First dolphin sightings in the gyre, a debris haul overshadowing last week’s waste windrow, and at long last, deploying our NOAA satellite tracking device on a massive ghost net: A watershed day for the ORV Alguita.
We’re back in the Eastern Garbage Patch. The infamous site that first inspired Captain Moore’s mission back in 1997. Discovering the trashed region by chance on a trans pacific crossing, Charles’ disgust with the concentration of plastic debris here fueled a lifelong crusade to confront the issue…..
Before the rest of the crew had emerged from their bunks, Charles had already netted an impressive array of debris - a premonition that today might be our “ghost net” day.
Clear skies and gentle seas made debris watch a much more appealing activity, and drew the crew with nets, cameras, and binoculars to the bow. For a solid two hours, we fished as fast as we could, pulling up floats, toothbrushes, plastic and glass bottles, a golf ball, a billiard ball, an unused glue stick for a hot glue gun, and several rope boluses filled with crabs and tiny striped fish - But most appalling was the plastic confetti. An endless stream of delicate, white snowflakes, like plastic powder coating the ocean’s surface. This, remarked Charlie, is indicative of the gyre, “where the trash comes home to roost and degrade…..”. A school of cavorting dolphins lightened the mood - the first Charles has spotted in his 10 years of visiting the gyre.
Our Manta sample mirrored what we observed – a bowl full of plastic, with almost zero evidence of life. We wouldn't be surprised if the plastic to plankton ratio here was 100 to 1. The contrast between this “clean” sample and the mass of zooplankton from the other day was remarkable, illustrating the dramatic range in biological productivity throughout the ocean.
Capping off a day of plastic bounty, we spotted our first ghost net early evening, at over a ton in weight, it was large enough to warrant deploying the satellite buoy NOAA provided, to track the nets' migration and possibly recover it and others of a similar nature before they wreak havoc on the resources of our newest National Park, located in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
What appeared from the surface a sizable, tangled nest of mismatched nets and imbedded debris was just the tip of the iceberg. Under water, this behemoth sank heavily, providing shelter to an array of marine life. A nautical nightmare in the making, with the potential to kill the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, the only tropical seal, and many other creatures, including corals.
Witnessing this up close, one can easily see how ghost nets wreak havoc on marine ecosystems, transporting invasive species, suffocating coral reefs, and entangling marine life. Our underwater photographer Joel Paschal spent 4 months with NOAA tracking and removing 40 tons of ghost nets, in which he recounted finding whale bones and blubber, turtle carcasses, and several live monk seals and turtles.
Day after tomorrow, we begin our second study, a repeat of the 1999 gyre voyage that lead to publication of Algalita's highly acclaimed study "A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific central gyre". (Marine Pollution Bulletin 42:12) If tomorrow proves anything like today, we will need a good nights sleep tonight….
Mark your calendars - a welcome home party is in the works – Friday February 22nd - well be inviting friends, family and media to greet us at Alamitos Bay - more info to come (if you are would like to be kept up to date about the plans send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org )