Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 34

Noon position: 34°15'39.60"N 177°44'31.20"W
80 miles out from the Dateline and the seas are thick with debris and plankton. We did two 10 minute debris counts today, the morning one yielding 37 pieces and an afternoon one 87 pieces. I realized today that the Alguita has sampled as far as the 170th parallel on previous voyages, and we are now at 179W which means the past several days have involved sampling in previously un-sampled waters-exciting!

We typically set out Manta trawls for a period of 1 to 2 hours, but yesterday we could only set the trawls for 15 minutes because the plankton was so dense that it quickly clogged the cod end of the net. While these trawls were delivering high amounts of plankton, the amount of small plastic debris was keeping pace. Within yesterday’s series of 15 minute trawls (we did 4 in total) we noticed a gradient in plastic density. There was a marked difference in the plastic level observed in the first trawl, which was heavy in plastic, and the last of the series, which was pretty light in plastic content. This was covering a distance of roughly 2 nautical miles which just goes to show how dynamic the debris accumulation is throughout the gyre.

The education trawl was pulled up wounded from some sort of underwater battle. There was blood pooling in the end of the net and holes ripped in the mesh. Apparently something tasty was trapped inside of the net which something else wanted to eat to bad enough to tear through it. Several chains of baseball stitches later and the net was back in action.

This morning Charlie and Drew got in the water while the rest of the crew was fast asleep to dive a buoy they had captured. As the Captain de-barnacled the debris underwater he became the new refuge for the fleeing crab. Later in the morning we spotted a second buoy with a thriving ecosystem-juvenile Rainbow Runners, crabs, gooseneck barnacles, so we decided to dive it. The bad part about diving in dense plankton zones-the jellies. We were all getting stung left and right by these mesmerizing, yet painful critters.

Later in the afternoon we encountered the most bizarre debris of the day; a laundry basket filled with fish. It’s not every day a basket full of fish comes floating your way while you’re in the middle of nowhere. Tiny Rainbow Runners and a few Pilot Fish were stuck inside the basket (at least until the seas got rough enough to throw them out). When we pulled it out of the water we found coral growing on the bottom. A few of the fish were preserved for lab work up and the rest of them were analyzed on board for plastic content, thankfully with no plastic to report.It’s been glassy calm the entire day, shifting from a perfectly sunny morning to a gloomy, rainy afternoon, and ending with a stunningly starry night. As characteristic of the gyre, the winds are light and variable. We’ve been running through a flurry of sail changes trying o maximize the wind.

Thanks to Jeff’s mom Kathe for the awesome “Friendship Soup” recipe which we enjoyed the other night!

From the thick of it, Nicole

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