Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 16

Noon Position : 21°36'21.60"N 156°56'9.60"W


We are about 65miles from Oahu, and will be pulling into the fuel dock Ala Wai Habor and then we will dock at Kewalo Basin. The night watch team is geared up to be extra attentive as we approach the thick boat traffic surrounding the islands.

We caught our first male Mahi today, making that Mahi number 10 of the trip. We found 2 puffer fish in its stomach, and no plastic upon initial analyses.

We had a 7th crewmember for the last half of the day…a stubborn and economical Booby. He(or she) decided to not fly back to Hawai’i, but to catch a ride aboard the Alguita. He positioned himself atop the gantry for a while preening and scoping for flying fish. After a few hours, the back deck became soiled with Booby droppings and Jeff decided it was time to encourage the bird to fly off. And it did…to the bow of the boat where he stood his ground for another ½ hour or so. After some more encouragement to get on his way, he flew up and perched atop the boom and proceeded to soil the mainsail.

Our time in Honolulu will be monopolized with the many errands we need to handle, so you’ll hear from us again on Monday or so when the whirlwind of tasks (and some decompresson time) is over.

Family and friends, we are back in cell phone range so give us a call! Aloha from the Islands, Nicole

Tamara, Thanks for passing on the stuff from Sarah and congrats on the award! We’ll do what we can to get you some plastic/seawater samples for you!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 15

Noon Position: 22°40'37.20"N 153° 3'3.60"W

Day 15 began with sunshine, a sail change, and a blue water expedition. After breakfast, the crew rallied to take down the sails in preparation for a blue water expedition. Here is the Captain’s account of the morning:

“This morning, the trades fell to under 15 knots, and we broke with the routine to make a sail change. Since the mainsail, Genoa Jib and Stays'l all had to come down before putting up the Spinnaker, I like to use the opportunity of becoming dead in the water with no sails up to deploy our sea anchor and practice our blue water diving technique so that we will be ready when we get to the heavy debris accumulation zone north of the islands. This was the first dive in the outer waters of the Gyre for "Scuba Drew" Wheeler, a veteran of our 2002 Gyre voyage. As we were tanking up for our dive, I saw a dish soap bottle astern that had been afloat for some time. I jumped in with mask and snorkel and saw that birds had pecked a few quarter size holes in this bottle, the shape of your smaller Joy or Dawn bottle, and inside was a condominium for a colony of sea life, including crabs and fish. After filming this, a larger school of fish around a black plastic bag's tangled remains, and retrieving a handful of miscellaneous ropes and line balls and other plastic fragments floating by, Drew remarked that this collection of trash in a few minutes was as bad as it was in the center of the accumulation zone 7 years earlier on his 2002 trip, an area over 600 miles to the north of our current position. We are regularly reminded of the speed at which the plastic pollution of our ocean is increasing.”

The concentration of debris we found subsurface really was astounding. The open ocean is a diffusely populated area. You can swim along for a significant amount of time without encountering life. It was troubling to find that I was encountering life and debris (and this is just the large, easily visible debris, not counting the plastic fragments we collect during trawls) at essentially the same rate. We collected 10 separate pieces of debris in less than an hour…and as Capt. Moore state above, we aren’t even in the concentration zone.

“Although the official accumulation zone of the North Pacific shown on NOAA maps is rather long and narrow, the debris there has to "accumulate" from somewhere, and that somewhere is everywhere else. More and more stuff is out here, everywhere we look, every time we are underwater. What will eventually happen to all this seaborne plastic waste? We know it is constantly becoming more brittle and breaking into smaller pieces. Will it, in this way, eventually all be eaten by some sea creature? Increasingly, my answer is tending toward "yes, all of it will be eaten.”

After our dive, we catalogued and preserved the debris and accompanying fouling organisms as necessary and enjoyed a lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese before we set out to bring in the sea anchor and raise the spinnaker. Thankfully the “emotional sail” was hoisted and set without issue (at that point anyway…), and we were left with a free afternoon during which Mahi number 8 (a female) was caught and dissected around 6pm. Of course, tissue samples were saved for POPs analysis. Right as dinner was being served Mahi number 9 bit the hook. This was the first gravid female we’ve encountered so far. Once again a female, which got the crew thinking about all the research that’s being done on the feminization of fish as a result of toxins that can be found accumulated on plastics, since all the Mahi we’ve caught so far have been female.

