Sunday, August 10, 2008
For a few weeks now, we’ve been trying to orchestrate a marine meeting with Roz Savage an incredibly daring British adventurer who is also crossing the Pacific....IN A ROWBOAT!
Roz’s story is an inspiration to all. Though she had, for all intents and purposes achieved success - a stable, high paying job, a house, a dog, and a picket white fence, Roz found her self strangely unhappy. So she ditched the whole package to pursue a dream, and in 2006, became the first woman to row across the Atlantic. Now 2 years later, Roz is 3 months into her next challenge, a solo row across the Pacific. Amazing.
Many months ago, Roz contacted Algalita, as her mission is also to bring attention to the plastic debris issue. There was talk then of somehow linking up, but the discussion was lost in the flurry of preparations, to say nothing of the seeming impossibility of meeting up “somewhere in the middle of the Pacific”. It would be a miracle. And yet...
Their respective coordinates for the past few weeks showed Roz and JUNK on a similar course. Map here, courtesy of Michael, shows their proximity. Two days ago, JUNK was a mere 20 miles away. And yesterday the two boats were finally able to chat on the satellite phone, after numerous attempts through Roz’s wonderful mother Rita. Marcus and Joel thought they’d likely pass Roz sometime Sunday evening or Monday morning.
We’re now on pins and needles, awaiting the news. Though they are close, the difficulty of maneuvering two unusual rigs with limited navigability amidst sizable swells is no joke.
An at sea encounter would be a huge blessing for both. Not only could they exchange key survival supplies - a watermaker for Roz, and some snacks for JUNK - the human contact would be a godsend. Roz hasn’t seen a soul since she set forth on May 26th, while Marcus and Joel have only had one another for company. God knows some delightful female energy would do wonders for their spirits!
Stand by and think good thoughts for a Savage - JUNK reunion. This would be an incredibly cool happening.
And here is the rest of it.
Kamikaze squid = Mahi meal
Friday, August 8, 2008
We’re 825 miles from Honolulu. Joel just made a grab for a piece of tangled fishing line floating under the raft. We’re now having to take turns at the helm as we sail downwind and the wind picks up. The morning sun brought 30 knot winds and endless whitecaps across the horizon.
Yesterday was more calm, a chance to hang out on deck. While Joel stood on top of the fuselage, a dozen small squid leapt 8-10 feet out of the sea. One smacked Joel in the chest. He promptly ate it. The rest we used as bait, and soon reeled in a Mahi Mahi. It bought us two meals, a bit of insurance against our dwindling supplies. We’ve got just enough food to make it home.
And here is the rest of it.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
A few posts back, we heard about the mini trawl Marcus and Joel fashioned at sea. Like a plankton net, the trawl is a fine, mesh net used to skim the oceans surface, and analyze the collected contents for plastics.
Here, Marcus discusses what they are beginning to find (three guesses, first two don't count) as JUNK skirts the edge of the infamous North Pacific Gyre....
As JUNK is now in the gyre, the notorious plastic soup zone, Marcus and Joel have been on the lookout for debris all along. See here Joel’s marine debris observations, starting from their launch back in June:
I try to spend several hour each day looking out to sea while listening to my iPod and there is quite a few things to look for, hazards like tanker ships that could run us over or large pieces of floating debris like shipping containers, changes in weather, or interesting and tasty sea-life. And of course plastic debris.
At first, most of the plastic debris I've seen so far was right there in Long Beach's Rainbow Harbor, where we built and launched JUNK. Plastic bags, snack bags, bottles bottle caps, all kinds of packaging, rubber slippers and organic slime. The mouth of the LA river is next to the entrance to Rainbow harbor and the tide seemed to bring a fresh load of rubbish during float. Everyday four or more workers went around with long nets and tried to scoop up the flotsam – an exercise in futility, as “fresh” trash poured down the river and into the harbor daily. On days when the tide brought in lots of debris they brought out the "Trash Boat", with large booms that scoop the trash on board. It didn't seem to work to well though. The water displaced by the hull of the boat would push the plastic rubbish further underwater before the boom could scoop it up. I talked to one of the city workers and they said that the boat can’t pick up items like plastic that have a density close to that of water and float just below the surface.
