Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day 38

Noon position: 37°30'18.00"N 179°12'18.00"E Photo: ScubaDrew videoworks

Today was gloomy-starting and ending with rain, although it was kind of nice to get a break from the strong sunshine. Since we are motoring at such a slow speed anyway, anywhere from 2 to a whopping 4 knots, we decided we weren’t loosing much headway by throwing out a manta trawl this afternoon-and yes, there was plastic. Based on reports from Drew about the density of debris particles flowing by the boat we expected to see a lot more plastic in the trawl. It seems that by the time we set up and deployed the Manta trawl we had already passed through the denser band of debris.

We pulled in the third industrial grade white plastic bag today, although this one was a smaller piece and did not have the blue Japanese characters. Based on the fouling level and the identical nature of the plastic material we are pretty sure it’s a member of the same bunch. That makes three within four days.

Strange event of the day: an attack by a wooden spool stuffed with beer packaging. Drew spotted something “really big” dead ahead of us from his debris gazing spot on the foredeck. I popped up through the hatch with some binoculars and discovered that is was a large wooden spool for wire (about 3.5 ft tall and 3 feet in diameter). We approached it with the boat in idle forward and tried to hook it from the front. The cagey little spool evaded the debris wranglers and ended up bouncing off the port hull. Oops. No harm done thankfully.

Captain dove of the aft deck and into the water to attach a line to the spool before it got away. We hoisted it up on deck with the gantry to find two Baltica brand 6-pack beer packages (it’s a Chilean beer) stuffed inside along with a couple stowaway crabs. Upon closer inspection we could tell this was relatively recently deposited debris (based on the lack of fouling and perfectly intact structure) and Captain estimated it was likely jettisoned within a 100mile radius of our position (37 33.84N, 179 13.25E).

The spool was wooden with metal odds and ends, so it will all eventually degrade into basic elements and it is relatively inert. An object of that size is however a significant threat to ocean going vessels-as we experienced firsthand today. According to MARPOL Annex V (the International Agreement on Maritime Pollution) placard displayed on aboard the vessel (a legal requirement on boats over 25 feet long), plastic is the only material regulated over 25 nautical miles off of land. While plastic is banned from being dumped from vessels throughout the entire ocean as it should be, it seems to be a bit of an oversight to allow large and hazardous debris to be dumped at any location. Even some place as remote as the middle of the gyre is still periodically traversed and things deposited out here will eventually find their way south toward the higher traffic waters near the Hawaiian Islands. MARPOL is up for reauthorization soon, and given that the information on our placard is correct, this might be an issue worth looking into.

Wildlife report: Captain and Drew spotted two Fin Whales, a cow and calf, this morning and there were some more spouts spotted later in the day. Backtracking to critters from the night dive: I completely neglected to mention that we spotted a Hyperiid amphipod (Phornima sedentaria). Why is this exciting and what is it? These critters are crazy zooplankton commandos that commandeer the body of salps to make a salp suit. Just before we dove Christiana was telling us the alien from the movie “Alien” (the creepy little thing that bursts from the stomach cavities of the crew) was designed after the Hyperiid amphipod. Look up a picture-you’ll see why.
From the gyre,


JLO said...

I love reading your blog and seeing the pictures. It brings the experience into living rooms and offices around the world.

I leave tomorrow to join Bonnie Monteleone in Bermuda. We leave BIOS on Wednesday morning to take the manta trawl out in the Atlantic.

Rock on.

Jennifer O'Keefe

Anonymous said...

When someone throws a large wooden spool overboard, they obviously think it is funny, but it is not. Filling it with empty beer bottles just gives beer drinkers from Chile a bad name. What are they thinking, that someone will pick up their trash? Maybe we need to tell ocean-going ships to pack their trash, and take it back to port, so it can be disposed of properly (Quit throwing it overboard). We should assume that it will degrade over the next 20 years, but this is not acceptable. The spool is on its way to the gyre…thanks a lot. Those guys should be ashamed. Tim - Surfrider