The end of the evening brought a bit of catastrophe, although no one was hurt and the situation was handled well. The spinnaker was flying peacefully, we suddenly she started flapping around like mad. The Captain called out that we lost the port tack (a line running from the bottom, edge of the sail). After some hustle to bring in the sail, we realized the eye of the sail (the reinforced hole through which the line attaches) was ripped right off. From what we can tell, it was just a case of standard wear and tear, and should be easily fixed by a professional sailmaker.

We are 220 miles out from Honolulu! We are all excited to get a chance to decompress on land for a bit, although there are quite a few tasks to handle during our short stay. For one, we need to get the Manta trawl welded and in working condition for our next round of sampling. And after this evening we have a spinnaker to repair as well…

A big aloha from the Capt. and crew at the cutting edge of marine debris research,


Good to hear from you! Hope all is well on the East Coast. The only plastics we are intending to collect for POPs analysis are those from within the gut of a fish. There are two scenarios here: 1) Christiana dissects the stomach and searches for plastic immediately after we catch the fish. If plastic is found, then it is labeled and frozen along with the liver and muscle tissue (in a separate vial). Situation 2) The entire stomach is saved for later content analysis. Christiana has been using this protocol when the stomach is too full, or otherwise unfit, to be analyzed in the field. In this case, any plastic present would be frozen in situ, inside the stomach.
The other plastic we are collecting, via manta trawl is fixed in formalin and those collected by individuals via net or hand are only fixed in part (we are saving portions with accompanying fouling organisms for a doctoral student at SCRIPPS). The rest of the individually collected samples are just being stored in a container on the foredeck. Captain Moore said he would be more than happy to work with Sarah if she wants some plastic for POPs analysis. How much, which size class, etc… Let us know and we will freeze what we can for her.
Take care!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 14- More Mahi

Noon Coordinates 23° 5'52.80"N 150°11'42.00"W
July 23, 2009
Our resident Ichthyologist, Christiana Boerger’s, account of the day:

Today we hooked 3 Mahi Mahi! This puts our total fish catch up to 7. Mahi Mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) are also referred to as Dorado or Dolphinfish. They put up a great fight when you reel them in, actually jumping out of the water. Before we filet the fish, I dissect them to look for plastic in their stomach and save samples of tissue to analyze for POPs (persistent organic pollutants) later in the lab.

The dissections were particularly interesting today! I go through some simple steps to get the samples I need. First, I record the time and location of where the fish were caught. Then I take some simple measurements, standard length (the length from the tip of the closed mouth to the end of the caudal peduncle) and weight. Mahi are sexually dimorphic, which means you are able to tell the difference between male and female just by looking at them, without cutting them open to look at their gonads (sexual organs) like most bony fish. Males have a blunt, squarish head, while the females have a more feminine, roundish head. So far all of the fish we have caught have been females.

Next comes the fun part for me, opening them up! I carefully take scissors and cut from their natural opening (anus) to the bone located in between the pelvic fins. I poke around a bit and then carefully cut out the liver and place in on a piece of tin foil which will be frozen until it can be looked at back at a lab for toxin analysis. I check out the gonads to reconfirm the sex of the fish. None of them have had developed eggs yet. Next I remove the stomach. I make a cut at the top of the esophagus and completely take it out of the fish. I make another cut to open up the stomach completely to take a look around. The last thing I do is take a muscle tissue sample of each of the fish, which is frozen along with the liver.

No plastic in the stomachs today, however, in the first Mahi, there were 3 whole fish in its stomach. I identified them to be some sort of puffer fish, and Drew’s best guess was that they were Striped Bellied Puffers. You could still feel the spikes on the skin and see their very distinct mouth. Because the digestion process had already begun in the first fish, the insides of the pufferfish were not identifiable. The second Mahi had a less digested pufferfish. I was actually able to pull out the stomach of this pufferfish and found its last meal to be crustaceans (probably crabs, due to the high amount of exoskeletons found). I found some more bones in Mahi #2’s stomach, which I identified to be from a flying fish, due to its super long pectoral fins. The third Mahi had an empty stomach, except for a couple different types of parasites which were still moving around.

