Friday, February 22, 2008

Endings and beginnings

Our noon position: Almost home! Latitude: 35 55.923 North Longitude:118 45.508

Hola ORV Alguita friends, and Ship to Shore students,

A huge thanks to the students from West Lafayette, Lennox Elementary and Middle School, the Environmental Charter High, Animo Leaderhsip Academy, Brooksbank Elementary, Luis A Rivera School, Gilmour Academy Middle School, Burbank Middle School, George Washington High, Parker Middle School, Geilenkirchen Elementary, Programa Escuela a Bordo- Centro Aqua Sendas, Cowan Road Middle School, Edwards Middle School, Point Fermin Elementary, Winthrop Elementary, and the many friends and supporters

This is the final morning of our journey… and the beginning of new adventures for all of us. Including a big one for two of our crew members - Anna and Marcus were so enamored of their experience on board that they decided to spend a lifetime doing this..... together! We figure Anna is probably the only woman to be proposed to in the North Pacific Gyre, sitting atop the boom of a research vessel....or to receive a ring woven together from rope debris.

It’s been so great to have you all on board! Your support raised our spirits, and we loved reading your comments – something we looked forward to every day. We may have another equally exciting adventure coming up – so stay tuned. There will be opportunities for many of you to join in, and possibly even help us build a boat…..More about this later, so do keep in touch.

We had a tidal wave of questions from West Lafayette: Byrozoans are a subcategory of phyla called "Lophophorates", characterized by a whorl of feeding tentacles. Bryozoans are known as "moss animals", they have a moss like appearance, but they are more like worms. And often form their "homes" on floating debris, like you've seen in our photos.

You also asked about barnacle foam. As you know, we've been sailing in the ocean for 4 weeks without sight of land. Our strategy to keep afloat is to use a 50 ft. sailboat, but what strategies do other creatures in the gyre use? Some walk on water, like Halobaites, a water-strider and the only seagoing insect. Another is a small purple snail that makes bubbles to stay afloat. Then others, like the crabs, just swim until they find something to grab onto. But the Gooseneck barnacle, if it cannot find debris to cling to, will secete a foam that looks like styrofoam. A small colony of a dozen individuals will build a foam raft together about the size of a golf ball. These are just a few of the millions of specialized adaptations that marine organisms employ to survive in unique places, like the middle of the sea.

And a few of you wanted a quick summary of what exactly we were doing, and if we found what we were looking for, so here goes:

The purpose of this trip was to continue “documenting”, or gathering evidence, to answer some important questions about the health of our oceans, and ultimately our own:

· How much plastic debris is there floating on the surface of the North Pacific Ocean?

· Does the amount of plastic debris outweigh the amounts of plankton? How might this be affecting the marine creatures that feed on plankton?

· Are marine creatures like seabirds, fish, salps etc. eating plastic debris, mistaking it for food?

· If fish are eating plastic contaminated with toxic pollutants, and we are eating fish… might this be impacting our health?

We were specifically researching a massive region – a weather system in fact – called the North Pacific Gyre. You can read more here about the Gyre. It’s like a HUGE whirlpool- stretching from California to Japan that keeps trash circulating around in its currents for decades.

We know this plastic trash is a problem. We know it doesn’t belong here, thousands of miles from land. We know its not good for marine creatures to be eating it, and that its morally wrong for us to be fouling up their home.

But in order to get the world to pay attention, and start making changes, we need to PROVE it. We need accurate data, and real hard numbers, so we can bring this information to governments, industries, and the public, and show them just how serious this issue has become.

And what did we find? If you’ve been reading the blog, by now you should have a pretty good idea of what we found……lots of plastic. We won’t know exactly how much until we get all of our samples to the lab and start processing them, but we can tell you for sure that the amounts have increased significantly since Captain Moore began studying this area ten years ago. In fact, one of our crewmates, Jeff – our youngest on board, will be working directly with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to help process these samples. Over the coming weeks, he may be able to share this with you – take you inside our lab, and tell you a bit about how we process our samples. You can all see what its like to be a scientist!

Did we find what we were looking for? We gathered a ton of information, but our research is far from over, and we still have many, many questions. We do have enough information though to know without a doubt that the flow of plastic trash to our oceans has got to stop now, and that we will need governments, industries, the media, and all of you to get involved with making some big changes!

And addressing one final, critical question from Jeff’s father, who clearly empathized with our food cravings… No sooner did we hit land yesterday –stopped in Morro Bay for a key refuel – then a few of us bolted for the nearest market in search of FRESH PRODUCE. We found a little health food store, and bought what we thought was a good quantity of veggie matter – kale, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, red peppers, and a bunch of fruit…We inhaled a few peppers and apples on the walk back to port, tore through the raw kale standing in the kitchen, and last night wolfed down a huge salad with the remaining veggies. In this case, our stomachs were bigger than our eyes! Your son spoke wistfully about doughnuts…

All in all, this trip has been a culinary wonder, with three avid chefs on board, we enjoyed superlative cuisine daily. Much food for thought, in many, many ways.

Thanks again for your support, and as always, a final Aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of the ORV Alguita!


Dave said...

Ahhhh, can't make it due to the kids and school etc. Congrats on a safe and successful journaey, you're all rock stars!!!! Can't wait to hear of your accounts firsthand.



P.S. I know you're going to be nuts Anna, but if you can, give me a shout on Sunday as I need to run something by you in a timely manner.

weeber said...

congrats congrats! what a proposal! so thrilled for you guys.

Kevin Z said...

Congratulations on the expedition and the liveblogging was excellent! We, over at Deep Sea Newshave been following your expedition and would like to commend you on a job well done. As you are sifting through your samples and finding out new and interesting results, we would love to write about your work on our site! If any of you will be The Ocean Sciences Meeting next month, let me know and we can get together and talk "trash". Plastic in the oceans is a story we have been covering for a while.

Cheers, Kevin Zelnio

Tango Antelope said...

Where can we see pictures of the garbage? I have been trying to tell people about all this since I found out a few weeks ago but have nothing to show them. :(