July, 2017. Algalita continues its work in Coquimbo, Chile. Gwen Lattin, Chief Scientist and Research Biologist, teaches students in the Cientificos de la Basura Program how to analyze Trawl samples.
April 10. Framing the Garbage Patches - N 14 13.102, W 106 01.134 – Raquelle de Vine. It was nearing the end of a not-so-eventful day and we had lowered the sails after the wind dropped off. I was sitting up on the deck keeping watch and Gonzalo was at the helm. Off our starboard side, I spotted a piece of green Poly pipe floating past the boat, slightly below the surface. Only a foot long, it was gone out of sight by the time we had slowed the boat down and I headed to the stern to find it. Captain Moore, never one to lose hope, encouraged the pursuit of it and so we began to back up looking for it. Our search left us without the green fragment, though not empty handed, as at the slower speed we were alerted to a heavy concentration of meso and micro fragments around us! Thinking we’d found a windrow (an area of converging waters), Charlie and I were excited to put the Manta Trawl in and take a sample.
I couldn’t believe what we were seeing! Here at the southernmost reaches of the North Pacific, having only just crossed the equator and far from land or any known accumulation zone, we are finding similar concentrations to that of the outer limits of the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre. I was sure I had left sights of those sickening concentrations well behind. I was struggling to make sense of it, however, Captain Moore had an idea. As we drifted along, capturing highly weathered and fouled fragments (instead of the macrodebris that have been our typical catch so far for Leg 9), it seemed we were tracking through not just a highway feeding into the North Pacific “Garbage Patch” but at 6° degrees North we had discovered a possible South Eastern border of the accumulation zone.
Gathering data to frame both the “garbage patches”, Algalita and Captain Moore are one step closer to understanding these ever-changing systems. We know that the high-pressure systems that sit consistently in the eastern reaches of both the North and South Pacific determine the wind circulation and the currents that border the accumulation areas. These border currents, however, do not seem to move debris in consistent bands, but in smaller patches defined by eddies, windrows and small scale current systems.
Over the last few days we have continued making our way North toward Cabo San Lucas. We’re making the most of the winds where we can, trawling and hand netting, retrieving debris as we find it and contemplating the latest information. As the saying goes, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know…. Exciting prospects ahead!
We’ve also had a few “visitors” to keep us entertained: a pod of over 100 Spotted Dolphins playing in the bow wake and a tuna-spotting helicopter flying by when we were well over 600 nautical miles from any land fall! We also saw a Marlin while swimming this morning and a Galapagos Shark cruising around while we retrieved a 20L container!
April 10, 2017
As reported earlier, crossing over into the North Pacific Gyre brought the discovery of the "Gyre Rings" . Today I bring you a sample of microplastic and blue copepods from the Southeast corner of the N Pac Gyre, 625 miles south of Cabo San Lucas. The discovery of the corners of the Gyre followed the successful completion of our South Pacific Expedition.
April 9, 2017. We’ve found the Corners of the Gyre! -
We’ve passed through two drifts of garbage that are part of the circulatory system of the Gyre, bringing garbage to the North Pacific. We are now in the North Pacific. We passed about 6 degrees north latitude and found our first highway of garbage heading toward the North Pacific Garbage Patch. Then at about 9 degrees north latitude, we found our second concentration of garbage. In between, it’s very clean. So it’s like the rings of Saturn…like there are different rings of the Gyre that are bringing this debris in. We would find an area of trash, and then no trash. Then more trash, about 400 miles apart. So it’s not a seamless concentration of debris…it’s patchy concentrations. This is the Southeast corner of the North Pacific Gyre. So the latest findings we have, is the discovery of trash at the Southeast corner of the North Pacific Gyre.
April 8, 2017
Phase 1 - Gyre Comparison Data Collected and Phase 2 - Myctophid Study
We’ve successfully sampled and confirmed the existence of a “South Pacific Garbage Patch”.
We've discovered life itself in the South Pacific Gyre is less than in the North Pacific. The South Pacific Gyre was more of a desert than the North Pacific, which was a surprise to me. We didn’t get any Myctophids from the South Pacific Garbage Patch. The reason is the conveyor belt that brings nutrients from the circumpolar current around Antarctica that feeds much of the ocean, goes deep under the South Pacific Gyre so it has less life in it than the North Pacific.
In the North Pacific Gyre life is fed from the nutrients dredged up by the circumpolar current at the South Pole which surface in the North Pacific Gyre. Therefore, we didn’t see a lot of Myctophids coming to the surface for plankton because there is much less plankton there than in the North Pacific Gyre. So without Lantern Fish (Myctophids) from the South Pacific Garbage Patch, we can’t compare the South Pacific ingestion levels of eating plastic with the North Pacific. Another surprise was how little life there was in that part of the ocean so the plastic to plankton ratios will be quite high.
After leaving the Gyre and at 500 miles to the seaward of the Galapagos, we began to see more and larger Myctophids and are now collecting them for further lab analysis. We have done hand netting as well as Manta trawling in an area we had not planned on. Our course change has taken us to uncharted deep water territories we would not have explored had we been able to execute Phases 3 and 4. However, speaking in terms of the world's Garbage Patches”, my subjective opinion is that what we’ve discovered in the South Pacific Central Gyre in 2017, compares to our 2007 North Pacific Gyre Expedition data findings.
Algalita will be the only environmental group focusing on Myctophids . We will have a lot of Myctophids for study and have frozen samples for lab analysis. I can’t stress the emphasis enough on this research since 1 out of every 5 oceanic fish is a Myctophid, comprising about half the weight of the fish in the ocean.
They are difficult to collect because they live far offshore. That’s why Algalita, with its special vessel and long range voyages, is focusing on this fish. Myctophids symbolize the vastness of the ocean and this small fish, none of which are as big as a sardine, actually is the most important fish in the ocean and yet is has been studied very little. This is why Algalita, being a pioneer in the little studied effects of plastic pollution, is also a pioneer in the understudied species that represents the vast amount of the ocean’s biomass and will make Algalita a specialist in Myctophids and plastic pollution.
So, in spite of the setback of losing our Port Engine early In March, Phases 1 and 2 of our mission have been successfully accomplished.
Phases 3 and 4.Collaborating with our Chilean and Ecuadorian Friends.
Along the way we have “made friends and influenced people,” giving many talks on our work to end plastic pollution. In addition to sampling the South Pacific Gyre, using the Manta Trawl, we took over 50 surface water samples along the coast of Chile, comparing them with beach data, which will be analyzed for plastic content at the Universidad Catolica del Norte in Coquimbo, and provide the first ever baseline data set for the northern half of the country. These two sample sets at UCN comprise two of the three projects that we had planned for our voyage to Chile. The first being a return to Easter Island and the second being the return to the Galapagos Islands.
Easter Island and the Galalpagos. This part of our Expedition was two-fold and was to be dedicated to assisting our neighbors in Chile and Ecuador in gathering data important to their respective and our collective work projects. First, we were scheduled to return to Easter Island to provide research vessel support to (ESMOI) Ecological Sustainable Management of Offshore Islands. This trip comprised two goals. One was to employ a submersible equipped with deep water robotics to take photos. The other was to obtain samples using a deep water trawl to search for, and verify previously unknown species off Easter Island. Without a voucher sample, verification is not possible. This was to be accomplished by capturing fish at depths of a hundred meters or more. ita’s Expedition goals have been achieved and we must get home before the hurricane season is upon us. The good news is, we have accomplished much in addition to our own mission. We have worked with the wonderful people of Chile, Ecuador and Easter Island and the Galapagos, all with the same purpose……bringing the plastic pollution era to a close. We have conducted vessel tours and near shore trips for school children, scientists, members of the Chilean Navy and government officials.
Our colleague, Juan Pablo Munoz of the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador, collected some samples during an earlier project. Our vessel Alguita, would have provided him an opportunity to gather prime data farther off shore. Both phases were our way of accommodating our friends to do work they could not otherwise do.
Unfortunately, we experienced Port Engine failure in mid-March. Without the capability to deploy the heavy duty cable integral to this phase of the work, it became impossible to move forward with these two phases and we regrettably cancelled them. Therefore, we had no alternative but to change course for home port.
This Expedition, prior research in the North Pacific, the 2012 Pacific Rim Plastic Pollution Conversation Tour and our solid baseline work in Chile over the past three years, has continued to expand world awareness of our struggle to bring the plastic pollution era to an end. This has been my life's passion and work over the past twenty five years and I see it beginning to pay off, most recently in this wonderful country. However, each day is a challenge and the financial burden increases as the hours go by. We need your help now, more than ever.
It is my hope you will support our great endeavor with "the vessel that made history in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre" and allow us to begin analysis of our newly captured data to share with the world. Please identify your donation with "Bring the Alguita Home". www.algalita.org"
March 30, 2017. Stay tuned as the ORV Alguita and crew make their way home on one engine. As Captain Moore says, beautiful sunrise in the Doldrums, but with no wind, let's hope the fuel lasts.......more to come.
March 19, 2017. Sunken sails - S 13 14.542, W 89 05.632 – Never a dull day on ORV ALGUITA! Firstly, those 15 knot Trades I’d mentioned proved too much for the original welded-fabrication padeye located at the masthead, from which the gorgeous Rasta-hued spinnaker billowing out before the bows was pulling our 25 tons through the water at 8 and more nautical miles per hour. The padeye broke, the crew recovered the sail from under the boat and Paulo again went aloft. Our spare parts locker, however, failed to yield an exact replacement padeye, but Paulo and Gonzalo created a slick jury rig that adapted a nice cast one to the task – stronger too! Their innovative solutions also came in handy fixing a crack in the starboard hull that Facundo found after a long investigation.
