned home and have been mobilizing to reduce the use of disposable plastics in their community and at their school. This week they created a Facebook âeventâ
encouraging people to bring their own plate and fork instead of using disposable products. With close to 200 âattendeesâ already, an inspiring message on their page reads, âKeep in mind that this is a WORLDWIDE event... not just at Oakland High School. Our goal is to get people to raise the awareness of the effects plastic and styrofoam have on our environment. This is your chance to be a leader in YOUR community and show people you're better than plastic and styrofoam! ONCE AGAIN, this event is going on E V E R Y W H E R E !â
Date Posted: September 28, 2010 @ 4:07 am Comments Off
Posted by: Anna Cummins
Here's the latest from Marcus Eriksen aboard the Sea Dragon - plastic in every single sample collected thus far, illustrated above with a shot of trawl #3, a slurry of fish and plastic particles. Twelve days from Rio de Janiero sailing out on an eastern tack puts us
600 miles south of Ascension Island, a dot in the middle of the South
Atlantic, closer to Africa than South America. Weâve conducted 18
trawls of the sea surface since then. Every one contains plastic.
This is the first of three expeditions into the South Atlantic
Subtropical Gyre, a counterclockwise rotation of the ocean bounded by
coastal currents, westerly tradewinds, and the Southern Ocean. In the
middle of the gyre, winds and waves slow down. Itâs where debris
accumulates. Nikolai Maximenko, of the International Pacific Research
Center, has computed where debris in the ocean might go, based on the
real movements of drifter buoys currently at sea. Working with Nikolai
to plan our routes, our first expedition is taking us through the
northern edge of the predicted accumulation zone.
Out first trawl began 200 miles off the coast of Brazil, outside the Exclusive
Economic Zone (EEZ). Bits of plastic and zooplankton filled the cod end
of the trawl. The trawl is a 25cm. x 60cm. box that skims the surface.
The 333 micron mesh net catches almost everything that passes through.We're nearing the end of our first venture into the South Atlantic Gyre, with 2 upcoming expeditions that will span the entire ocean - from South America to Africa and back. We have now seen plastic pollution in 4 of the world's 5 subtropical gyres.
Date Posted: September 6, 2010 @ 2:46 pm Comments Off
Posted by: Anna Cummins
The latest news from the Sea Dragon, by crewmember Liana John, Environmental Journalist from National Geographic Brasil
After two days of ups and downs on the waves and on the wind speed, Friday, September third starts with smooth sailing and a flatter sea. By
2:30, the waning moon sneaks out of the dark clouds ahead. Soon there
is this horn shape facing up, as if a giant bright yellow rhino was
about to get out of its hide for a dive at the pitch black ocean.
With this weird image in mind, I untie my small video camera from the
fast trawler, anxious to watch the new images. Some days ago we had it
facing out towards the sea and got some nice footage of the trawler
perspective. Now we tied it facing inward to get the plastics fragments
coming into the nets. But â deception â the camera memory is empty! It
didnât record anything at all! A setting problem, I guess. Maybe
tomorrow weâll get luckier.
Dawn comes with more ups and downs on wind speed, ranging from 5 to 10
knots, what means some bumping and potential domestic disasters inside.
Not to mention the doubled effort and all the funny positions in order
to compensate boat inclination and do common things such as to cook,
take a shower, do laundry and just walk around.
The sun doesnât come out the clouds almost all day. Trawlers bring less
and less plastic as we leave behind the concentration zone of the gyre.
Dr Marcus makes the dissection of three lantern fishes caught on day 3
and â good news! â there is no plastic in their stomachs.
Before supper, we have a very instructive and scientifically based
demonstration on nautical gym, something hybrid in between working out
and doing yoga, by Dr Marcus, Gigi, Dale and Jose. Using nothing but the
boat movement and quite a bit of dangerous equilibrium, theyâve managed
to exercise arms, legs, backs and many other muscles in a series of odd
ups and downs. Weâre seriously thinking on launching a DVD on this new
Date Posted: September 4, 2010 @ 2:08 am Comments Off
Posted by: Anna Cummins
The Seadragon crew posing with a "ghost net", a tangled mass of discarded, synthetic fishing line. Below, a recent account from Marcus, mid-Atlantic, with seas currently calm enough for a blog entry!Day 7, September 2nd, 4:00 am Our days have settled into routines
now. We eat little, sleep a lot, and sit out for cold night watches.
