Valentines evening. Captain and crew are relaxing over an Indian meets Italian feast – lemon lentil soup, cashew rice, and homemade bread sticks with garlic and Parmesan. We’re celebrating our last day of work before we set sail for Long Beach - and praying for some wind to take us there. The high that has so graced us with calm seas and idyllic sampling weather will not, unfortunately get us home……
This morning we came across another windrow – a thin, visible line of debris winding past our boat. In less than an hour, we pulled up 3 fishing floats, 2 hagfish traps, a mess load of debris, and 2 rope boluses. And right there, trapped in this mare’s nest of mismatched rope, was the fish you see here–entanglement captured.
And the tofu container here was covered with fish eggs - its easy to see how an unsuspecting creature might chomp on this hoping for some caviar. Both images are clear examples of how our trash endangers marine creatures...
We completed our last two samples today, wrapping up the replication of Algalita’s 1999 research. The chance to repeat this study 10 years later was truly a golden opportunity. We will return to Los Angeles with a vessel full of research material, a set of new questions to answer, and an even clearer sense of the enormity of this issue. While its too early to draw any conclusions, we can safely say that the mass and number of plastic particles per area of sea surface has increased dramatically. The predictable trend is one of rapid accumulation of plastic marine debris, which parallels the increase in production and consumption of disposable plastics worldwide.
We’ve also spent a lot of time discussing how to communicate this issue effectively to the public. From the questions that come in daily about why we can’t just clean it up, it’s clear we have a ways to go. One angle we’re planning to explore further is how ingestion of plastic may impact the marine food chain – and by extension, us.
Our very last trawl was a night sample that came up with another 20 Myctophids. The image in the glass collection jar looks like an aquarium of bioluminescent fish in pool of plastic soup. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Does plastic debris, as well as the organic pollutants that plastic contains, contaminate the fish?” We packed the fish in our onboard freezer for analysis of ingested plastic and bioaccumulation of toxins in some organs. Scientists, policy makers and the general public want to know if plastic marine debris is a human health issue. This research will investigate toxin migration up the food chain.
A few more comments from yesterday that we never addressed:
Daren, great to hear you were so inspired by this issue! Keep in touch, we’d love to see your research paper when you’re through!
Another student from West Lafayette wanted to know what skills or experience one needs to go on a trip like this one. First and foremost, a genuine passion and interest in the issue is key. If you’ve got this, you’ll have no problems picking up the skills and experience. Some areas that might help: basic boating and safety, basic marine science and species identification, some previous sailing experience, photography or video skills always come in handy… And the ability to survive with little sleep- or at least not mind getting up at all hours for sail changes, trawling, and the like.
To all of our students and readers out there – send us your good thoughts for wind! Or start blowing really really hard…Aloha and gracias from the Captain and Crew of ORV Alguita!