Meanwhile, the winds from astern kept increasing through the night to around 20 knots, and around the time of the 4am watch change, the spinnaker “blew out” (i.e., split along a sewn seam). Fortunately, we have an older one in reserve for when we know we are going to want to use it upon reaching the vicinity of the Equator. The Captain selected a Wing & Wing sail configuration, with the Genoa jib deployed to one side and the mainsail to the other. That worked dandy for a number of hours, but then those following winds became a bit fickle and backwinded the main, thereby causing it to jibe with such force that the block on the Preventer split wide-open and the synthetic line itself parted with a loud “POP”. Scrambling once again, the sail was dropped, and then began the job of threading in a new rope through the inside of the boom and system of pulleys back to the line handling station in the cockpit. Now we’re back to running with just the Genny (and experimenting with other sail and engine combinations for best performance). In other words, the crew is rapidly gaining experience and we get by with what we have on hand! But nothing has proved unsolvable yet and we are still making headway home with plenty of smiles!
Fair winds and following seas S 15 34.77′ W 82 57.171′ - 3/19/2017. John Koster. Ahoy, I’ve rejoined Oceanographic Research Vessel ALGUITA for her homeward-bound leg from Arica, Chile (the City of Eternal Summer) to the boatyard in San Diego, California.
Capt. Charles Moore and his crews documented immense amounts of pelagic plastic in the South Pacific Gyre, as well as finding microplastics everywhere along the route of this expedition that will soon total more than 10,000 nautical miles.
Unconstrained production of plastics is now up to 300 billion kilograms per year. An emerging issue of concern is the human health impacts of plastics, especially those in packaging and consumer goods. Charlie has coauthored a chapter that appears in the very recently published book Integrative Environmental Medicine by Cohen & vom Saal (2017), ISBN 978-0-19-049091-1 https://global.oup.com/academic/product/integrative-environmental-medicine-9780190490911?cc=us&lang=en&. This chapter represents the first medical review of plastics-caused human health syndromes for the use of healthcare professionals.
Fair winds and following seas. It is a sailor’s fondest expression of ideal sailing conditions. We’ve been rocking along all day with a classic rolling gait. We sit so low to the water that from our perspective, the 360 degrees of horizon is not a smooth line – is instead punctuated with peaking swells far out from us.
We had cause for some extra excitement yesterday when the spinnaker halyard was determined to have jammed in the sheave at the top of our mast. Two intrepid members of our 6 person multinational crew, Raquelle and Paulo made several trips up in the bosun’s chair, each spending several hours 70 feet above the deck in the ultimately successful attempt to free it (if you can imagine such a thing in a seaway!). If it were my call, I’d say that they’ve qualified themselves for bivouacking on the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan.
To take advantage of beautiful 15 knots Trade Winds south of the Galapagos Islands, we’re presently heading due West, out into middle of the Pacific Ocean, and will continue doing so for at least another week of 150 nautical mile days. Then we’ll turn to starboard and begin beating our way northward… Blue skies, John
March 18, 2017 - S 16° 19.085 W 80° 34.347 – Raquelle de Vine. We’ve been sailing towards our next destination, California for 5 days now. There has been a change in direction; learn why here. It’s been hard to keep track of where the days start and end, but here we are, a great crew of new and old, a slightly beaten, but not defeated, Alguita and a great sense of accomplishment, back out on the big blue heading home. We are so grateful to have Facundo Resendiz from Leg 1 and John Koster from Leg 3, join us again. Our gratitude also extends to our 2 new crew members, Paulo Goncalvez Martinez and Gonzalo Muñoz Garcia Huidobro, both from Chile. Read their biographies here.
Our first days passed quickly as we headed west off shore, pursuing the South Eastlery trade winds. It has been a flurry of running ropes, flapping sails, soaring birds, and blowing winds! Today, however, our Spinnaker has been billowing comfortably off our starboard bow for the last 24 hours, filled with the south easterly trades we were chasing! Ahhhh bliss. The calm mornings have allowed us to drop our Manta trawl into the sea again. We can conduct full 30 min trawls again now that we are back off shore and no longer in the highly active, nutrient-rich waters of the Humboldt Current that promptly fill our cod net with organisms. It is interesting to observe the changes in the micro-plastics as we travel further and further off shore.
On our way from the South Pacific accumulation zone toward Chile, we noticed the volume of plastic film and identifiable consumer goods began to increase as we got closer to shore. Now we are noticing a decrease in these items, and in their place, more microplastic fragments. It is interesting to consider these trends and comparing nearshore and off shore samples. In the near shore waters we find foil wrappers, large and broken containers and other intact items, whereas off shore we find mostly small, hard fragments. It makes me wonder where all the other types of debris items have gone? Have they sunk to the bottom of the ocean, been eaten, or deposited onto some unsuspecting area of coastline?
Our collaborators at the Universidad de Catholica del Norte are going to investigate this, comparing offshore and nearshore trawl samples and identifying concentration areas. Another observation about our trawl samples is that the composition of the fragments in our offshore samples is generally very consistent. Why? There are many different types of plastic depending on their chemical composition and manufacturing process, however there are 6 main materials that are most commonly used. They can be identified by the number in the center of the chasing arrow symbol you see printed on the bottom of most plastic products.
The numbers correspond as follow; 1: Polyethylene Terephthalate, PET, often used for single use water bottles and food packaging. 2: is High Density Polyethylene, HDPE, used for slightly more durable containers and plastic bags. 3: Polyvinyl Chloride, PVC, commonly known for piping and plumbing but also used for storage containers and household hardware. 4: Low Density Polyethylene, LDPE, most commonly light weight plastic wrap and shopping bags. 5: Polypropylene, PP, the most commonly used in food packaging and 6: Polystyrene, PS, that we know all too well as single use plastic items like cutlery, and (expanded polystyrene) food trays.
The density of each material determines whether it will sink or float. There are exceptions however. For example, a piece of floating debris may be a surface for an organism to attach to which may cause it to sink. Those items made from buoyant (floating) plastics are most commonly found in the nueston (surface) layer. You can do an experiment at home (or school) to test the density and buoyancy of different kinds of plastics. Take a selection of the different plastic materials in your recycling bin and put them in a bucket of water to observe whether they sink or float!
Algalita’s Expedition to the South Pacific Gyre Changes Course
March 14, 2017. Posted by Katie Allen, Algalita Marine Research and Education's Executive Director.
Since departing Long Beach, CA on November 2, Captain Moore and his crew have collected water samples off the coast of Mexico, Central America, the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, and Chile. They have investigated plastic accumulation within the South Pacific Gyre and have successfully weaved together a network of scientists and change-makers that will continue to work on the issue well into 2017 and beyond. Although the original plan was to sail back through the Gyre on the way home, our crew has had to reroute their course for safety reasons. More from the Captain below –
“..No matter what happens from now on, as we leave the northernmost city in Chile, Arica for home, I can state with confidence that our mission to compare the South Pacific Gyre to the North Pacific Gyre, and sample its plastic load has been a resounding success.
Along the way we have “made friends and influenced people,” giving many talks on our work to end plastic pollution. In addition to sampling the South Pacific Gyre, we took over 50 surface water samples along the coast of Chile. These will be analyzed for plastic content at the Universidad Catolica del Norte in Coquimbo, and will provide the first ever baseline data set for the northern half of the country.
These two sample sets at UCN comprise two of the three phases that we had planned for our voyage to Chile. The third was to have been a return to Easter Island so that we could deploy a submersible for ESMOI (Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands), which would not have been an Algalita plastic sampling mission.
The reason for our failure to complete the third phase of our planned research in Chile is the following: on the way from Coquimbo to Antofagasta in Lat: 25 14.525 S Long: 70 34.835 W, at 4pm during Buck Osegueda’s watch, upon inspecting the port engine, he reported seeing smoke and hearing a loud noise from the motor, and immediately shut the engine down. I went into the engine room to evaluate the situation. When we again started it, the engine sounded like it had thrown a piston rod. This type of failure is not unheard of in a diesel engine like ours with over 5,000 hours of heavy use.
In consultation with our US mechanic, it was decided that repairs could not be carried out in Chile, so we’re forced to reroute and travel home. After all, ORV Alguita is a Sailboat! See you all in around 40 days….”
– Captain Charles Moore
March 11, 2017 La Estrella News Article
"The Super Captain and his Ecological Catamaran"
Last night I met with a super group of local community members and students at the University of Tarapacá in Arica, Chile, for my talk on our preliminary findings sampling surface plastics in the South Pacific Gyre. Lots of discussion afterwards on next steps in organizing to fight the plastic plague. Here is a wonderful Spanish article in La Estrella --- one of Chile’s finest news purveyors. Below is the English translation.
"..Charles Moore, an American researcher, a surfer and once boat racer, , travels along the Pacific coast aboard the vessel Alguita, collecting garbage and creating environmental awareness.
It was 1997 when Charles Moore discovered "the plastic garbage patch" in the North Pacific Ocean, which far from having the expected landscape of islands, it housed all the plastic trash that nobody recycled, and that everyone in the world threw away.
Since then, the researcher has become aware of the use of plastic in his philosophy of life. His interest arises since he is aware of the respect and affection he professes to the sea. He travels for miles on his Alguita catamaran, whose name derives from his love of algae.
Charles Moore says that "plastic is present in all the elements that we know, it has so many uses after its useful life, but it is easier to throw them into the sea, and in a hundred years more we will have almost half of the oceans with plastics ". "I entered this maelstrom of plastic awareness and its lethal effect throughout the environment because the damage is gigantic. I talk to authorities, environmental organizations, local people, but as we are organized to reverse this trend of more plastic pollution , “What can be done is almost nothing, "says the Captain Ecologist.