We have caught some small flying fish in some of our trawling nets and I am very interested to see if I will find any plastic in their stomach’s, seeing as I now know they are a part of the Mahi’s diet. So exciting from a research perspective!! Needless to say, we’ve got Mahi for days, and Joel has made some Mahi jerky (which is tied up on the stern and should be ready in a couple days), Jeff made some Mahi poke, (a mixture of raw fish, cabage, ginger, onions, chilli, and lemon juice), and the Captain is also preparing us dinner tonight of what else, but Mahi sushi rolls and sashimi!!

I’m hoping we catch even more fish tomorrow, especially since we are getting closer to the islands and I look forward to seeing what other species we will catch. The weather has been beautiful today and we should hopefully be in Honolulu sometime Thursday night or Friday morning. Thanks to all my friends and family reading the blog and sending emails! I miss you all so much!

The Alguita Fish Nerd,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 13- Plastic in a mahi mahi

Noon position 23°45'54.00"N 147°26'38.40"W
June 22, 2009
Last night the late hours of the sampling marathon brought along some chaos. It all started with a lost cod end (the end piece of the net on the Manta trawl, where the debris and plankton are collected) and escalated from there…

To start with, conditions were a little rough. We were operating three different sampling devices (the Manta, the Bongo nets, and the small square net) with a sea state 5/6… night. Although the conditions were less than ideal, we all shared the Captain’s sentiments…..”if we’re not willing to do this, then who will?” We are outside of the area that any government entity is obligated to care about. So we pushed away the urge to sleep and plowed on with the sampling.

At 8:20pm, we pulled in the Manta trawl only to find that the whole two hours of sampling was fruitless. The sea freed the cod end of the net, and took our data along with it. No doubt a small disappointment, but we moved right along, put another cod end on and put the trawl back out. We pulled in the next trawl at about 10:30pm. This one produced several small fish, including Myctophids, a couple flying fish, and a saury, which was exactly what we were looking for-fish to analyze for plastic ingestion.

We had a system set up, Christiana and I processed the samples (removed them from the net, labeled them, and fixed them in formalin) while the Captain, Drew, Jeff, and Joel retrieved and deployed the sampling devices. As the Manta was being redeployed from its 10:30 retrieval, Christiana and I heard some commotion among the deployment team and the phrase “…the wing is broken!” At that point there was a mad scramble to bring in the Manta. One of the control lines was rendered useless and the guys had to get creative with boat hooks in order to save the wounded Manta trawl. Once on deck the extent of the damage was visible; one wing snapped and the other one was a bit warped as well. One of the attachment hooks for the line broke off as well, but perhaps most significantly the j-bar holding the satellite was warped from the unbalanced force of the Manta trawl. At this point we were all wondering how things went so wrong, and how we were going to keep sampling. We were right in the thick of the plankton accumulation zone testing in for the hypothesized concentration of debris…it would be a shame to let this opportunity pass.

As it turned out, several factors had compounded in the failure of the Manta trawl. First off, our spotlight decided to die mid-deployment. As the battery was being switched out, the crew was unable to evaluate the deployment of the trawl, which requires a balance of tension between two lines. Hopefully repairs can be made once we arrive in Hawai'i.

Bottom line, everyone was okay. We decided to improvise, using the small square net as a surface trawl, which we found out was torn from its frame during its last run. After some repairs, the net was deployed and for the rest of the late night/early morning sampling the crew was split into shifts: the Captain, Jeff, and myself and Christiana, Joel, and Drew.

The square net does not perform anywhere near as well as the Manta. So this morning brought a new trawling design. We kept the Bongo nets at the surface to imitate the Manta.

Chrisitana and Jeff each reeled in a mahi mahi today, one right after the other. The fish served a double purpose, science and sustenance. Before we filleted the fish, Christiana took muscle and liver samples of each of the fish and looked in their stomachs. Fish number 3, the mahi mahi that Jeff reeled in, contained what the Captain confirmed via microscope as none other than a piece of plastic film. This now makes 8 species of fish in which we have identified with plastic in their gut.

The last set of trawls came in at 5pm. Overall we were able to run 11 Bongo trawls (3 of which imitated the Manta), 6 regular Manta trawls, and 6 trawls with the small square net. It was a productive, though hectic, sampling marathon. Although the samples have yet to be thoroughly analyzed, we were able to spot differing densities of plastic within and outside of the boundaries of the plankton (and possibly debris) accumulation zone. At the end of a long stint of sampling and a significant find of plastic in a common food fish, the Captain prepared one of his specialties chili rellenos accompanied by rice, beans, fresh guacamole, and fresh salsa. It was a perfect end to a productive day. We are now en route to Hawai’I with aboiut 400 miles to go.

