Monday, July 6, 2009
Day 25 and 26
Some unwelcome and unexpected guests had stowed away and finally surfaced yesterday....maggots. Chrisitana opend the fridge and was soon overcome by her well known gag reflex (she can disect fish no problem, but put some maggots or some rotten food in front of her and she's done for!). The little guys started jumping ship--out of the fridge and into the crevices of the carpet. Somehow, the two of us who were most put off by the little critters ended up with the task of getting the maggot situation under control...
Now let's talk trash. The weekend was jam-packed with chasing down and wrangling debris and dissecting fish, constantly reminding us of the burden mankind has put on this vast and precious ecosystem. People argue that a handful of plastic surfacing out of 1 manta trawl is no big deal. I wonder if these people understand the vastness of the ocean. We've managed to infect, if you will, the largest and most remote part of the world. As I am writing now I watched a small banana float zip past the vessel. Our waste has metastasized, no longer a problem infecting just our immediate surroundings and filling up landfills (which is bad enough) but the debris is now in the circulatory system of our planet. Would you argue that it's "just a handful of cancer cells" permeating your body?
Drew's account of 4th:
"we have been virtually becalmed all day…maybe 3 knot wind, so we have been motoring on course only diverting when debris warrants a temporary change of direction to go pick up whatever may be floating in the blue abyss. Believe me we had plenty of opportunities to change course.There was one 5 minute section where we found 4 plastic fishing floats along with numerous plastic bottles, rope and fragments. All in all today we scooped up 12 plastic floats and about 2 dozen other odd pieces of plastic debris. I can’t even begin to count how many pieces we did see but were too small for the pole nets and or too far out of reach off the boat. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t pick up all the trash we see…it is impossible!
One of the other very critical elements to understanding this issue is the visual aspect. Many people want to see a picture…well that is almost impossible. Only at decks edge, 3 feet off the water can you see the small fragments drifting by, at a rate of 10pcs/minute, according to Nicole who measured that today, and that is only on one side of the boat, within visual range…30 ft maybe. Most of those fragments are too small to be caught with the hand nets.
Then when I went up to sit on the boom to get a higher vantage point for spotting bigger pieces, the first thing I noticed was, I could no longer see the small fragments, so if you are on the deck of 300 ft ship, you will not even see the real problem. I tried to film the small bits, but I don’t know how well it came out.
Our manta trawls today were the highest plastic concentration we have seen yet on this trip…and in my case the heaviest I have ever seen and we are still way outside of the center of the trash vortex. The pictures are from 2 ea. 2 hour trawls covering 1 meter wide by 6 miles long. The white, green, red, and light blue are plastic bits. The dark blue is jellies and the brown is assorted plankton organisms. From my perspective, this problem has expanded 100 times in the seven years since I first saw the plastic. What will I see next…"
Captain Moore's account
" Our voyage to the International Dateline to assess plastic debris levels is now in full swing. After 4 days of chasing non-existent tradewinds, we have finally found them up at 33 north lat, 165 west lon, and are sailing happily under our beautiful red and green spinnaker. The motoring was punctuated by two instances of prop fouling by ghostnets (lost or abandoned fishing gear) which had to be cut and unwound from the propellers - a difficult job, especially at night. The calm weather, while forcing us to use half our fuel supply, also afforded excellent sampling conditions for plastic trash. The crew was shocked by the amount floating by (which they often netted) and the amount pulled up by our manta trawl. On Independence Day alone, we recorded 34 large objects netted, including a dozen fishing floats, a hairbrush, a Japanese survey stake (definitely not from a ship), and a PET bottle of Mitsoya Cider. That does not include the many smaller bits we scooped up and didn’t record in our “collected debris log.” I can imagine young people on voyages in the not so distant past, when the ocean was teeming with life, excitedly netting up fish and other sea creatures in abundance. I see the same excitement in my young volunteer crew shouting and netting up debris in an ocean teeming with trash. Of course, our longest handled net can only reach out about ten feet from the boat, so we see many, many more pieces floating by than we can collect. In fact, Nicole did a stopwatch survey from the starboard bow and counted 217 pieces of plastic in 20 minutes or a little more than 10 pieces per minute. We are well and truly in the Subtropical Convergence Zone, as described by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, a band several hundred kilometers in width centered around 30 degrees north latitude, and stretching from far offshore California to far offshore Japan. One of our goals is to see how levels of plastic pollution fluctuate within this area. We have another species to add to our list of fish that have ingested plastic particles. I netted up a fishing float with a long tail of rope heavy with barnacles and a 9” Chub (nenue in Hawaiian) came up with the float. Chubs, genus Kyphosidae, have extremely long digestive tracts and “use bacterial fermentation to extract maximum nutrition from their diet of seaweed.” (Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, by Hoover) Christiana was surprised to find on dissection, pelagic crabs in the stomach. Apparently, when you have to live off the ecosystem created by plastic debris, your vegetarian preferences may have to be compromised. In addition, she found two small plastic fragments along with the real food.
Drew spotted the first glass fishing float of the trip and we were able to grab it for his collection. He got a similar large green glass float on the 2002 gyre voyage." (See picture to the left of Jeff with the glass float)