Tuesday, January 22, 2008

First day at sea

And were off!

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.

Can you find it on the map using the coordinates on the GPS in the picture?

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.


Sr. Chief said...

Glad everything is starting off so well. Any chance you can include your lat/long position with these updates? I am having fun tracking your voyage.

amy said...

I am incredibly interested in the work you are doing. Currently, I am writing a story about the Eastern Garbage Patch for the online magazine Indigo Media, and I would really like to speak to one of the crew.

Could you send me an email? My address is amyvanvechten@indigomedia.com

Thanks so much, and looking forward to speaking with you!


ORV Alguita said...

You are welcome to contact me at vesselsupport@algalita.org about interviewing the crew! I tried to send you an email but your email address did not work,

Holly Gray
ORV Alguita Support Coordinator

The Queen of Plastics said...

Sounds wet, cold, and beautiful. We need our Dramamine just thinking about it.

We have some questions.
Paul wants to know why you would choose the middle of winter to enter the north central Pacific? Does the Gyre change through the year?

Conner says to say hi to his Aunt Anna and "Good job" to all the crew. Conner also said to say that he is going to share the blogspot with his fifth grade class at Catlin Gabel School tomorrow.
Jake wants to do the same with his fourth grade class but Conner doesn't want him to copy his idea.

Julie says "I am so proud of my sister and her crewmates - thank you for all doing what the rest of us only think about" Stay safe!

Clif said...

Is there a way to get larger pictures of Kamilo Beach? I'd like to send them to others because it is such an impressive indicator of the plastic situation.

ORV Alguita said...

If you email me at vesselsupport@algalita.org I will send you the images at the best resolution that I have received them from the boat.
Unfortunately these are still fairly low resolution as it is expensive to send large files via satellite. The higher resolution images will arrive on the boats computer in February.
Thank you for your interest in sharing the situation with others.
Holly Gray
ORV Alguita Support Coordinator

weeber said...

well, now I know where to look for my old false teeth. bix says hi!