Stay tuned for more updates and be sure to check out the Scientific American website in the “60 second science blog”, where Drew ‘s weekly account of our voyage is posted.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Comments and Questions

Please feel free to post comments and questions for the ship's crew under the comments section of the blog. We love to hear about your experiences with plastic marine debris, your concerns and your interest in the topic! We will do our best to answer your questions whenever we have an opportunity to do so!

Day 11

Noon coordinates (Day 11) 24°25'8.40"N 143° 0'7.20"W
Saturday, Day 10 began with a sail change. We had been making fantastic speed with the spinnaker, a steady 10 knots with the occasional burst up to 13 or 14. But the higher the wind speed climbed the harrier it became to keep the spinnaker up. On top of the danger associated with flying the spinnaker in high winds, the speed we were making would have put us in our sample area at some sort ungodly predawn hour. So we took down the spinni (which was a pretty intense situation, you have to grab the sail like crazy to keep it from falling overboard and getting stuck in the prop) and raised the main and the stays’l, which slowed us down to 7 knots or so.

Midday presented several of us with the opportunity sit up on the foredeck and catch some rays. In between flipping pages we’d take in the sights of the gyre, sometimes Albatross and flying fish, other times flotsam such as lotion bottles (see pic above).

Many of our days have had food themes, arising from the need to use up the fresh food before it turns. As it goes, one certain vegetable decides to turn all at once. A few days back, it was day of the beets. We had more boiled and still have more pickled beets than you can imagine. Then we had day of the tomatoes, which included decided to stuff and baking the tomatoes with cheese, parsley, onion, and garlic. And Saturday proved to be day of the carrot. Our carrot supply was threatening to make a mass exodus from the world of edible food, so we tried to use them all up. The Captain whipped up a lovely pineapple carrot salad and the rest of the carrots were steamed and topped of with some cumin and garlic salt.

Saturday afternoon brought an unexpected encounter with a Black-footed Albatross. We on the back deck watching the lovely bird catch puffs of air and soar around us. Billy, as we named her, landed in the water and as an afterthought Christiana mentioned how terrible it would be if the Billy were to get caught in one of the fishing lines dragging from the stern of the boat, and much to our dismay a split second later, she did. Here’s ScubaDrew’s account of the bizarre event:

“We did have a bit of craziness on deck today, when we accidentally snagged an Albatross with one of our trolling fishing lures. I was filming the graceful bird swooping over the waves when it landed right in the path of one of our fishing rigs. Well, before we knew it the poor bird was snagged and being dragged across the ocean, unable to regain control.
With some quick thinking, we reeled the bird up to the boat where Joel took control of this very awkward animal. He has spent time in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands so he has had experience in handling Albatross. The good news is the line was the only thing snagging the wing--not the hook. So with a freed wing and some feathers in need of a little primping, we let her go back onto the big blue and watched as she stretched her wings out and prepared for flight a flight back home…only 1000 miles away. Amazing birds they are…fly thousands of miles to feed in the open ocean.”

Our encounter with Billy was a harsh reminder for us all; we leave our footprint where ever we go. It is important for us to be acutely aware of our actions to keep from inadvertently harming earth’s flora and fauna.

Today, with roughly 1900 miles under our belt, we reached the outskirts of the accumulation zone we’ve been aiming for. The early morning was spent fine tuning the Bongo nets and Manta trawl for 24 straight hours of sampling over a 80 nautical mile transect. Why the continuous sampling? Well Dr. Nikolai Maximenko, with the School of Ocean and Earth Science Technology (SOEST) in Hawai’i is interested in meso-scale variations across this predicted accumulation zone. Basically, he wants to see if a debris gradient can be established from the boundary to the actual accumulation zone. So, as I mentioned before we are sampling, within, and outside the boundaries. We are running trawls for 2 hours, collecting the samples, and then redeploying them.

By 10am all hands were on deck and the sampling marathon began. It’s going to be a long, yet fruitfull night. With a sea state ranging from 5-6 on the Beaufort scale, conditions have not been ideal for sampling, but we are working through it. The swells are the largest we’ve seen all trip. They are awe inducing, especially when they are positioned to crash right over the deck.