Clive and Dale, the skipper and first mate, alternate 12 hour
shifts. The other nine of us are in three teams taking 4 hour watches.
Between all of this we trawl for plastic.
We've been using the high-speed trawl quite a bit. It's our new
invention, which allows us to collect samples when the sailboat needs
to cover ground at 8-10 knots. Also, it's ideal for catching foraging
fish, like myctophids. They can't outrun the net. Years ago we caught
the same fish in the North Pacific and found plastic particles in the
stomachs of 35% of them. We'll investigate the same phenomenon here.
What we've learned here is that the net must be pulled up every couple
of hours, otherwise the fish get torn up by the turbulence in the net.
It's now 4am on Day 7. The small trawl is in the water for an
hour. 25 knots of wind all night long has died down to 10-15. After this sort of turbulence, we're not sure what we'll find - how do the wind and waves affect the
distribution of plastic in the near surface waters? Will the surface
abundance of plastic decrease as we head away from the accumulation
zone and toward Ascension Island? There are many unknowns to explore....In November, we'll cross the South Atlantic, from Rio to Cape Town, South Africa. We'll be looking deeper into the potential human health impacts, with Chelsea Rochman aboard, a PhD student from UC Davis and San Diego State studying plastics and marine wildlife. Applications are still open for potential expedition crew, contact us for more information.
Date Posted: September 3, 2010 @ 5:32 am Comments Off
Posted by: Anna Cummins
Here's the latest from crewmember Dougal, from ASR Ltd:
Changing tack for the first time after four days of close hauled sailing
is interesting to say the least. The gentle and sometimes not so gentle
bouncing of the Sea Dragon had comfortably nestled everything into the
starboard side of the boat but now the sudden change in the heel of the
boat (now to port) made for some time spent tidying up. But on day five
everyone on board is feeling fully adjusted to life at sea and the
memory of stable ground underfoot is becoming distant.
Trawling is now underway in earnest and the new high speed trawl is
allowing for constant sampling of plastic without compromising boat
speed. Plastic fragments and small pieces of monofilament line have
been abundant in all trawls although the quantity does fluctuate. Down
time between trawl retrievals has left plenty of time for discussion
about future research directions into quantifying plastic densities
What has also really opened my eyes is just how much debris there is at
sea when you start to look for it. Everyone on deck has half an eye open
for larger pieces of debris and today a hard hat idly drifted by and at
one point the trawl had to be temporarily stopped after it ensnared a
large ball of assorted ropes and fishing lines. When you consider just
how small an area is observed from the path of Sea Dragon and the
vastness of the ocean, it doesnât take much mental agility to realize
just how much plastic pollution is out there.
The ocean has not been unkind to us in the last 24 hours however and we
have had frequent visitations by dolphins breaking the eerily glassy sea
surface. But the real treat came earlier today. I was chopping
vegetables for our midday frugal repast when I was interrupted by shouts
on deck. I stumbled up to the cockpit through the briny film of tears
(what do they put in Brazilian onions?!?!) just in time to see a huge
whale tail slapping the sea off the port bow. It breached four more
times once almost coming completely out of the water. For many of us
including myself it was the first time we had seen a whale and it was
truly awe inspiring. We are still unsure as to the species of the whale
but if any of you are curious as to what the sea surface looks like
seconds after a whale has left the scene, we have photographic examples
Up until now we have been traveling eastwards from Rio de Janeiro into
the gyre but today we are beginning to travel northwards towards
Ascension Island and the northern edge of the gyre there to measure the
extent of plastic pollution floating within for the first time.
Dougal Greer, Crew member, Sea Dragon
Date Posted: September 2, 2010 @ 2:01 pm Comments Off