However he says he is optimistic, since in each place that he finds, he is adept to his cause and to the prevention of throwing plastics and other waste to the sea. "The activist is not the one who says the river is dirty, the activist is the one who cleans the river," says US politician Henry Ross Perot, modifying the phrase a bit, so Charles Moore is not only an activist cleaning the ocean, he is a daring activist.
And how is he defined today ?. "I used my name and my notoriety to change minds, to raise awareness. I went from being a scientist to an activist, this I will do until the last day of my life. I talk to everyone who wants to hear me and catch the wave, this is real...it affects us all, and we are all responsible, but we are all actors of change, and that is a hope. "
Ship2Shore in Arica – March 9, 2017 – Raquelle deVine
On the 4th of March, we said goodbye to our trusty mate Buck! He’s off on a fantastic adventure back to the Galapagos Islands to volunteer with Juan Pablo, (remember him from Leg 4?) on his turtle conservation program. We will miss having Buck’s big personality, beaming face and constant jokes aboard the Alguita. He has been an invaluable member of our crew for the last four months and his absence will be surely noticed, but we are super excited for him and wish him all the best!
The following day we had a busy day planned with a local school group coming aboard for our Ship 2 Shore program! We were grateful for the arrival of Facundo, our trusty right hand man from back in Long Beach, and Sabine Rech, who is studying the rafting organisms found on the plastic debris we have collected.
It was a great day with 28 people aboard the ORV Alguita sampling Arica’s surrounding waters. The students got to sorting the organisms from the microplastics in 3 of the trawls. It was a real eye opener for them when Captain Moore asked them about plastic pollution; they had never heard of it.
Wow! This is what it is all about, opening the eyes and ears of the communities we travel to, to understand the state of the earth in which they are living. I think of the words of Nelson Mandela when he said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It is this through research and outreach that we will win war on plastic pollution!
We were also lucky to have a small crew of representatives from Tortu Arica ONG, the local Turtle Conservation group on board. They have been dealing with the impacts of plastic pollution on the fragile populations of Green Sea Turtles and Leatherbacks that stop here in Arica on their migratory routes.
The trawl samples today were another reminder of the extent of this issue; the state of the samples were some of the worst we have seen on this voyage. The plastic to plankton ratio is going to be a sickening result when analyzed, we can tell just from looking at it. We are in a part of the world that fosters one of the “most productive marine ecosystems worldwide” and yet we are finding such high ratios of plastic to plankton.
Today we are working with well educated, kind, caring and passionate people and yet they were unaware of the issue of plastic pollution, one right on their backdoor step. The importance of sharing our knowledge is now more evident than ever. Luckily as I write this I am waiting for the Captain to return to pick me up before we head off to the Universidad de Tarapaca where he will be giving a talk about plastic pollution.
Headed North – Antofagasta to Arica S 18 28.180 W 70 19.208 - March 1, 2017 – Raquelle deVine. It’s been a whirlwind of a week and we’ve had a great trip up the coastline from Antofagasta to Arica! Exploring small coves, diving, kitesurfing, trash collecting, swimming, trawling and exploring old abandoned Nitrate mining towns. The days and nights were full of interesting and thought provoking conversations with our new crew that are accompanying us this leg, a real mixed bag of characters from very different backgrounds including a dentist, a marine ecologist and an anthropologist. Check out the Team page to learn more about their stories.
We arrived in Arica on March 1st, in a bay abundant with bird-life. We had been cruising through a thick plankton bloom for the last few days, which is typical with the heat at this time of year. It filled our trawls, clogged our water pump but was the source of the most beautiful bioluminescence at night! We are now anchored and sad that our new crew will depart so soon.
We’ve been anticipating our arrival in Arica and the warmth that comes with traveling towards the equator. Algalita has many great connections with groups here in Arica, including the American Corner of Chile, U.S. Embassy and the University de Tarapacá. Over the coming week we will be bringing youth onto the Alguita for a day of research, sampling and education, through our Ship to Shore Program, and work with the local turtle conservation group. We will be sure to keep you posted, but for now meet our crew…The Antofagasta to Arica crew all sporting hard hats collected as debris from one of the trash collecting missions.
Back Underway - S 32° 19.795” W 71° 29.599” – February 28, 2017. Raquelle deVine.
Yee haa, we’re on our way up the Chilean coast heading towards Coquimbo. We’ve got Captain Moore, Buck, Doshi (the Gnarly Beach Cleaner), Connie (our Chilean observer from the Armada), myself AND our latest addition, Adrian Feldman:
“Hi everybody, my name is Adrian Feldman, I am a Msc student on Environmental Conservation and an Ocean Advocate from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have been running the World Oceans Day celebrations for the last two years, giving some lectures in schools and screening some films on ocean pollution to raise awareness about the marine litter problem. I have been following Captain Moore’s work for several years and I couldn’t miss the chance to join Charlie in the Southern Ocean Expedition. I expect to get hands on experience on the methodology to implement a program to monitor marine litter in the Rio de la Plata and Southern Atlantic waters in the near future. Cheers from the Alguita ORV deck!!!”
Since setting off yesterday we have conducted a bunch of trawls, 10 in fact!! Along and around the coastal area of the city of Valparaiso. We expected to see relatively high concentrations of debris due to what we saw along the coasts, the tide lines and floating within the marina. However, most of our trawls had few plastics, the most frequent offender was expanded polystyrene (EPS, and commonly referred to as Styrofoam).
It was really interesting trawling because we found that we were cruising through random vortexes of trash that we could see floating and swirling by, thick with trash, but there would be nothing in our trawls. They weren’t representative of what we were seeing because we would be passing through the vortexes but the trawls would come in relatively clean. We did manage to get one that was a true representation of what we were seeing at a meso level. Check it out (we had to separate it into two petri dishes there was so much): This trawl was in for only 10min and is full of consumer single use plastic.
After our busy trawl session we headed up the coast into Papudo where we rounded Isla Lobos to check out the bird life. What did we find?? A colony of Humboldt Penguinos! So cute! I’m really looking forward to the wildlife we are going to see along this leg and I will keep you posted.
Expedition Update, March 10, 2017
Over the past few weeks Captain Moore and his crew have been documenting plastic pollution along the Chilean coast while traveling north from Antofagasta. After arriving in Arica, the crew worked with Tortu Arica Ong Tortugas Marinas to raise awareness about the issues facing green sea turtles at the mouth of the Rio San Jose.
Captain Moore gave numerous presentations during this time and hosted many students on the Alguita for tours and offshore mini-sampling trips.
Working to strengthen the fight against plastic pollution in this region, Captain Moore has given numerous presentations and invited community members of all ages to sail aboard the ORV Alguita via Algalita's Ship2Shore Field Research Program. This adds to his growing numbers of students joining "The Plastic Pollution Conversation"'.
The crew is planning to leave Arica in the next few days. Instead of traveling back through the South Pacific Gyre, the Alguita will be returning to California to undergo engine repairs and maintenance. Stay tuned for an update from the Captain himself.
CHILE COASTAL ACTIVITIES
During the month of February, the ORV Alguita made port in Valparaiso, Coquimbo, Antofogasta and Arica, bringing students on board to join the crew in near coast research exercises. These short trips helped to expound on "The Plastic Pollution Conversation" Captain Moore initiated in 2012 with his Pacific Rim Tour.
Below are some photos we'd like to share from the various locations we visited. Tomorrow, March 3, will begin the next chapter in the Expedition.
Near Antofogasta - Cerro Chascón - Pta. Hardy and Pta. Ballenas
South Pacific Expedition – Three Month Recap - February 7, 2017 - Katie Allen.
It’s been over three months since Captain Moore and the crew of the Alguita set sail for the South Pacific. In that time they’ve crossed the Equator, visited the Galapagos, Easter Island, and have sampled the South Pacific Gyre. The crew has been hard at work collecting 89 samples so far, pulling in Lantern Fish, patching equipment, surviving storms, collaborating with Universities and NGOs, and writing blog posts.
Arriving in the Galapagos in late November, Captain Moore developed a strong relationship with researchers at the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito. Because of the connections made during this expedition, the University’s Marine Science Director, Juan Pablo Muñoz, and his students are scheduled to study plastic pollution in the Galapagos archipelago aboard ORV Alguita once it returns to the area in late April 2017.
After departing the Galapagos, our crew successfully made their way to Easter Island where they worked with locals to collect water samples. Leaving the island on January 4, they began their journey through the heart of the South Pacific Gyre toward Valparaiso, Chile. Captain Moore was surprised to see that plastic pollution in the South Pacific was visibly different than debris in the North Pacific. Instead of consumer goods like bottles, toothbrushes, and packaging, our crew came across an immense amount of commercial items like fishing debris, buoys, and bulk containers.
On January 24th the crew landed on Robinson Crusoe Island and jumped right into a beach cleanup with the locals. The beach debris was transported to the dock and forklifted over to the Fisherman’s Locker, where Captain Moore presented to community members of all ages.
A few days later the crew departed for the mainland, arriving in Valparaiso,Chile on February 1. Over the past week, our crew has been working with the Cientificos de la Basura Program, organized by Professor Martin Thiel of the Universidad del Norte in Coquimbo. This group produced the first nationwide study of plastic pollution along the coast of Chile and we’re honored to be able to share our work with them.