Coming from a first timer to the gyre, the samples we collect are truly astounding. In one regard it is amazing to have the opportunity to get up close and personal with planktonic organisms we catch while trawling. Today we caught several Portuguese Man- of -Wars, which are mesmerizing little critters. On the flip side, it is disturbing to watch chunks of debris spill out of the nets. It is bizarre and unsettling to find the detritus of our haphazard consumer lifestyle in one of the most remote parts of the world.

From the cutting edge of marine debris research,

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 10

Today's noon position: 24°25'8.40"N 139°18'0.00"W
Friday 19, 2009

Day 10. Yet another day in transit, which means that we haven’t been able to sample. We are making a beeline for the suspected accumulation zone (see image), and we can’t afford to spare the time it would take us to sample en route. Sampling while underway requires slowing the boat down to a speed in the range of 1.5-3 knots, and if we want to have the time to accomplish all of our research goals we can’t afford to travel at those low speeds.

Developments on the route front--at this point we have decided to extend this leg of the voyage in order to accommodate our original sampling goals at 35N along the International Dateline. The crew has decided we are all willing to do what it takes and spend a bit of extra time in order to gather the data we originally set out for.

Days in transit can seem a little slow, but they also provide time to take care of some of the other important stuff (like route finding and sampling protocol for the potential accumulation zone we will be investigating). Capt. Moore spent part of the day working out those details for the study site, for which our ETA is Sunday. He has decided to sample on a transect through this zone, making sure to trawl within the zone and on the outskirts of the zone, both before we enter it and after we exit it. We will also deploy the sea anchor at some point within the potential accumulation zone to allow us to survey the area while diving.

These travel days also provide us with ample time to decompress between watches. Several of us are set up on a semi-regular workout routine (including jump roping, hula hooping, mat exercises and yoga-all of which are exponentially more difficult while underway!) We’ve also have had plenty of time to catch up on reading in the past couple of days. The Alguita has quite the cornucopia of reading material on board-everything from Vonnegut to Jared Diamond to scientific peer-reviewed papers to cheesey surf romance novels . Keeping with the spirit of the ocean, some of the books about epic maritime sagas are getting passed around, like “Fastnet Force 10” which Drew plowed through in one day. Joel and Jeff have been glued to the chess board, and we have all been working a bit in the kitchen to try and use up all of the fresh produce that is turning. We recently decided to utilize the espresso maker, which has been a treat for those of us with an early watch.

Today’s wildlife citing: a juvenile flying fish has made its way on deck, and that’s about it. Other than a minor electrical issue with our generator, there are no problems to report. Just smooth sailing and a happy (although more than ready for some sampling action) crew.
From the PAcific, Nicole Chatterson, Vessel Blogger


Congratulations Marcus and Anna on both your wedding and the near completion of your epic education ride from Canada to Mexico along the Pacific Coast. Your efforts to bring Algalita's startling findings to the public regarding plastic pollution in the ocean are without precedent. The JUNKride's ultra low carbon "tire prints" embody the ideals of the entire environmental movement. You've set a steller example for everyone and shown that combining work with zero carbon emissions is possible; not only possible but fun. Tha Captain and crew of ORV Alguita salute you as we sail along with our zero carbon "hull prints" through the great North Pacifuc Subtropical Gyre

Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 8 and 9

Noon Coordinates Day 9: 24° 1'22.80"N 135°56'60.00"W
Flying kites, flying squid, flying fish, and a pirate ship (well not really)… We’ve been sailing downwind with the spinnaker (or in sailing terms, flying the kite) for the past two days. Downwind sailing is wonderfully calm (even in 20 knot winds) and the spinnaker is a mesmerizing sail to watch as it billows in the wind. It really is like a giant kite.

We raised the spinnaker on Wednesday morning. Captain warned us that it is often called “the emotional sail” because it’s a fairly involved sail to raise, which can lead to a bit of crew tension. However, with all hands on deck and clear direction from the Captain it went up smoothly. Since it’s is such a tricky sail to maintain (It takes a lot of tweaking to keep the sail happy), we’ve switched back to paired watches.

On Wednesday morning we had a couple visitors on board the ship. Two flying squids made their way on deck. In the afternoon Christiana dissected them to see if they had eaten any plastic. The little guys were plastic free.

