Saturday, September 12, 2009
Day 5, 9-11-09
Today we’re heading due north toward an area that appears to have a bloom of algae according David Foley, NOAA. Algae (phytoplankton) are primary producers. Using CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, along with chlorophyll, they harvest energy from the sun. Primary production is defined as the utilization of CO2 and O2 to produce cellular bio-mass and energy. An algal bloom results from numerous conditions, but fundamentally from the increase in the limiting nutrients which stimulate algal growth. This results in an increase of chlorophyll that can be detected by remote sensing satellites. So when the conditions favor an algal bloom, the hypothesis is there will be an accumulation of plastic marine pollution as well. We’re going to test that hypothesis and should be on location in two days.
Our wind situation has gotten worse over the past two days. As the barometric pressure goes up the wind goes down. Today we started at 1017 and by 5 pm, the barometric pressure was 1022. The sea state has gone from a 3 to a 1 since this morning which means it now has only slight ripples and is almost glassy. It’s a magical sight to watch the ocean change its terrain from high rolling waves to a near motionless field of blue. Over the past five days I’ve likened it to driving across country. Some places have steep hills and valleys and some are flat meadows and fields. None the less, it is anything but boring out here. We’ve traveled 489 miles since we left the Harbor Monday afternoon, stopping only a few times to trawl and to swim and we’re not tired of it yet. Everyday presents another opportunity to witness the quantities of plastic that are in very remote locations of the North Pacific Gyre. We haven’t seen land since Monday and yet everyday we pull out large items. Today it was four buoys, three plastic bottles, a rope, big piece of a bag and a plastic Korean milk crate with fish swimming under, around and through it. Lindsey and Bill had a chance to jump in and take underwater shots of it. I stayed out after being stung by a Portuguese Man of War that wrapped its tentacle around my neck, across my back and down my arm. Not fun.
Today we also had three trawls going simultaneously. It looked like a race to see which trawl could haul in the most plastic. All three were winners as they all collected more plastic than we imagined, especially since we’re outside the Garbage Patch. While the trawls worked there magic on the back deck, a few of us were doing timed plastic sightings. It goes like this. We get the coordinates, set our stop watch for 10 minutes and begin to count with a clicker-counter the plastic pieces that float by. The pieces have to be as distinctive as possible to be counted as plastic (i.e. odd shapes and colors.) It’s disheartening to hear the clicker in rapid fire as photo-degraded pieces of plastic float past the RV Alguita. In fact, in 10 minutes we counted 147 pieces. Pristine water that should be untarnished is peppered with plastics.