Well it has been over a week now on the boat sailing and I am finally getting a blog post out. Time moves in blocks at the moment, 3 hours on watch and 6 hours off (a good portion the first few days spent sleeping) and often I have no idea which day it is. For the first 3 days there wasn’t much socialising either as we were all trying to get our bodies used to the motion. I have been one of the lucky few that hasn’t been sick which was great as we have sailed through some pretty rough seas for a couple of days straight. It was unpleasant at times getting up in the middle of the night to do a 3 hr watch dressed in wet foul weather gear with howling winds and stinging rain whilst trying to steer a boat in the dark. We have had 40 knot gusts on a couple of occasions and we are all covered in bruises from banging into handles and walls as we navigate our way around the boat. Cooking meals is a fun challenge when the stove keeps level with the boat’s movements resulting in big swaying motions.
We are now currently sailing through the Pacific Garbage Patch. It is a little different to what I had thought it would be like. We do see debris of varying sizes floating past every minute or so which may not seem like much but if you think of the miniscule path we are taking through this area then the amount of visible floating plastic adds up.
The seas over the last few days have been calm enough that we have been able to put the trawls out several times a day. We have 2 trawls – the high speed trawl that is left out overnight or for many hours during the day and the manta trawl that is a timed one hour trawl in low speed conditions. In each of the trawls we have done so far there has been significant micro plastic samples, not visible from the boat. There has been innumerable small coloured plastic fragments, rope tendrils, a BB gun ball and nurdles as well as a lot of sea life – small fish, some little crabs and lots of jellies.
It is really fascinating the size, shape and colours of the captured marine animals. Today’s manta trawl collected a high amount of purple copopods and last night’s had a mictophid fish which comes up to the surface from hundreds of metres below to feed at night on all the surface food (and plastic). The disturbing thing about the mictophid is that they are near the bottom of the food chain and in huge abundance in the ocean and the main source of food for bigger fish such as tuna. So their ingestion of plastic has significant implications.
We are collecting samples for scientists around the world too such as sea water to test for organic pollutants or cesium from radiation, some predatory sea snails and also halobates which are the ‘water boatman’ insects that lay their eggs on floating debris. The latter we manually extract from the trawl samples & the snails from floating debris. On every piece of debris that we have found there has been eggs from fish, snails, crabs and other species. With the increase in unnatural plastic debris used as transport mediums for eggs and adults, the chances of spreading invasive species is high.
During each watch along with sailing duties we are on the lookout and maintaining a log of plastic and other debris sighted in the water. We have picked up a barnacle encrusted buoy, a Japanese bucket and some insulated building material covered in grass matting which looks like it may have come from the tsunami, an egg covered comb with some net fragments and seen numerous other bottles, styrofoam blocks and pieces go by. Because of the rough seas a lot of the debris is easily pushed down from the surface.
Earlier in the week we did a bottle release to collect data on currents and wind direction. 500 wax sealed glass bottles with a message in 8 languages noting return contact details to 5 Gyres were let go about 250 miles offshore from Japan. Who knows where & when they will end up.
It hasn’t all been plastic though, we have also been lucky enough to see whales, a pod of dolphins playing alongside the boat, numerous seabirds including Laysan albatross hang around us and we had a juvenile Petrel join our crew for half a day as it sat on the boat and rested. We have only seen one boat during the week, other than that the ocean has been all ours.
The weather is predicted to be good for the next couple of days so it is intense work on deck whilst we can. The forecast though shows typhoon Guchol is heading to Japan with reports of 130 knot winds which we really don’t want to be anywhere near. With luck we will be far enough away that the aftermath isn’t too unpleasant.
We are all really enjoying the great sailing and the chance to be involved in some very interesting science and data collection, hopefully the good days continue.
Tracey Read aka 1plasticmum
20th June 2012