It made me think...if we cannot clean one little harbor on a budget that can afford four employees and a boat how could we expect to clean up an area the size of the North Pacific Gyre?
The ocean surrounding the Channel Islands had a lot of observable plastic debris floating on the surface, mostly common items like bottles and bottle caps, fishing floats and plastic bags. I didn't notice much fouling. Fouling is marine growth like algae, barnacles or coral on man-made things in the ocean. Heavy fouling can indicate that a piece of debris has been in the ocean for a long time. Most of the debris I saw around the Channel Islands had very little, suggesting it was litter that had recently washed into the ocean. The presence of a large amount of debris with little fouling and little heavily fouled debris can indicate an area that disperses debris instead of collecting it. I would guess that the floating rubbish from the LA river washes up on local beaches or moves off shore and makes a long voyage around and around in the North Pacific Gyre.
After leaving the Channel Islands we sailed south staying about 100 miles off the coast of Baja California. South of Isla Guadalupe we started heading west. I spent a good amount of time staring out at sea during that time. We were becalmed several times which makes it easier to observe small photodegraded pieces of plastic that are nearly the same density as sea water and tend to get pushed down the water column when the wind stirs up the water and then raise to the surface when the seas are calm. Yet in spite of being close to land and being becalmed often I didn't see much debris at all. Mostly just palm leaves and kelp, the “good” type of marine debris.
More to come....
999 miles to go!
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Actually, fewer at this point. I'm currently out of the country, thus a slight lag in blog posting - breaking the 1,000 mile mark happened a few days ago.
Meanwhile, Marcus and Joel are preparing for a diet of peanut butter and jerky. Which, all things said and done, sure beats the plastic fragments many marine creatures are feasting on.....
999 miles to go! We’ve got three weeks of meals, then it’s peanut butter and fish till Hawaii. If we can average 42 miles toward Oahu per day, then we will be fine. We’re 0-3 on fishing. The other day I got one with the spear, flung it on deck, and watched it flop back in the water. Three feet of steaks, sushi, curry and jerky back in the sea. Then Joel hooked one, but it got caught on the netting of the pontoon and wriggled its way off the hook. Then yesterday I missed an easy shot with the spear gun. It’s one thing if you’re fishing for sport, but when you’re hungry it’s a different story. We will probably drop the sails today and take a dip in the drink for better luck.
We got an email from Don McFarland the other day. He’s the fellow that rafted to Hawaii on a 20-ton wooden box in 69 days back in 1958. I remember thinking, “We’re a lighter raft, fewer people, and better technology.” We’re 65 days at sea, with three weeks to go. We planned and provisioned for 50 days. Don said they used t-shirts to sieve the ocean for plankton. “Tasted like lobster,” he said. We’ve been trawling the ocean as well, but our samples are proving to be more plastic than plankton. Very filling I imagine, but not very nutritious. There is no way I would eat this stuff....unless we ran out of fish and peanut butter perhaps.
Meanwhile, our boat is suffering the predictable wear and tear of a long journey. Inevitable entroy, requiring constant vigilance and maintenance, as you'll see here:
Now for a few responses to recent blog comments:
Janelle in Tanzania, I was in Arusha years ago and walked up Kili to see the melting glacier. One thing I also noticed in East Africa was the use of disposable plastic without an infrastructure to deal with it. I saw bottles and bags everywhere. What do you see there today?
Sumwearnnyc – Yes, kind of like Life of Pi, but no tigers. Just Mahi Mahi.
Kim – You mentioned your use of plastic on your blog being a different focus than ours. Could you share any details with us?
Quasivoid – You said, “the disagreeable feeling it gives us is not an excuse to do nothing about it.” My sentiments exactly.
Maki – The image of other organisms eating or becoming entangled in plastic has been documented in 267 species thus far. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation visited the North Pacific Gyre earlier this year (That’s where Anna and I met Joel) to study plastic marine debris. We caught small fish in our nets called “Myctophids”. Recently, in the lab, we’ve dissected them and everyone had plastic in their stomachs. Make that 268 species.
Anonymous – Yes, we are sampling the ocean surface with a 1 mm net. We’ve been finding small plastic fragments in every sample.
