Day 21 Sunday 9/27/09
Is this yours? I spied this from the galley window as it slid down a nine foot wave that dwarfed the size of this package. If you look closely, you can see it is strapped to a pallet which gives you an idea just how big it is. I’ve become keenly aware of debris floating after my 10 games of “How Long Can I Go without Seeing Plastic?” I had been outside most of the daylight hours even though a series of squalls kept me dodging for cover. One in particular, I watched as the silver veil of rain drew an exaggerated stiff line just after the horizon and then marched like locusts looming toward a cornfield (not that I’ve ever seen what that looks like.) I stood there for a good seven minutes watching it close in until I felt it on my face. Squalls rolled in and out throughout the day, but I was determined to stay out there in the cool damp air so that I could report my unscientific yet revealing results. I became so hyper-aware of the stuff that didn’t belong in the ocean that I couldn’t pass a window without looking out and shouting. “I see something!”
The 20 minute games took two people to play - one as an extra set of eyes to confirm the sightings and one to write down the time, dimensions, and color. We did not count anything we saw under an inch in size. After reviewing all 10 games, the longest we went without seeing a piece of plastic was . . . . . .7 minutes and 20 seconds. The average number of plastic pieces per 20 minutes was 15.9 pieces. The smallest pieces we saw were bottle caps (of which we saw a lot of and according to Big Sweep, bottle caps are the # 2 item found on the beach outside of cigarette butts.) The largest was a six foot trough with a rim like an old bathtub. One of the unique items was a blue man shaped bottle. Sorry Perry, it would have been a good one for you, but we couldn’t take anything out of the ocean because we were trawling.
Our trawls have been coming in with Texas-sized plastic fragments. Twice just today, we had to feed items back through the trawl because they were too big to fit through the codend. The captain said it was a rare occurrence to have large items end up in the trawls in previous years, it would happen, but very rarely. It has happened 9 out of the 11 trawls we’ve done for the re-sampling in the North Pacific Gyre. Items like a detergent bottle, a banana float, a handle and part of the top to a five gallon bucket, a good portion of a broken buoy, an Oral-B toothbrush, oyster spacers, and an umbrella handle just to name a few.
We have our 12th trawl tonight at 0130 and that will complete our 10 year anniversary re-sampling of the North Pacific Garbage Patch. We’ve had unusually rough seas throughout our sampling. The high pressure system that helps facilitate the accumulation has not been able to ward off the storms that have continued to hang around. The sea state has waned between four and six. These conditions usually don’t provide the best representation due to the fact that rough seas submerge many of the plastics. Yet, the captain and Gwen feel the quantities we are getting will surpass the samples of 1999. More later, Bonnie