Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 30

Noon position: 35° 3'54.00"N 171°37'40.80"W
It’s been super calm, and we’ve been taking advantage of these conditions to do some continuous trawling. We are bringing in our third trawl of the day-they have all been thick with plastic. Among some of today’s debris finds: a black plastic bag fragment, bottle caps, and an oil bottle which weaseled its way into the Manta trawl. Notable wildlife find of the day: a Hatchetfish (Captain found this little deep water fish while putting around in the dingy, at the surface-quite a ways from home). I did another fragment count today off the bow: 48 pieces of plastic floated past in 10 minutes. About half the frequency I recorded on July 4th, but still pretty astounding.

While the afternoon trawls were out, we had a string of exciting events. Jeff and Drew jumped in the water with some dive propulsion vehicles (aka underwater scooters) in order to get some more underwater footage of our trawling procedures. Once in the water, they spotted a pair of Mahi and Joel decided to dive in and take advantage of the opportunity to collect a research specimen. After a gypsy call emerging from Drew’s snorkel, Joel was pointed in the direction of the fish. He speared the bull. The big guy was especially feisty and tried to bite Joel’s groin several times. Luckily he was wearing a wetsuit and Mahi don’t have especially fierce teeth. This was Mahi number 13 and at 40lbs he was the biggest we have pulled in so far. After a struggle, we got the fish up on deck and Christiana was able to do her thing. Here is what the resident fish nerd had to say about the findings from her dissection:

“I did not find any plastic in the Mahi’s stomach, but I did find some really interesting creatures. There was a cornucopia of parts that I was able to put together--like a forensic puzzle. I felt like a scientist on CSI: Pacific Gyre. There were parasites, squid beaks and mantles, fish jaw bones and skulls, a crab carapace and claw remnants, and a completely intact lanternfish (Family: Myctophidae). This was an amazing discovery for me because it shows that Mahi feed directly on laternfish. From my research on the laternfish collected from the 2007-2008 gyre voyage, I found that these particular fish had ingested a ridiculous amount of plastic. What we found today is a full circle; humans have created this mess in the ocean and we are now stuck consuming it. I really hope that our efforts out here get people more motivated to prevent this problem from getting worse.”

While it is a significant opportunity to be able to catch this fish for research, there are mixed feelings about the catch and dissection process. Drew recounts his sentiments after getting the opportunity to film the Mahi underwater, “I was a visitor in his domain. He was a majestic and proud. It was sad he had to give his life up for science because he was such a beautiful fish.” Bottom line, the crew of this vessel respects and appreciates the creatures of the ocean-but it has become our burden to dissect and document them in order to wake up the general public to the repercussions of our actions.

After we processed the fish, Captain, Christiana and I went on an expedition this afternoon. Since conditions were so calm, we decided it was high time to take the dingy out. It was bizarre to watch our home for the past several weeks disappear behind us, but at the same time it was nice to escape from the boat for a bit. We cruised along looking for debris, which is a little harder to spot from the low vantage point of the dingy. After a few minutes we ran into a float-which from a distance looked like a large Japanese glass float. It turned out to be a standard buoy. It was a 300mm float made by Yung Plastic Industries Co. in Taiwan. There was a huge population of barnacles layering the lines attached to the buoy and a decent sized community of juvenile Rainbow Runners taking refuge under the debris. We had some time to jump in the water and film the synthetic habitat while we were waiting for the Alguita to catch up with us. Getting the buoy back onto the vessel required a bit of muscle-there were about 100 pounds or so of barnacles attached.

The evening has been spent doing some standard boat housekeeping-hosing decks, cleaning the debris (barnacle shucking needs to happen to help keep the stink down, which ends up wafting into the starboard cabin), sorting out old produce, etc. We are 399 miles out from our desired sampling location and near the 4000 logged mile mark for the trip! Winds are still low and variable at around 5 knots. We have been making a plethora of sail changes the past several days, trying to exploit the few decent bursts of wind we are afforded. The spinnaker is up for now and she requires tons of attention in these light winds to keep her filling. She does a sort of belly dance which is graceful on a large scale.

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