Today while reading on deck, several of the crew spotted flying fish. The vast expanse of water is no doubt a beautiful setting, but it really makes any sign of life especially exciting. After the flying fish sighting, the boat was full of excitement when a blurb popped up on the radar. The blurb turned out to be a large, rusty and fairly shabby looking vessel passing right through our course. It was great to see a sign of human life other than ourselves, but also a little strange to imagine that two vessels can come so close to each other in such a vast expanse of ocean. Of course our active imaginations let us entertain the idea that our fellow mariners were pirates,... Alas the boat fell off our radar without any crazy pirate antics.

We are still on course to the destination provided to us by NOAA as a possible accumulation zone. We are roughly 540nM away and the ETA is three days. We are all excited to see what this area has to offer us in terms of better understanding how marine debris accumulated within the North Pacific Gyre.

We are all in good spirits. The Captain and crew send our love and hellos to everyone back home. Thanks for following the blog and keep the comments coming!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 7!

Noon position: 23°36'14.40"N 130°19'48.00"W
Hello from the Capt. and crew!
We are still headed for Hawai’I, but have added a slight detour to the northwest of our route. Dave Foley, an oceanographer with NOAA, has predicted an accumulation zone not too far out of our way and we are headed there to investigate. You may be wondering, “where is he getting the idea that marine debris might be accumulating in this area?” Well, Dave has put together the Debris Estimation Likelihood Index (DELI) based off of chlorophyll levels. Essentially high levels of chlorophyll correlate to high levels of plankton. Plankton rides the ocean currents, as does marine debris. So it is hypothesized that where the currents have caused an accumulation of plankton, there might also be an accumulation of debris.

We deployed the third Manta trawl of the trip this afternoon. The trawl produced lots of juvenile sawrys, some more of the purple gastropods which Capt. Moore has identified as Janthina janthina, and to our disgust, but not to our surprise, several plastic fragments and some plastic line.

After trawling we practiced how to heave-to, which is a way to set the sails that effectively stops the boat from moving forward. This is an important tool to have under our belt in the case of an emergency. Since we were already stopped from the heave-to drill, the Captain, Christiana, Drew and Jeff decided to take a dip in the ocean. Capt. Moore searched for trash while Drew captured underwater footage of the debris gathering. They pulled up a piece of a plastic shopping bag, a newspaper packing band, and some plastic fragments. This is what happens when throwaway consumerism meets the open ocean.

The winds are starting to pick up and the seas are beginning to get a little feistier. Some of us are reapplying our scopolamine patches, and others have sea legs (and stomachs) just as sturdy as ever. The day ended with a valuable lesson (at least for me): don’t leave the hatches open. As you can imagine, hatches and active seas don’t mix very well. I experienced this first hand today as a large wave swept over the deck and down the hatch located DIRECTLY above my head. Needless to say, I was jostled from my pre-watch nap with seawater to the face and left with a pile of wet sheets.

We are cruising along at a speed of 9.0knotts and climbing; the fastest we’ve seen yet…and we are achieving it without the help of our engines!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 6- First manta trawl!

Noon position: 24°52'40.80"N 128° 9'57.60"W

It’s Day six and we are officially 2/5 of the way to Hawai’i. Day six has been a day of firsts-- the first plastic trawl of the trip, our first fish catch (a Mahi Mahi!) and the first day of seriously tending to the “vessel garden” (aka sifting through the funky produce).

Let’s start with the trawls. While the winds have been against us in terms of maintaining our original course, they have put us in an area of the Pacific which had never been sampled……until today! See the map below or Click here, to view more maps of our previous sampling areas. We deployed the first Manta trawl, a device that captures surface debris in a fine mesh net, at 9am. This process was akin to riding a bike for the Captain and veteran crew Drew, Joel and Jeff, and a learning experience for the newbies (Christiana and myself).

After an hour of towing the trawl we pulled it in to find a strikingly low amount of plastic. Among the plastic identified was some line, a few hard plastic fragments, and a piece of a clear plastic label on which we could decipher the letter “d”. Among the life identified in the sample was a button valella, some copepods, a juvenile Pacific saury, and tiny gastropods with gorgeous purple shells. (See image of sample at top.)

The evening brought on trawl number two. This trawl gave us the opportunity to experiment with a tethered underwater camera, which Joel was able to rig to record the underwater flow into the Manta trawl. This was a significant in that it confirmed the integrity of our surface sampling methods. We ran the evening trawl for an hour as well, finding results similar to the morning trawl--very little plastic.