Partnering with various Chilean Universities, our crew will travel over 1,200 miles north along remote Chilean coastline collecting water and sediment samples. The vessel will make stops to work with local scientists in Coquimbo, Antofagasta, and Arica before returning to Easter Island in early March 2017. As Captain Moore travels from port to port, he is weaving together a network of scientists and change-makers that will continue to work on the issue well into 2017 and beyond.
February 6, 2017. Captain Charles Moore and his crew are now in Coquimbo with Professor Martin Thiel. This is the second of several opportunities he is making available in the Chilean ports listed below as part of Algalita's 2016-17 South Pacific Gyre Expedition. His research vessel, The ORV Alguita, is joining with various Chilean Universities and concerned groups to accomplish near shore studies and compare them to data previously gathered in places like California..
Feb 1 – Feb 6 | Valparaiso to Coquimbo
Feb 11 – Feb 19 | Coquimbo to Antofagasta
Feb 24 – Mar 3 | Antofagasta to Arica
Presentation at Higuerillas Yacht Club. January 29, 2017
"Great crowd at my presentation on our findings during the first extended sampling for plastics in the immense South Pacific Gyre. The samples looked like our 2007 North Pacific Gyre voyage with less consumer goods and more fishing related plastics. The Event was hosted by Higuerillas (Castor Beans) Yacht Club." Read the Spanish version of my interview appearing in El Mercurio de Valparaiso Manana.
Leg 5 Complete – January 27, 2017 – Raquelle de Vine. We made it!! Concon, Chile. The South American continentis beneath our feet! We arrived on Thursday morning through a thick fog caused by large forest fires that are currently wreaking havoc throughout the lowlands and valleys of Chile. This explains why our trawl the evening before was full of ash and terrestrial bugs and debris, even a ladybug! As we docked at the Yacht Club at Higuerillas, Concón, a sense of satisfaction surged through us all as we acknowledged the safe and successful completion of the 5th leg of our expedition! The reality of being back in civilization hit hard when we glanced over the side of the boat and saw a mess of plastic bags, bottles, wrappers, line, and other single-use plastics.Here in this town, plastic is everywhere. It is in the gutters, in the bushes, along the streets, in the water, down the cliffs and of course along the beaches…but this is no different to anywhere else in the world. It is a constant reminder to us of the importance of addressing the reduction and management of the use of this invasive material.
For the next few months the tune of the voyage will change as we sail down the coast of Chile. It will be nice to enjoy the delights of land while we work to connect with local communities to raise awareness of this issue. Here in Concón, Captain Moore has a talk arranged at the yacht club for Saturday evening. On Sunday, we’re hosting a community cleanup at Roca Oceànica, a beautiful nature reserve that has become more of a trash bin over the years.
Although plastic pollution is an obvious problem here, we’ve met many change-makers doing amazing things in the community. Yesterday we checked out the Punto Limpio, which are the recycling stations found all around Chile. They are comprehensive, fun and simple!
Isla Robinson Crusoe January 24, 2017. Raquelle de Vine. Well my friends it was a whirlwind of a few days but great days! We were treated to a welcoming BBQ at Germàn and Gloria’s with the other sailors at anchor, three awesome French people two of them left France last year to sail around the world, the other a younger Frenchman who is hitch hiking around the world. They arrived to Robinson Crusoe from Valparaiso a few days before us after having rounded Cape Horn a month or so earlier. A Chilean guy also joined us, who has been working for various different organization’s in marine conservation efforts on the Island for the last 8 years, his latest role is as the director of the Chilean division of National Geographic Pristine Seas program! A few other locals joined throughout the night too. So awesome all the amazing people we get to meet along the way, inspiring, interesting, motivated, passionate and all with the same goal in mind; Protecting the seas for the future generations. The evening stretched into the early hours of the morning with good food, good conversation and the musical talent of the group being shared, with jams on an accordion, guitar, harmonica and tambourine!
Upon returning to the boat there were the BIGGEST flying fish I’ve ever seen feeding around the boat in the light! And Captain Moore captured 5 with a net and one more offered itself up by jumping board the dinghy. So I finished my night off processing them into samples for us to use to look at ingestion of plastics in other species too! J
Sunday, (we arrived on Friday) was our beach cleaning day! Woohoo, just after 0900 we had 19 people load up onto the Alguita, with another boat load of people in front and we headed North and West around the Island to the port by the airport where they all off loaded and hiked over the hill to Playa Arenal. We, aboard the Alguita carried on around the point and anchored in the Bay. Then the fun began! We had a rocky beach full of plastic trash, a shore break, and a long steep staircase being the only land access .. and in need of a way to get the trash back to the main town. With no roads we were left with the Alguita being our only mode of transport. But we were equipped, with a sit on top kayak, our small dinghy, a surfboard and 6 swimmers with fins!
Upon arrival in the bay the beach combers had already gathered a pile we could see from the boat! So as soon as we got to shore we were shuttling the trash out, this entailed loading the kayak up, securing it then controlling it out through the breakers and then swimming it to the dinghy where it was then transported to the boat! Four hours of constant trash transportation we were all done.
The amazing volunteers had combed the beach and coves North and South thoroughly, filling 3 large construction grade Super Sacks!!! With everything from a hair comb to barrels, and meso to macro debris! However mostly all fishing and commercial debris, continuing the theme we are seeing throughout the Gyre. A beautiful spot, filled with playful sea lions an endemic species, that are super inquisitive as well as an abundance of bird life, Albatross and endemic and native petrels. The vista around was beautiful and it was a spot definitely worth taking a moment to enjoy especially in one of the most biodiverse rich places on Earth, even more than the Galapagos I am told.
We were treated to a delicious fresh lobster pasta for dinner and cruised our way back to Bahia Cumberland before sunset.
The fun didn’t finish there though, as we still faced the task of getting the trash from the Alguita ashore. So the following day it was shuttled little by little in our small inflatable to Germàn’s boat that could then take it to the dock, where it was packed into the Super Sacks… phew. All of this was just in time to then be forklifted to the Fisherman’s lockers for Captain Moore’s presentation.
Had another fantastic turn out of interested and concerned community members of all ages, they were amazed to see the gyre samples with the quantity of micro plastics, and concerned about the origin of the plastic. Charlie discussed the voyage, what we are looking at and trying to achieve, the research and how it is conducted, as well as the issues that plastic pollution poses to all, options of reuse in particular for some of the items that we collected, and possible solutions. Considering it was a lot of fishermen debris it was really positive having a representation of fishermen at the talk and in particular them being the most vocal and involved when it came to asking questions.
"Great crowd at my presentation on our findings during the first extended sampling for plastics in the immense South Pacific Gyre. The samples looked like our 2007 North Pacific Gyre voyage with less consumer goods and more fishing related plastics. The Event was hosted by Higuerillas (Castor Beans) Yacht Club." Read the Spanish version of my interview appearing in El Mercurio de Valparaiso Manana.
The Island has received acknowledgement from the Marine Stewardship Council for their sustainable fishery practices, they have a large Marine Protected Area established and a forward thinking community avidly involved in protecting their marine environment. There is no doubt in my mind that the information Captain Moore shared with this community will be acted on and put to good use!
We are currently underway to our end destination for Leg 5 of the voyage, Valparaiso. We set sail last night after the presentation. So far we have had great Southerly winds and are looking to arrive early! All is well on board! Stay positive, like the community of Robinson Crusoe and remember that solutions are possible. These small remote island communities are the proof of that!
Land Ho S 33° 33.607’ W 79° 14.231’ – January 20, 2017 – Raquelle de Vine. Today we finally made it to Robinson Crusoe Island, entity of Chile but a world in itself! Beautiful, the landscape looks and feels like it’s from deep within land with high peaks and conifer forests. As though it has just been picked up and plopped down out in the ocean!
Soon after arriving, Germàn and Gloria from the local NGO Juan Fernandez y Desventurada came out to the boat to meet us. Fantastic! We now have a talk with the local community arranged on Monday for Captain Moore to present the issue to the locals here AND a beach clean up on Sunday at one of the Westerly facing bays that typically collects a lot of trash.
The island’s fishing practices and implementation of marine conservation are at the forefront of sustainable practices. With their popular Lobster fishery having strict restrictions in place since the 30s, the community uses only wood and metals for their traps. However, rope and line are still used A LOT…so we’ve decided to focus on raising awareness of the accumulation of this type of debris in our ocean.
Finding Identical Items Days Apart – S 33° 08.367’ W 87° 57.724’- January 16, 2017 . Raquelle de Vine.We’ve been seeing less plastic in our trawls since we left the accumulation zone of the South Pacific Subtropical gyre. Over the next few days we’ll anticipate seeing less and less as we continue East towards land.
After a busy morning of trawling we stopped for a nice long swim and some watermelon. Almost immediately after getting underway Doshi, who was on watch with Charlie shouted, “DEBRIS! Off the port side!” and all of a sudden we were pulling macro debris from the ocean around us. We recorded the coordinates, weighed, photographed, and tagged each piece. Any interesting specimens we found were collected and preserved, just like our trawl samples in 5% Formalin. In order to save special items for chemical analysis, such as the polystyrene plastic on the foot of a Gooseneck Barnacle or the tissues of a fish that has ingested plastic, then we freeze the samples as they are.
One of the highlights of this trip is when an interesting species come in with a trawl or piece of debris, like this Glaucus atlanticus, a nudibranch – one is the biggest one I’ve seen so far. The plastic itself is quite interesting too. Each piece degrades differently and it’s always a challenge figuring out what it used to be or where it may have come from. Almost every object has bite marks and we’ve even found some matching items like these jugs!
A fantastic place with wonderful people and a rich Maritime history of early Chinese merchants, Pirates and Spanish colonization. Recently wiped out by a Tsunami in 2010, the community is rebuilding with amazing strength and ingenuity! Enjoy the weekend and we will be sure to share how the rest of our time here goes.
