Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 35- We’ve reached the Dateline!!

Noon Position: 34° 0'36.00"N 179°53'34.80"W
We’ve reached the Dateline!! Finally, 35 days out of Long Beach and 4,441 nautical miles into this mission and we’ve reached our goal, the International Dateline. This latitude line is both 180˚ E and 180˚ W and is a brand new line of sampling to add to the databank! Our transition into the eastern hemisphere (and into tomorrow) was quite the picturesque “after school special” moment. The sun was shining and the ocean was glassy. A pod of Striped Dolphins was performing starboard of the vessel and an albatross or two was flying about. The crew was gathered on deck as Captain watched our position from the helm, counting down our approach to the Dateline over the hailer. We crossed, and yes, at that moment, the dolphins decided to up their performance to some aerial moves. Captain joined us on deck and we relished in the moment of achieving our goal for a bit-the conversion tending towards the usual, marine debris.

Before we reached the Dateline, we had a strange run in. Around 9am, I was directed from the debris spotters on deck (Captain and Drew) to turn hard starboard so we could fetch an obscure piece of debris in the distance. As Captain was dipping down the net to retrieve it he realized that it was far from marine debris-it was a sea turtle (it's been difficult for us to ID it as it passed by so quickly, but it's either a Hawksbill or a Green). The presence of this guy highlighted the reason marine debris is such a tremendous issue; the juvenile turtle was feeding in an area where we had been fishing out debris all morning, introducing the possibility of plastic ingestion. We have documented the tangle of debris and zooplankton that surrounds us (see photo below). It is easy to imagine how the plastic fragments could be inadvertently scooped up-and marine debris ingestion in sea turtles has been recorded. We got some footage of the turtle (it has a large white mass growing off its shell) and Drew jumped in to get a better underwater angle on our reptilian friend, but he caught onto us and took off into the blue abyss.

So now that we are at the Dateline we are doing what we came here to do-sample, sample, sample. Manta sample #29 was the pioneering trawl--the first of the Dateline series, and the first Algalita sample in the eastern hemisphere. Refreshingly, we pulled up only 3 plastic fragments in the trawl (at least from what we could see with the naked eye). Manta sample #30, deployed a ½ hour after #29, produced a ridiculous amount of plankton. The sample was backfilled out of the cod-end and up into the sock of the net. It took up a 3 gallon bucket (for reference, the average sample we pull out is about a 1/2 liter or so). It wasn’t feasible for us to save the whole thing (we are running low on formalin to preserve the organics in the samples) so we rededicated portions to the education sample stock. Manta sample #33, the last of the day, ran for a half hour and produced an astounding amount of plastic. A stark contrast to Manta #29 deployed 3 hours (roughly 9 nautical miles) prior. As I stated yesterday, the trash accumulation zone is patchy and tremendously dynamic.

Before the trawling and Dateline crossing, we spent some time discussing our protocol for debris documentation in order to maximize the value of the data gathered on future voyages. Our focus has been on researching the small scale debris pulled in from the trawls and we are still learning how to best approach the documentation of the larger debris we are encountering. The whole protocol discussion process inevitably ended up delving into the Alguita, which turned us on to Jeff’s old oceanography book he contributed, which then lead to the ultimate quiz session. We passed quite a bit of time picking random oceanography terms and testing each other on our marine realm vocab. Oh the ways you entertain yourself at sea; spending time learning new and obscure knots, playing chess (the Jeff-Joel chess score: Joel up, 26-20. These boys are chess machines.), exercising, cooking, snacking, reading, looking in fish (if you’re Christiana), repairing boat parts, expanding your language repertoire (Greek, Spanish, and Japanese have all been dabbled in), seeing how many bird shots you can get with your telephoto lens (if you’re Jeff)……the list goes on.

We are chugging along at 3 knots with the main and Genoa up, banking on some more wind to come our way as we head north. We will continue sampling along the Dateline for the next 300 miles, up to 40N and then head east after we pick up the westerlies to start our return to Hawai’i.

From the International Dateline,

Thank you to ScubaDrew Videoworks and AMRF for the pictures!!!!


Theresa White said...

It makes me dispair when I read the types of things you are finding out there - a laundry basket! Most of the items you are finding seem to come from China and Taiwan - Not knowing too much about currents, is this a direct consequence of them, or do they just dump more garbage in the ocean than any one else?

Bill Francis, AMRF said...

Who says tomorrow never comes? You are there! Your new findings are incredible, particularly the mahi with the rainbow runner ingested. This find completes the cycle of concern. I cannot wait for the whole story of your voyage to be told. You all are the best!

Terri Buchanan, AMRF said...

Congratulations, a great milestone. Your blog comments are so descriptive, I almost feel as though I'm there with you! My best to all of you.

*MeLiSsA* said...

Nicole: That is so cool that the dolphins put a show on for you!! By the way we have all been trying to e-mail you and none of the e-mails have gone thru...We haven't forgoten about you!! I read your blogs all the time to keep up. We miss you and are so excited to see what you are doing out there at sea!-Melissa

*MeLiSsA* said...

Nicole: That is so cool that the dolphins put on a show for your arrival! I read these blogs all the time and i think it is so cool you are learning and doing all this! We have all been trying to e-mail you and our e-mails are not going know we haven't forgotten about you....WE MISS YOU!!! This is the only way i thought of getting ahold of you! Try and e-mail us.

Anna said...

Congrats guys!! Love reading the blog, rare to have such beautiful prose combined with science. Meanwhile, the plastics industry is launching some pretty huge ad campaigns, they're throwing $10 million at a campaign lauding the benefits of plastic. Just goes to show that we're doing our job, and they are sweating it!
Kudos and much love to you all from land....Anna

Duane Laursen said...

The future depends on what we do in the present.
(Mahatma Ghandi) The future health of our oceans depends upon the important work you are doing today. Congratulations captain and crew!

Anonymous said...

i missed you
crazy exploratrice i m going soon have a goodd luck
see you later

Anonymous said...

missed you!!!
crazy exploartrice nicole
bibi the server