Monday, June 22, 2009

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,

1 comment:

Jamie Watson said...

You guys are amazing! And I love how everyone writes with such positive attitudes. I am not a scientist, but I feel like I can easily learn from what you are doing. Thank you!