January 23, 2017. A stop at Robinson Crusoe Island (Mas a Tierra), 400 miles west of Chile. A fascinating island with about 1,000 inhabitants and a popular tourist spot for diving and hiking. The Cave of Patriots on the northern side of the island once housed Chilean government officials, exiled there after the Spanish counter revolution. It's gratifying to know these folks are environmentally active with the Mantra Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in prominence in store windows. We were pleased to have taken part in one of their beach cleanups.
Connie Mike Gyre Ghost Net Buoy Sprinkles Sprinkles
Finding Identical Items Days Apart – S 33° 08.367’ W 87° 57.724’- January 16, 2017 . Raquelle de Vine. We’ve been seeing less plastic in our trawls since we left the accumulation zone of the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Over the next few days we’ll anticipate seeing less and less as we continue East towards land.
After a busy morning of trawling we stopped for a nice long swim and some watermelon. Almost immediately after getting underway Doshi, who was on watch with Charlie shouted, “DEBRIS! Off the port side!” and all of a sudden we were pulling macro debris from the ocean around us. We recorded the coordinates, weighed, photographed, and tagged each piece. Any interesting specimens we found were collected and preserved, just like our trawl samples in 5% Formalin. In order to save special items for chemical analysis, such as the polystyrene plastic on the foot of a Gooseneck Barnacle or the tissues of a fish that has ingested plastic, then we freeze the samples as they are. One of the highlights of this trip is when an interesting species come in with a trawl or piece of debris, like this Glaucus atlanticus, a nudibranch – one is the biggest one I’ve seen so far. The plastic itself is quite interesting too. Each piece degrades differently and it’s always a challenge figuring out what it used to be or where it may have come from. Almost every object has bite marks and we’ve even found some matching items like these jugs!
Sprinkles in the Sea -32.75535 -92.464383 – January 18, 2017 - Raquelle de Vine. Remember eating sprinkles on cupcakes as a kid? The tiny little colorful sugary beads… So colorful and delicious and always associated with good times…! But, if you spilled them, man oh man, what a task it was to clean up all those hundreds of colorful tiny sprinkles. This thought has been running through my head over the last few days as we’ve been inspecting more and more trawls heavily laden with plastic…We began our one-hour trawl samples a few days ago as we crept closer and closer into an accumulation zone of the South Pacific Sub Tropical Gyre. I say ‘an’ rather than ‘the’ because we have had several High Pressure systems showing up within the sample area and we know that these high pressure systems create the winds that circulate the surface currents into sub gyres / accumulation zones. Generally, in each of the oceans gyres there is a permanent pressure system that creates an accumulation zone, which is what we have been hoping to track and sample. However, it is always changing in size and shape because of the constantly changing oceanic conditions. This means that despite there being a general location where you can expect an accumulation area, you can’t just pin the spot on a map and arrive at the central accumulation zone at any time of the year. Also, factor in the fact that 81% of the Earth’s surface south of the equator is sea water.
It’s like we’re storm chasers, except we are looking for the stellar calms, tracking the weather on our computer navigation system (remember Buck talking about TimeZero on Leg One?). We compare our coordinates to Maximenko’s model of marine debris accumulation determined by the trajectories of Lagrangian drifters and the map of highest plastic concentrations produced by 5 Gyres during their March-April 2011 voyage. From the models, we expected to encounter higher concentrations further west in our journey, however, after several days of steadily increasing quantities of micro debris in our trawls the accumulation zone is apparently currently further East than predicted.
Each day I think we have seen the worst of it, but the sprinkles of debris keep filling the petri dishes more and more, increasing the ratio of plastic to plankton, exponentially it seems. Yesterday, one trawl we pulled in was sickening. Take a good look at the picture, the longer you look the more and more you will see, all the tiny fragments start coming into view, the pieces of line and the overall quantity hits you. One hour!!! The microplastic concentration levels seem to be equivalent to what they would find in the North Pacific Gyre.
The abundance of macrodebris has been increasing as well. Traveling in a straight line we collected 5 pieces of macro debris in the timeframe of 15-20min. Out here, we estimate concentrations of macrodebris by counting the number of visible pieces we see in a certain period of time. In the North Pacific Captain Moore describes finding more often consumer goods like bottles, toothbrushes, and packaging but here in the South Pacific, we have been finding mostly commercial items such as fishing debris, buoys, rope, fish bins, lines and bulk containers. In the trawls, there has been an excess of line and filaments from rope and fishing nets, in addition to the unidentifiable microplastic fragments. Today, our trawls seem to be less full of plastics. Together with increased winds and swell conditions, this is a clue that we are moving away from the high pressure cell and the accumulation zone again.
Our next stop is Robinson Crusoe Island where Captain Moore will deliver a talk to the local people, in particular the fishermen, about the extent of the issue. We are grateful for fair winds at the moment and by the looks of things as we should have them for the next couple of days. All crew are well despite a few life changing moments in the past few days and we are fully charged for continuing our task at hand.
I encourage you to share this information around, share the pictures and the stories! Our oceans are brimming with this plastic pollution but we cannot drain a bath tub when the tap is still on!
Stay interested and hungry for change; you are the solution!
Tracking Buoys -31.426833 -98.119333 – January 13, 2017 – Buck Osequeda. We find a lot of abandoned buoys in the South Pacific, in fact we’ve found four so far. They can come loose from fishing nets, off the sides of boats, or just be abandoned. But, the latest buoy we found is very unique. It’s a unique buoy because at one point it recorded and transmitted oceanographic data as opposed to the rest of the buoys that are used as aids in fishing. I say that the buoy did transmit, because we disassembled the whole buoy, tested the batteries (which are dead) and tried to figure out how it functioned. I felt like a kid disassembling my VCR. Unfortunately, none of our computers on board have a SATA input so we couldn’t connect to the buoy and therefore don’t know exactly what it recorded. We also don’t know who put it in the ocean, but it is probably from an organization like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) in America or the National Institute of Water and Air (NIWA) in New Zealand.
Of particular interest to us aboard the Alguita is the Global Drifter Program through NOAA. Buoys, much like the one we found, were tracked via satellite to help determine sea surface currents. Data gathered by these tracked buoys were then used in a model to help determine zones where debris may accumulate. We, as debris scientists, then plan our route using those models and validate statistical models with field work. You can picture these accumulation zones as large vortexes that swing trash around their outer edges and slowly funnel detritus into their centers, like some sort of trash-filled black hole.
The buoy is also unique because it is the first piece of trash that has a date on it, January 2007. This means the buoy could have been floating for up to 10 years! This is an important piece of information because we know it has had time to travel sea surface currents and should theoretically be deep in the gyre. The buoy’s age, the amount of plastic debris we’ve been finding in manta trawls, and the high pressure zone around us leads us to believe that we are currently deep within the South Pacific Gyre.
It takes culminating factors such as these to determine if we’re in the gyre because natural phenomenon occur differently in the ocean than they do on land. You can’t just go back to the same coordinates and expect to find similar conditions as a previous study. You have to look at conditions such as air pressure, sea surface temperature, depth, and sometimes even the age of buoys. The gyre is constantly moving and I’m stoked to realize that we’re right in the middle of it! …but then my heart sinks when we pull up the trawl and it’s full of plastic.
Ghost Net - 29.0625, -102.15415 – January 10, 2017 – Raquelle de Vine. By 1700 yesterday evening our Manta Trawl samples were diminishing in micro-plastic quantities and our macro debris collection was nil. A positive sign? Yes, in some ways. It’s telling us we were moving along the edge of the accumulation zone, rather than into it. We dropped our sails and altered our course to begin to head southeast where we could observe a larger high pressure system on our radar, signs of a calm region where plastic may be accumulating. .Within half an hour of changing our course we spotted our first item of macro debris, a 30cm long white HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) plastic casing, with bite marks in it! We are on the right track. Looking at the bite marks, some big teeth have chomped into this one!
The next half hour bought along a ghost net, quite a hefty bundle of loose net floating aimlessly through the ocean, collecting whatever unsuspecting thing or creature gets in its way. Due to this one’s minimal organic fouling and collection Captain Moore predicts it can’t have been adrift for longer than 3 months. There were several juvenile and small fish species that were hanging around it, some of which are common coastal species to the region. It’s a sign that the net came from a far off coast, even though we found it over 300 nautical miles from land and in waters over 2 miles deep. This kind of debris not only destructively captures and kills marine life, but also alters the ecosystem by providing an artificial habitat.
We hauled the net aboard and tried to free as many of the small crabs as possible. We will take it with us to Chile where we hope to deliver it to one of the fishing net re-purposing initiatives they have there, such as Bureo Sunglasses and Skateboards. In the meantime, it is sitting up on the top deck along with the rest of our debris that we collect.
As you can see in the picture, we’ve collected a lot of macrodebris, but it’s not as easy as it sounds! The person who spots the item calls out, and keeps their eye on the piece as it’s easy to lose track. The crew member navigating slows the boat down (by hauling in a sail, turning into the wind or slowing the motors) and we take a detour to retrieve it.
If it is a large piece, we’ll jump in and dive around it to film it and see what we can get for dinner, before hauling it aboard. I am often grateful for the electronic winch and large gantry arm off our stern when it comes to hauling these objects out. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as we head further into the Gyre!