Obviously the low quantity of plastic present in samples is good news, but it does highlight a key point. Throughout fifteen years of sampling, we have yet to bring in a trawl completely void of plastic. While standing on the foredeck today, the Captain was able to identify plastic fragments flowing past the vessel. We also spotted some larger debris, a 5 gallon bucket which managed to evade our collection efforts. The point is, even in this new sample area in which our trawls our producing comparatively low amounts of plastic-there is still enough debris present for us to visually register and in our trawls. The relatively low amount of plastic also points to the possible delineation of the boundaries of an accumulation zone, although it is far too early in the data collection process to make any definitive conclusions. Joel noted that during the JUNKraft expedition last summer he and Marcus Eriksen noted a similar trend in abrupt transitions in plastic accumulation as they skirted the south edge of the accumulation area.

On to the adventures in gardening. In between trawls, the day was spent sifting through crates full of greens. To avoid wasting limited food we look for the food about to spoil and eat it first. The parsley was getting ready to turn, so we whipped up tabouli salad (using quinoa instead of bulgur wheat). We also found our beets nearing the tipping point, so the evening has been spent boiling and prepping the beets for pickling or easy snacking. Our greens are on the fritz as well….looks like we’re in for several days of green salad.

And finally, after five days of rigging fishing poles and hand lines, we had our first catch. Christiana kept the liver and other organs and tissue for future analysis.

The wind is starting to cooperate and blow more towards the west. We have taken down the stays’l which is used to sail close to the wind and put up the genoa which is flown when the wind is more a beam. We now are able to make good on a course of 245 degrees to our sampling area south of the Big Island of Hawai’i. Every mile sailed is a mile closer to Hawai’i. If our luck continues the wind will build and tomorrow we will fly the spinnaker!

Best wishes from the Capt. and Crew

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 5

Noon Position: 29°40'15.49"N 127° 0'10.80"W
Today is day 5 at sea, all is well and the crew is in great spirits. Now that the all of the crew is up to speed with watch duties, we have switched to 2 hour, single watches. This is a lot easier on our sleep schedules.

There is however news to report regarding our travel plans. Due to a large and persistent high pressure system, we have to rethink our original route, which would have deposited us along the International Dateline (180W) at latitude of about 35N. Because of the high pressure system we are dealing with light winds, which is not optimal for sailing. The weather has forced us to spend most of our time underway motor sailing. We have already used roughly 200 gallons of the 700 gallons we started with? If we keep up at this rate we will exhaust our fuel supply. At this point we are forced to bend to the will of nature and follow the winds.

As is required when dealing with the seas, the Captain has a backup plan. Our new route and sampling strategy will take us to a more southerly location than planned, but will still present us with ample research opportunities. The new plan is to continue our heading south in order to catch the easterly trade winds. This route will bring us to Hawai’i and allow us to survey a debris convergence zone located off the southern tip of the Big Island. This convergence zone is thought to be responsible for the accumulation of debris on beaches such as Kamilo. After sampling this convergence zone, we can refuel and head up the island chain toward the International Dateline at a lower latitude than planned. How far we will actually get is to be determined by the amount of time it takes us to get to Hawai’i in the light winds we have been experiencing since we left.

Speaking of debris sampling, today’s debris catch was a 300mm buoy fouled with barnacles and pelagic crabs (See photo to left of Captain Moore with the buoy and the photo above of one of the crabs, any experts out there know the ID on this little guy?).

Keeping in tune with the rest of the weekend, the weather was phenomenal. Much of the day was spent out on deck stretching our limbs and taken in the scenery (which is mainly….water). Capt. Moore gave a presentation to an assembly of 14-18 year old students at Hawai’i Preparatory Academy. He was able to lead them through a power point presentation via satellite phone.

Our wildlife sighting for the day included a Red tailed Tropic Bird and some Petrels.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 4- first open ocean swim!

Noon Position: 29°12'28.80"N 124°56'13.20"W
Today the crew had the chance to stop for our first open ocean swim, roughly 500miles offshore! With thousands of miles of water around us and hundreds of meters of water below our feet, it was an astonishing experience. While in the water Drew got the opportunity to test out some of his underwater gear and Capt. swam around the boat with a net searching for plastic. He found four small bits (two pieces of line, a thin transparent fragment and a cloth like fragment).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 3

Noon position: 29°46'1.20"N 121°53'27.60"W

Greetings from the ORV Alguita! In the past 24hrs, we have had our first series of debris encounters. While taking in our fishing lines for the night, we dragged in our first piece of debris; a deflated green balloon with the string still attached. It was a little disheartening to discover that we were fishing for trash instead of fish.

