We left Hilo last night, January 20, at dusk, just a few hours shy of nightfall. A full moon cast a bright, silver sheen over the gently rolling swells, making the first night watch a stunningly beautiful spectacle.
Our first planned sampling spot lay just off the southernmost point in the United States; Kamilo Beach. Kamilo beach is also the most polluted beach in the United States, a considerably less glamorous yet no less interesting selling point for this crew. Just a few days before our departure, we’d braved the 2-hour, treacherous drive out to Kamilo to see for ourselves.
What we saw there must be seen to be believed. A picturesque, volcanic coastline, far from any visible development, clear blue waters and spectacular beaches – entirely covered in plastic debris.
It is precisely spots like this that exemplify the need for a better understanding of how far reaching the marine debris issue really is. And a powerful visual reminder as to why were embarking on this month long journey…..
Somewhere around midnight, we witnessed an active lava flow erupting from the slopes of Mauna Loa, rousted from our rocky slumber by the Captain. The view was well worth the wakeup call – a fiery red glow emanating from the coastline.
By sunrise, the wind was blowing 35 knots, too powerful to begin sampling, so we continued on, taking a highly productive detour to try our luck at scouting out some sashimi. As the photo here suggests, mission accomplished: Jeff with the first of 6 small Ahi, known as Shibi, filleted in less than 5 minutes. And consumed tonight for dinner.
Satisfied with our haul, we began fishing for plastic. We out set the Manta Trawl to collect samples off the leeward side of the Island, an area one would expect to find little in the way of plastic debris due to the wind currents. We found however clear evidence of small plastic particles, along with a host of fish eggs and Copepods. There is truly no “pristine." Here is a link to an Ocean Conservancy slide show addressing this issue http://www.shiftingbaselines.org/slideshow/index.html
Later in the afternoon, we prepped for our first dive, a chance to test out our equipment and refresh our scuba skills during calm seas. The area was relatively barren of life, save for countless Jellies and Salps of various shapes and sizes. Joel, Jeff, and Marcus practiced working the underwater video equipment, Anna had a much needed “brush up” dive, and Charles spotted the most interesting creature of us all, a large ctenophore.
We’re now on track again, westward bound. In about 4 days, we should reach one of our main study areas, an area yet to be sampled for plastic debris. Though just one day into our journey, the reality of finding trash in such remote areas of the ocean underscores the message: There simply is no “away” in a throwaway culture.
Aloha from the Captain and Crew of ORV Alguita.