What is a Gyre? S 27.36025, W 103.199333 – January 9, 2017 – Raquelle de Vine. We are back at sea and making our way to the convergence zone of the South Pacific Gyre. Our first couple of days have been focused on getting underway. With good winds we’ve been making good headway. Yesterday the winds died allowing us to begin trawling again, right in time as we just entered the region where we planned to begin sampling. The trawls contained similar quantities of micro-plastics to what we were finding last week. It pains me that it no longer comes as a surprise to consistently see this quantity of micro-plastics. During our sampling last week we had very high concentrations of microplastics, being right in a calm patch of an accumulation area, a sub gyre of the South Pacific Gyre.
Do you know what a gyre is? Our expedition is focused around sampling the South Pacific Gyre. In short, gyres are the great circulation systems of the oceans. Remember the blog on trade winds? If not read blog from the 12.11.16 “Fair Winds, I’d say so”! Consistently blowing winds drag the surface waters with them, through the force of friction. This forms a massive, but slow, flow of water within each of the oceans mainly in the direction of the trade winds flow. This turns into a circular pattern as influenced by the locations of continents and the ocean basin topography (depth of the sea floor). The 5 major gyres of the ocean are therefore known as geostrophic gyres. Geostrophic means: relating to a current that is formed from a balance between pressure gradients and coriolis forces.
You can see in the image how Australia and South America border the South Pacific Gyre to the West and the East. But what is bounding the gyre to the north and south? The Equator borders it to the North and the Southern waters border it in the South. To understand these invisible boundaries, remember that the winds that create the flow are the trade winds which are determined by the circulation of the Hadley Cells. The Hadley Cells of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres meet at the equator with the low pressure belt of the Equator separating them and deflecting their air circulation in opposite directions. This creates the northern boundary. In the South, the air circulation of the Polar Cell forms a Southern Boundary with the different surface current’s the winds create there.
The gyres are typically divided by boundary currents. These are currents that flow north-south usually along the coasts of the continents. The movement of cold water equatorward occurs on the eastern side of the ocean so they are called Eastern Boundary Currents. The movement of warm water poleward happens along the west side of the oceans so they are called Western Boundary Currents. Transverse Currents link the eastern and western boundary currents.
These are the major currents of the oceans. Perhaps you’ve heard of some: the California Current and the Humbolt/Peru Current are the Eastern Boundary currents of the North and South Pacific!
Looking specifically at the South Pacific Gyre, which flows anti-clockwise, its northern transverse current is the South Equatorial Current, the Western boundary current is the East Australian Current, the Eastern boundary current is the Humboldt/Peru and the southern transverse current is the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
Each of these currents flow continuously on their paths, past land masses and across the ocean in their inclined direction. The ocean water flows are directed by the spinning of the earth, gravity and the corriolis force (remember, it’s the one that makes things take a curved path on a spinning surface). The currents transport whatever floats in the surface waters, so as plastic debris is released into the ocean from the coastlines, eventually its gets picked up by one of the many currents flowing around the perimeter of the ocean. Once in circulation, they will either make their way into the central accumulation zone of these Gyres, or be deposited somewhere on a coastline. Some plastics may also sink to the seafloor under certain conditions, or be eaten by an organism.
To better visualize what is happening, think about what happens when you stir a hot drink, like hot cocoa, round and round. All the froth ends up in the middle. This is essentially what is happening with all the marine debris in the Gyres, the currents circulate it around and around, but eventually it will get concentrated into central areas, literally just like a plastic soup. The accumulation zones where we find the large quantities of debris. On our trip through the gyre we will try to better understand this accumulation of plastic debris in the South Pacific Gyre.
So off we sail to the accumulation zone, using the winds to take us there, just like the plastic debris.
Welcome aboard Connie and Doshi! S 27.5258 , W 105.96585 – January 8, 2017 - Katie Allen. Hello!!! We are back underway woohoo!! Aboard we have Captain Moore, Captain Dale, Buck, myself and we welcome aboard two new members for Leg 5 … and beyond! Connie and Doshi write their stories:
Hello, my name is Constranza (Conni) Hernandez Urbano. I come from Valparaiso, Chile and I am a Licensed Oceanographer, from the Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso. I have been working in the laboratory, studying the effect of greenhouse gases specifically on the local fish called Seriola Lalandi.
My work aboard the ORV Alguita will be as the Official Observer for SHOA (Servico Hidrografico Y Oceanografico del Armada de Chile) controlling the methods and extraction of samples within Chilean waters. I will be aboard for the voyage to Valparaiso and north up until Arica.
This is a fantastic opportunity to gain experience working in an international environment learning about different facets of science related to marine pollution and creating contacts. Also this is a great personal challenge to cross the ocean in a sailboat, this being my first time ever sailing.
My name is Michael Doshi, in the plastic pollution world I am known as the Gnarly Beach Cleaner (GBC). Along with my GBC crew, I spread awareness of plastic pollution through pure fun and positivity. On social media I create funny photos and videos to tell people the bad news about single-use consumer goods and plastic pollution, but in a good way! These photos and videos can be found on my Instagram account @gnarlybeachcleaner. Even though plastic pollution is a major global problem, my crew and I believe we can still have fun while helping to solve the issues, thus sparking the #makeitfunmovement.
In addition to GBC work, I volunteer with Surfrider Foundation’s West LA/Malibu Chapter. Most recently during the November elections I helped with their CA single-use plastic bag ban campaign, which we won! I enjoy bringing the fun to their local beach cleans and I also help with their Ocean Friendly Restaurants program in Los Angeles.
I am a volunteer member of Heal the Bay’s Speakers Bureau, which allows me to engage a wide array of local Los Angeles County residents to educate them about plastic pollution and LA watershed issues. I speak with the majority of the people during large beach cleans, which gives them the opportunity to view the plastic pollution on the beach first hand. I enjoy this type of hands on education!
Ever since I read Plastic Ocean by Captain Charles Moore a few years back, I told myself “one day I’m going to go on a Gyre expedition to help with plastic pollution research”, and here I am, currently on an expedition through the South Pacific Gyre with the legend himself, Captain Moore! I’m so stoked! The opportunity came to fruition through a good friend of mind on the international plastic pollution team, Tim Silverwood, CEO of Take 3 in Australia. Tim visited LA recently and brought the expedition to my attention, took me to the Algalita office to meet Captain Moore and Executive Director Katie Allen, and pushed me to take the leap to join the expedition. I’m very thankful to have Tim as a mentor and grateful he encouraged me to join the expedition.
I’m on the expedition from Rapa Nui to Valparaiso and then joining the crew for the first leg up the Chilean coast to Coquimbo. During the expedition I’m hoping to further my knowledge on plastic pollution as to help the global plastic pollution team on a larger scale. My goal is to earn a career at a non-profit, so I can dedicate my full time to helping spread awareness of plastic pollution issues to the public. On the expedition, I plan to generate a lot of fun social media content to keep the stoke alive. I want to teach people to live in the present with undertones of longevity, while staying stoked!!
Really awesome meeting all these new and wonderful people working towards the changes we want to see in the world!!
Arohanui my friends!
Easter Island's use of unsustainable limited resources
Easter Island is famous for unsustainable use of limited resources. Perhaps this is why only current residents are building a self-sufficient community called Tiko.
At anchor – Hanga Roa – January 6, 2017 – Raquelle de Vine. We’ve been anchored at Rapa Nui since the first day of the new year, re-provisioning and repairing the vessel. The sampling that we did over the last leg, revisiting our 2011 study, was especially interesting for me, as I am from the South Pacific myself. Analyzing the state of plastic pollution in the Neuston layer (the surface waters that we are sampling on this voyage) in this remote part of the world, I am not sure what is more shocking: the trawl samples laden with micro-meso debris, the quantity of macro debris we have been retrieving or the number of plastic fragments found in the stomach of every fish we catch. In addition, the number of fish baskets from New Zealand companies is astonishing--I need to raise their attention to this!
What’s the worst of all this? We are sampling mostly within the waters of Rapa Nui, one of the most isolated places in the world. We know the debris we find in these waters mostly does not come from the inhabitants of the island only 166km², but they are located within the convergence zone of the South Pacific Gyre and therefore become a depository to the trash that is circulating the Pacific.
So what do the people of Rapa Nui do about it? Many advocates on the island are working towards raising awareness, reducing plastic consumption on the island and implementing initiatives to tackle the issue! Advocate Sebastian Yankovic Pakarati was on board for the most recent leg, and we’ve since joined forces upon returning to the Island to spread the word about our work! Yesterday evening Sebastian, Juan Pablo from the Galapagos (who was also on board) and Captain Moore delivered a presentation to 60+ attendees on the issue of plastic pollution. They compared the two island communities, Galapagos and Rapa Nui, discussing similarities and differences in how the issue is affecting the communities.
The presentation went well with lots of positive response, and it was filmed to be put on the local news. So here’s to spreading the word initiating action plans. It frustrates me, though, that they’re the ones having to dedicate so much time and effort to addressing an issue that they are on the receiving end of. I feel a renewed sense of the importance of this expedition as we set off on Leg 5, which is taking us to the main destination of our Expedition---the South Pacific Gyre accumulation zone. Along the way, we will dive deeper into the science of the issue, gathering more data and evidence on the state of micro plastics in the Gyre. In time, the data we collect will be used to build an international and widespread understanding of what is going on in this part of the world’s oceans. It is so evident being here, in Rapa Nui, that this is not an issue to be dealt with nation-to-nation. The information we are gathering is crucial to support the more international and collaborative conversation efforts, from large continental nations to small island ones!
As we pull in our anchor this evening to set off east towards the Gyre, our motivational fires are stoked with the passion of the Rapa Nui people. We are intrigued about what we will find next. Lorana everyone.
Algalita Goes to Rapa Nui – December 20, 2016 – Raquelle de Vine. It has been an eventful time for us on Rapa Nui! We’ve had the most amazing time meeting the locals, navigating the reef, exploring the island, learning about its history and a few other lessons too. When we first arrived, we spent most of our days re-provisioning, cleaning, maintaining the vessel. Being in a new port, (let alone being in the most isolated place in the world, )presents us with challenges in finding tools and supplies to restock the vessel. We bid Captain Moore farewell for a short time as he headed home for the holidays, and welcomed the new crew aboard! Magdalena and Tim from Chile, Juan Pablo from Galapagos and Sebastian from Rapanui! They’ll introduce themselves over the next couple of days.
We shared feasts, dove the reef and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of Rapa Nui. Exploring the coastline, we found many deposits from the Gyre and met some of the locals who have been involved in addressing the issue of plastic pollution on the island. Rapa Nui4. Dale and I took a day to explore the island and the amazing ancient Moai. Moai are large, really large, stone sculptures of the Rapanui people’s ancestors that were carved 1000s of years ago, approximately 1000 AC! Some say there were two tribes; the long-ears and the short-ears, and the long-ears enslaved the short-ears to construct the Moai. They are truly an amazing spectacle---solid volcanic rock statues, some over 20 meters high, distributed all over the 166 km² island… It is still a mystery how these statues were erected. There are several speculations: some think they were rolled on logs, others think they were “walked” with strong ropes. At one point in the history of the island, some form of societal unrest occurred. Remnants of war and destruction, many of the Moai were toppled over. There are even some reports of cannibalism aligned with evidence of resource depletion and immense hardship.
I first learned about the history of Easter Island and the Moai during my college studies as an example of societal unrest, and the consequences of poorly managed resources. We discussed how the history of Rapanui is an example of the current situation on Earth; the intense anthropogenic pressures we are placing of the global system. It has been fascinating to arrive here to learn that there is always more to the story. In this particular story, we must also consider that it is a small isolated island, with poor nutrient provisions, both on land and in the sea, providing very finite resources to inhabitants. It makes a lot of sense that adding population pressures, the resources will deplete if they not managed carefully from the beginning, whether all the logs are used to transport statues or not.
rapanui2What can the “naval of the world” teach us? It is not just a reminder that it is important to manage the finite resources on Earth to support the quickly expanding human population, but that we must always remember to take the whole picture into consideration. Nothing is ever black or white, nor is there only ever one solution for something, and therefore we need to be open minded and ready to change or alter our course. I feel that too often in life, we do not analyze the consequences of our actions until we are forced to. What if we start asking these kinds of questions sooner?
In inventing new technologies or taking action for social change we should be prepared to change our course from the first instance we notice that something isn’t working. My dad always said, the first time is a mistake, second time is on purpose! So are cases of resource depletion, pollution, environmental destruction and cultural annihilation going to be considered mistakes just because they are happening in a new place, with different materials and resources, or in a different context? Can we learn to think in a more abstract way sooner? Before disaster strikes? rapanui1From conversations with the locals of Rapanui, I realize that they understand the limits of their island. They see the impending destiny of their Island, again, as the population begins to grow, but their voices are hushed and the lessons from the past are lost on the wind. Supposedly, the new technology and infrastructure we have elsewhere in the world will allow for greater population on the island now. That is not what I see, however; the pressures are too much. Think about why we still make the same mistakes over and over again, just because they occur in a different context. Ask yourself: Is this on purpose? And if so why?
As we head into a new year, it’s a time to reflect and set goals. The crew sends wishes for happy and safe holidays! We are looking forward to hearing more from you in the New Year! Now, we are back at sea revisiting microplastic sample stations monitored in 2012. We’ll be returning to Rapanui for a couple of days to deliver a presentation to the locals about our work and to get ready to head off into the South Pacific Gyre on our way to the coast of Chile. Stay tuned.
Moai and Man-O-war, Land Ahoy! - -27.1391, -109.4857 – December 19, 2016 – Raquelle de Vine.
We arrived at Hanga Roa, Rapanui with a layer of mist hanging over the island, but we could still see the Moai standing staunch on the banks. We took a trawl sample on our way into the harbor and it came up relatively empty, a big contrast to the trawl we took last night that was full of gelatinous invertebrates and the biggest Portugeuse Man-O-War any of us had seen! (This didn’t stop John and Andrea from jumping in for a night time swim!). After processing the sample, we had to store it in a large 8 liter bucket, as opposed to our usual ½ liter sample containers. Upon our arrival at Hanga Roa, we waited to clear customs and we were greeted by the friendliest and efficient officials and policemen. Once ashore, we all jumped into action: Charlie and Dale headed to shore to gather materials to mend the Alguita, Andrea and John headed off to enjoy the sights, and Buck and I stayed behind on the Alguita.
Rare Sighting – -23.929917 -102.843333 December 16, 2016. Raquelle de Vine. As the ORV Alguita approaches the center of a high pressure system, life aboard slows right down; the sea around depicts our pace. The ocean surface looks softer than silk, almost like a stagnant pond, although the swells still toll by. The colour is the deepest blue, almost purple, and the hot sun beats down on us. As we cruise along by motor, I look over the bow, and the water is so calm you can almost see through gastropods and the Velella velella floating beneath the boat.
The day started with an epic sunrise and the passing of a school of feeding tuna. It was exciting to see some species from higher in the food chain, however, we weren’t lucky enough to capture one for dinner. Just after 0700, we spotted some debris off our starboard side, which was unusual, as we haven’t been seeing much in way of macrodebris, much less than we were expecting for this region. Charlie took the helm, and Buck and I jumped in to check it out! We identified the debris as a fish bin that was providing a niche for several tropical fish, pelagic crabs, Gooseneck barnacles and a juvenile Mahimahi. We brought the debris. We also managed to collect one of the tropical fish for a sample. On further inspection, Charlie pointed out that the bin was manufactured in New Zealand! I wonder if it has come from a Kiwi fishing boat. Either way, it has traveled far, possibly along the border currents of the Gyre that flow past New Zealand.
The day was busy as we were refueling, tidying, cooking and retrieving debris, 3 pieces in total! The calmness of the ocean allowed us to see the pieces that would otherwise normally sit just below the surface. In the Northern Hemisphere we were plucking plastic bottles out left, right and center, but down here we’ve found mostly industry related debris so far.
1/4/2017. Today Michael Doshi, crew member on the Algalita Expedition, gave a guest lecture to the plastic attending La Playa de Ovahe! He explained to them that if not picked it will eventually break down into micro-plastics that will remain in the ocean and on beaches forever. He will be taking it to @vaimanusurfexperience to see if they want to keep it on display to educate the local surf youth and tourists about plastic pollution on Rapa Nui 🗿!
Tomorrow evening @algalita along with Dr. Dude will be departing to make their way to the South Pacific Gyre! Stay stoked amigos 🤙🏽!
December 22, 2016. Easter Island ( Rapa Nui) Dragonfly made from recycled bottles and cans. Part of a Parade and street festival for children where they get free gifts according to their age. A nearby sign reads: "This year we are not wrapping gifts, because with love, we are protecting our island from trash." Wrapping as single use plastic, ,, , walking the talk on Easter Island!
December 21, 2016 - The ORV Alguita arrives at Easter Island on the Winter Solstice. On January 4, the crew will depart Easter Island to sail east through the heart of the South Pacific Gyre. They will sample plastic and Lantern Fish while mapping currents to determine the size, scope and dynamics in the region.
TINY MICROPLASTICS - S 22.739567 W 100.460433 – 12/12/2016 – Raquelle de Vine. We’ve been motoring the past couple of days as we’ve entered the high-pressure zone of the South Pacific Gyre. High-pressure atmospheric zones are characterized by calm waters, little wind, bright blue sky and… lots of microplastics. These areas, also called the doldrums, are generally avoided by sailors who rely on steady winds to travel. Its the lack of wind and the down-welling waters of these areas that allows for the accumulation of plastic debris, brought here from coastal areas by currents and winds.
Our daily trawls are bringing up the greatest abundance of microplastics we’ve seen so far on our voyage. Not only that, but the plastics are extremely tiny, most of them are less than 1 mm in size! This could suggest that these plastics are older and have spent more time at sea. As they continue to be exposed to the elements over time scales of years to decades, UV radiation and wave action work to break items and fragments into smaller and smaller pieces. What do you think might explain why we are finding smaller microplastics here than elsewhere? Just 4 more days until we arrive at Easter Island! STAY TUNED!
FAIR WINDS S 15.317817 W 93.253867 – 12/11/2016 – Raquelle de Vine. The crew were all busy bees this morning, fueled by Captain Moore’s world famous (on the ORV Alguita :P) banana pancakes, stacked with bacon and served with creamy butter and Canadian maple syrup. The task: to fix the starboard engine crash pump and pump out the bilges. The crash pump is essentially an emergency pump that takes on water in event of a fire in the engine room to cool and extinguish it, and it had developed a leak into the bilges because the intakes (pipes that take the water into the system from the ocean) are getting smashed in the slightly rougher seas we’ve been experiencing. The bilges are the bottom of the inside of the hulls and often gather an excess of water and oil that may escape. We have to check them hourly to ensure there isn’t any major flooding or other disturbances.
We did a trawl at midday, one of our least exciting in terms of content, however, we were happy to note no visible micro-plastics. Afterwards, Charlie and I filleted our daily ration of flying fish from Tangaroa, which Dale and John have turned into delicious fish cakes for dinner. Buck took the helm and kept our batteries charged, our water tanks full and our sails well-trimmed. We’ve been travelling quickly at 8-9 knots, a speed we never reached on the first leg of our voyage.