Ron – Thanks for adding us to the list of masochists that raft the ocean. Thor H. just might be looking down and smiling, or laughing. One big difference between our rafting voyage and all others is that we can’t eat plankton. When we trawl for the stuff, most of it is plastic.
Regarding a contribution, please check out the “Message in a Bottle” link on our blog and sponsor a bottle. You can sponsor a case, send us an email with a message, and I’ll write it out an put it in one of the bottles on our raft.
Wallace J. Nichols – We haven’t seen any turtles yet. I would love to see a loggerhead. When I was in college in New Orleans years ago, I was involved with the Sea Turtle Stranding Network. We documented turtle deaths along the Gulf Coast. We never had a chance to do a necropsy on stomach contents. It seems you’re doing more with sea turtles than the average person. Do you have any info on stomach contents, or stories of entanglement to share? If I see any turtles, I’ll try to get a photo and look for tags.
Jessica – It is difficult to go 30 days without plastic. It’s all around us and nearly impossible to avoid in the developed world, or actually anywhere else as well.
Curt in Seattle – Provided I make it to Hawaii before the end of the month, I’ll be in Seattle giving a talk around Sept. 9th. I look forward to reading the details about the successful legislation in your neck of the woods. Although recycling programs are necessary, they are failures by themselves. Legislation is the key. Thank you Seattle for taking a lead.
Brad & Alicia – You’ve got the right idea “Bring Your Own!” is the slogan we should champion. Begin with your own reusable bag, coffee mug and water bottle. Thank you for making these fine suggestions on our blog.
Beachgal – Thank you for your kindness. This morning we crossed the 1000 mile mark. We will feast today on Mac and Cheese and our second to last can of mixed veggies. Who knows, we might just have some beef jerky on the side. It’s party time!
Anonymous – You asked “How do you post videos?” Joel and I have video cameras on board, which we download scenes to my computer. I edit 30-45 second videos and compress them to under .5mb. Using my satellite phone and an external antennae, I email the file to Anna Cummins, our blog writer. At a minute per second it takes a while. Anna then uploads the file to YouTube.
Lai, Prasoon, and Russki – Thank you for your good wishes. We’ve got roughly three weeks to go, as long as the raft holds up – and our food.
Pherehormonal – Thanks for the squid facts, and catching that they use both water jets and fins to move. I forgot to mention the water jets. After I sent that photo to Anna, our blog writer, Joel caught a beautiful cuttlefish. We let it go, too difficult not to anthropomorphize the black eyes and raised brow. Really beautiful animal. BUT, if we could harness them to the boat to make us go faster, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to lasso as many as I could.
JUNK in the GYRE: the toilet bowl that never flushes
Monday, August 4, 2008
We’re in the Gyre, or at least the southeastern edge of it. And there’s trash. We’ve got our marine debris trawl deployed to collect it. Remember, the North Pacific Gyre is a clockwise rotating mass of water roughly twice the size of the U.S. where currents and winds slow down. It’s like a toilet bowl that never flushes. JUNK is currently floating at 24N latitude and 139W longitude.
Take a look at the 20-year study done by Jim Ingraham tracking a couple dozen buoys around the Pacific Ocean.
In the photo, the red dots are buoys released from Japan, and the blue squares are buoys released from North America. They floated in circles around the Pacific Ocean for two decades until settling in the middle of the gyre (and are probably still there.) But plastic debris is not confined to these zones.
In February 2008, Joel, Anna and I were half the crew aboard the ORV Alguita with Captain Charles Moore traveling 4000 miles from Hawaii to the center of the Pacific Ocean and returning to Long Beach California. We discovered that plastic debris exists everywhere in the North Pacific Gyre. In 1999 Captain Moore first discovered the oceanic landfill, or “seafill” with a concentration of .002grams per square meter. Then in 2005 the density jumped to .004, doubling in only 6 years. Now in 2008 we have yet to process the latest samples, but we can confidently say it’s gotten worse.
Even the American Chemistry Council, a trade organization representing the major U.S. plastic industries, conducted their own study of plastic marine debris. They replicated our study, but chose a location in the Pacific Ocean where you wouldn’t expect to find any plastic at all, the Bering Sea....read on for more details: