Our noon position: 36 02.186 North, 157 41.790 West
As we've said before, the ocean is always changing – gentle and mild one moment, raging the next - today was no exception. We began the day crawling along at 3-4 knots in a still, glassy sea, looking over our weather faxes and wondering when we’d catch the winds we’ve been chasing. By late afternoon we were screaming along at 9-10 knots, waves washing over the bow, and – and our Genoa halyard snapped. Oops. Here’s a picture of Herb, our ship doctor and veteran sailor, holding the busted halyard and shaking his head. Herb’s account of what happened:
“We were sailing with both our Main and Genoa sails up, when a “squall” (a little storm) caught up with us from behind. The winds increased, and our Genoa Halyard (the rope we use to haul our sail up to the top of the mast) broke right at the top – it was kinda crazy! ” Fortunately, we were able to get right back on track. Everyone put on their harnesses and lifejackets - waves and winds battering our boat – and after about an hour of hoisting, pulling, and shouting, we were underway again.
The other bit of excitement today was pulling up a very unusual, funky sample; unlike anything we’ve seen on this trip.For the last week or so, our sample descriptions have been so similar you all could probably write them yourselves: “a colorful plastic soup filled with debris fragments and an assortment of fascinating marine creatures.”
Today, we pulled up something entirely different – a MASS of purplish, gooey matter – this was the zooplankton we talked about a few days ago. Normally, we wash off our collection tubes and pour our samples out into a small glass bowl, to poke around a bit for interesting critters before storing them in a pint jar with formalin. But today’s sample was so abnormally large, we had to pour it in two big bowls, and store it in a jug. Above there is a picture of Captain Moore preparing the sample – you can see some of this zooplankton mass in the white bowl.
Why the huge change? We’d passed through an area called the Transition Zone Chlorophyll Front (TZCF), an area of the ocean where tons of phytoplankton thrive at the surface. These are the photosynthesizers mentioned earlier – tiny little plants that convert sunlight into energy for other creatures. Think of the TZCF as a huge, mobile marine grazing area, attracting a host of other creatures looking to feed. We noticed it when the water temperature reached 19 degrees celcius. The phytoplankton flourish here because there are many nutrients available, due to converging currents. And the zooplankton flock here to feast on the phytoplankton. It’s a plankton eat plankton world…
So today, we were trawling in the middle of this massive oceanic restaurant, which explains the bucket full of lavender Jell-Owe pulled up. We did see some plastic fragments – a bottle cap and a few shards – but it was tough to see anything through the thick zooplankton layer.
We also noticed a flock of Albatross trailing our boat – not the usual 2 – 4, but more in the range of 10-12. It was interesting to note that other species are attracted to this biologically rich area…and all the more disappointing to find our trash in what should be these creatures natural feeding zone.
Tomorrow we will likely press on without stopping to sample. So we’ll have more time to answer any of your questions – we always love hearing from you!
Aloha and mil gracias from the Captain and Crew of ORV Alguita!
On January 2oth, 2008 ORV Alguita set out on a winter expedition through the North Pacific Gyre, sailing from Hilo, HI to Los Angeles, CA to conduct further research on oceanic plastic debris. The crew of 6 collected samples for lab analysis, as well as for future Algalita Marine Research Foundation education projects.
Analysis from Algalita's September 2007 expedition shows a five fold increase in plastic quantities in the Gyre since Captain Charles Moore began his research in 1997. The data gathered during the winter of 08 once again showed an increase in the density of small plastic particles. We also discovered alarming trends in the consumption of these small particles in Myctophidae species caught in night manta trawls. A new area of research that we intend to pursue further in the 2009 voyage
September Gyre Expedition, 2007
ORV Alguita departed Long Beach California on September 9, 2007 for a three week voyage out to the eastern "Garbage Patch" in the Pacific Gyre. During this extended voyage the vessel's 6 person research team collected samples to help answer questions about the growing amount of plastic in the ocean.