Last night at around 10pm, we passed the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). For those of you who are wondering what that means, we are now officially out of the US waters, in what is essentially the no-man’s land of the Pacific. Because this area is out of US jurisdiction, it is not a top priority in terms of government funded research.

We were greeted in the morning with another debris sighting. We found a plastic water bottle which likely originated from Russia (the cap had Russian text). It had been afloat in the ocean just long enough for fouling organisms (i.e. tiny baby gooseneck barnacles) to latch on.

Our next trash sighting, roughly 300miles out to sea, was a tangle of fouled line and buoys. In addition to gooseneck barnacles making their home inside the floating mess, we found several pelagic crabs and a couple of different invertebrates. After weighing the mass of rubbish (9 kilos) we preserved a sample of the debris with the critters that we found living on it for Miriam Goldstein, a doctoral candidate at SCRIPPS, who is studying the fouling organisms that live on pelagic trash. The last two pieces of trash found today were a Monarch brand garlic-salt container and a plastic napkin or towel floating on the surface. These finds are indicators that we are making our way into the heart of trash accumulation.

As far as wildlife sightings go, we had a pod of Common Dolphins passing us on portside. We also spotted several Velella velella, also known as the By-the-wind sailors, which is an awesome little sea creature that has a small oval sail so it can use the winds to travel the seas.
Best Wishes from the Captain and crew


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day Two!

Noon Position: 31°49'26.40"N, 119°20'42.00"W

Hi everyone,

Thanks to the family, friends and fellow ocean enthusiasts who made it to the Alguita send off yesterday! It was the perfect way to begin our 6 week journey!

Today is our first full day at sea and the crew is still getting used to the swing of things. We are running on paired 4 hours watches. Only one case of sea-sickness so far and we’ve spotted some awesome wildlife! This morning the crew saw four Fin Whales roughly 100 yards of the starboard stern of the vessel, and one more whale who was a little too far from the boat for us to identify high spout.

Lucky for us, we had some great grocery shoppers for the Alguita-it’s full any kind of food you can imagine! Last night the crew had stuffed mushroom and a fresh green salad. This morning we woke up to a homegrown boysenberry cobbler cooking in the oven. As many of you saw at the send-off, the deck is full of delicious fresh produce; we have everything from kale to chocolate persimmons to snack on.

We are motor sailing for the time being, and cruising at an average speed of about 8.0knots, using our precious fuel to leave the calm and enter into the northerly winds.

Click here to post a comment to the crew!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bon Voyage ORV Alguita!

ORV Alguita has just departed on the first voyage of the 2009 Pacific Gyre Expedition!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Preparing for the 2009 Gyre Expedition

The ORV Alguita crew is busy preparing for the 2009 Gyre Expedition to study plastic marine debris in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre this summer. The departure date is currently set for June 10- let us know if you would like to attend the informal send-off party in Long Beach California. ( for more information)

Quick Background- Pacific Gyre Expedi
tion 2009 Voyage #1
The quantity of plastic pollution in the ocean is increasing rapidly, paralleling the rapid rise in global plastic production. Each time the ORV Alguita crew collects samples from the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, we find that the abundance of plastic has increased since our previous visit. In previous research voyages we have found a very high abundance of plastic in the area of the gyre that has come to be known as "The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch", but we suspect that the contamination is much more widespread. This summer we will have the opportunity to test this hypothesis during the first voyage of our four month research expedition. During this voyage the ORV Alguita research crew will be at sea for over six weeks as they sail west from California past the Northern Hawaiian Islands as far as the International Date Line (180 degrees longitude) to sample areas of the Pacific Ocean previously un-sampled for plastic marine debris. We will be collecting samples of plastic debris, plankton and fish to analyze back in our laboratory to better understand not only the quantity of plastic debris pollution in remote areas of the ocean, but also the impacts the plastic is having as it is consumed by marine animals. Below is a map that shows the area where ORV Alguita has sampled for plastic pollution over the past 10 years. The first voyage of the summer expedition hopes to extend the study area all the way to the International Date Line at 180 degrees longitude.Who's on board?
Check out our crew's bios-!