The winds we are currently experiencing are the South Easterly trade winds of the Southern Hemisphere. Sailors have taken advantage of the steady trade winds for centuries. I think about all the other sea-goers who have sailed the same path before us: whalers, merchants, explorers…. these winds blow consistently and allow for a quick passage. Luckily for us, our destination, Easter Island lies South West of the Galapagos, so the winds are accompanying us just fine.
What exactly are the trade winds? And why do they blow so consistently? In order to understand (and I am going to do my best to summarize and simplify) we have to take it back a few notches and note some key pieces of information:
Wind is the mass movement of air in the thin atmospheric layer surrounding planet Earth
Wind direction is always where the wind is coming from
Wind is predominantly influenced by the pressure of air masses, the rotation of the earth and temperature
Global air circulation is broken into 6 cells between both poles with 3 cells in either hemisphere; the polar cell at the pole, the Ferrel cell at mid latitudes and the Hadley or Tropical cell by the equator
The Coriolis effect “rule of thumb”: In the Northern Hemisphere moving objects will veer slightly off in the clockwise direction or to the right, in the Southern Hemisphere moving objects will veer off in the counterclockwise direction or to the left.
Trade winds exist in Hadley/Tropical Cells in both hemispheres, and they travel in different directions due to the Coriolis effect. Northern trade winds come from the northeast and Southern trade winds come from the southeast.
With that in mind we’re going to hone in on what the air circulation is doing in the Hadley Cells in order to explain the trade winds. In the Hadley Cells, the air cools and descends towards the poles and warms and rises towards the Equator. We know this because warm air rises and cool air descends. Because the Equator is the area of the Earth’s surface closest to the sun it is the warmest. The poles are the furthest away and therefore are the coolest. The air in this cell rises and falls constantly moving, creating a consistent flow of wind, the Trade Winds.
However, it is not going directly North to South and around in a perfect circle. The trade winds flow from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere. So where did this slight veer in the wind direction come from?
It is the influence of the Coriolis effect. As the Earth rotates it causes moving things to veer (or curve) slightly off of a straight path. Have you ever tried to draw a straight line from the top to bottom on a ball as it spins? If not, try it! You’ll notice that the line you draw ends up veering off either to the right or the left. This is basically what is happening with the Coriolis effect, the rotation of the Earth is having an effect on things moving on it.
To recap, consistently flowing winds at low latitudes in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere exist due to cells of air that are determined by the rise and fall of warming and cooling air masses from the Earth’s surface. This flow results in a constant circulation of air, making wind. The wind is deflected either slightly to the right or the left, depending on whether it is in the Northern or the Southern Hemisphere, as a result of the Coriolis Effect. The resulting winds are the north-easterly trade winds in to the north of the equator and the south-easterly trade winds to the south of the equator.
It’s fascinating to me how very interconnected the Earth system is! Being right in the midst of it; actually seeing, feeling, experiencing these trade winds as they effortlessly transport us, as they have done to vessels for many, many years, it is exhilarating!
OCEAN IDOLS - S 12.61135, W 91.80545 – 12/10/2016 – Raquelle de Vine.. Today marks the passing of my Uncle John, a commander on offshore patrol and survey ships in the New Zealand Navy and prior to that served as a navigation officer on Frigate and Destroyer ships in the British Navy. He filled our childhood with great stories of the sea, sailor’s songs and folklore. Whenever we visited, we were never far from the sea.
To me he was a hero, a brave soul that ventured far beyond my realms and filled my imagination with delight. His life at had sea shaped him, a tough, tanned outer shell always presented well. His short sleeved button up shirts had their cuffs rolled and were always clean and pressed. His hair was always combed and tidy, and continued to hold the aire of a well-respected naval commander, though there was always a glint in his eye, a smile on his face and a joke or a story for any occasion.
Although I am separated geographically today, I feel as close to him as I ever was being out here, at sea. As I look across the great South Pacific Ocean to the horizon, with the salty winds whipping my face and the ocean lapping at our hull I honor his memory and am grateful for being out here. It makes me begin to think about the many great seamen and women that have existed in our time, crossing, exploring and defending our oceans. For centuries there have been spokesmen and women looking to protect and conserve our big blue.
For us in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Sir Peter Blake comes to mind. He was a world class sailor, winning the 1989 -1999 Round the World Whitbred Race and skippering New Zealand to two consecutive wins in the Americas Cup. He then turned his focus and energy to his passion for conserving the environment. After working with the Cousteau Society and resigning from competitive sailing, he established Blake Expeditions to undertake voyages to explore, document and conduct research in order to “educate and inspire” people about conserving the oceans, rivers and waterways of the world! Tragically, his life was taken by pirates on the Amazon during one of the Blake Expedition voyages but his legacy lives on through research and education programs in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Do you have any role models or key conservationists of the ocean? Share with us and comment below about who your marine idol is and why they are a role model of ocean relations. We would love to hear! Otherwise, just acknowledge them and be grateful that continue to teach us many important lessons as they share the unknown corners of the world.
KENFUNKY FRIED FLYING FISH S 10.261667, W 90.36 - 12/9/2016 - Buck Osegueda. Man, it feels good to be back on the boat! Due to some funky schedules, I was lucky enough to be invited back onto the Alguita to sail to Easter Island and then on to Chile. I felt so extremely fortunate when Charlie invited me, there was no way I could say no. I did have to head home for a week to take care of a few things and it felt very strange being home after living on a boat for a month. The ground below me wasn’t moving and if I needed anything, I could just hop in my car and go get it. Not so much on the boat. I also missed a week of Charlie’s epic meals.
We’ve talked about food in previous posts; a lot of what we do on the boat revolves around food. Turning eggs, pulling meat out of the freezer, and combing through the veggies has become a sort of ritual on the boat. We’ll also usually set out a couple of lines in hopes that we can catch our dinner, but we haven’t been having much luck. So today we tried something new: we had fried flying fish. Before today, I would have never dreamed of eating it. I had never really thought of flying fish as food.
It’s really interesting to me what people define as appropriate and acceptable food. As humans, we can eat a plethora of creatures and yet we deem some things culturally inappropriate to eat. One common example of an inappropriate food for some people is pork, but there are others as well. For instance, when is the last time you’ve seen bear, rabbit or flying fish in the grocery store? There are some good reasons why we pick certain foods over others, but it can also be largely arbitrary. This narrowing of what we can eat is then compounded by how we’re allowed to serve it. Michael Pollan and Steven Rinella write about how we’ve become disconnected from our sources of meat. We “need” our fish served headless and our pigs turned in to bacon strips. Considering that I’ve read much from these authors and have eaten lots of wild game, I was surprised when I was hesitant to eat the flying fish.
Seeing this loosely battered whole fish on a plate, the same species of fish that we’ve been scraping off our decks every morning made my western, suburban upbringing rear its head. I realized I had been viewing these fish as trash. Fit for other fish but certainly not appropriate for me. Despite the alarm bells going off in my head I grabbed a fish, peeled the meat from the bones and took a bite. It was quite delicious and better than any fish stick I’ve ever had. Dale informed us that fried flying fish is a breakfast food and a staple in Barbados, which makes sense considering how abundant they are. Why bother catching fish when they come to you?
This experience is one of the reasons why I’m happy that I’ve been fortunate enough to be on this voyage. Every day there is something new, and I can’t wait to see what new things come my way between here and Chile. The most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to be open to new experiences because you never know what you’ll miss out on when you say no.
THE COOKIE MONSTER’S FATE - S 8.108533, W 89.354167 – 12/9/2016 Raquelle de Vine. A busy day at the office today, we vacuumed the bilges, sealed the bilge intake, fixed floor boards, constructed some homemade lures, defrosted the fridge and freezer, refueled the tanks, deployed the manta trawl, fished, sailed (still sailing in fact) and had a delicious beef roast for dinner! It was a beautiful day as well that was signed off with a green flash at sunset and we’re all happy with the headway we’ve been making since we’ve picked up the South East Trade Winds! Yeeehaaaa!
It is good to be back into routine too and underway able to take samples again! Are you all up to date with our sample protocol and what exactly it is that we’re doing? Fire a comment through below, if not, and we can fill you in! The trawls, as we’ve mentioned in the past few blogs, have been really interesting and are producing a more visible quantity of microplastics. What is it that we are referring to when we talk about micro-plastics? In general, it is the term used for small microscopic sized plastic fragments, in terms of Algalita’s scientific studies it is one of 3 size classifications in which the plastic that is found will be categorized into; micro-, meso- and macro-plastics. Microplastics are anything up to 5 mm in size, meso plastic fragments are between 5-20 mm in size and macroplastics are anything greater than 20 mm in size.
We categorize the plastics in order to allow us to create the baseline data that will open the doors to further research. In particular, the size of the plastics can help to tell us certain information such as; age, source and trophic level infiltration. The latter is a focus area for us because organisms in the ocean feeding on particles, select their food particles based on their size (among other things). Therefore the size class of the plastics can give us clues as to which organisms may be ingesting them. The age old saying, “We are what we eat”, sums up why we are concerned about the ingestion of plastics in all specimen.
Take a look at our sample from today and note what you see. I myself can see an array of zooplankton, invertebrates, juvenile fish, algae and microplastic fragments. When I think about these plastic fragments I have to wonder where all the smaller fragments are. As Captain Moore would describe it, “if you have a cookie and you crumble it, you’re going to have a lot more crumbs than pieces.” Yet we aren’t seeing many crumbs … so where have they gone? Are they being washed away in swifter currents, are they sinking to the depths of the ocean or are they being ingested?
The zooplankton we can see are the grazers of the ocean. They’re eating the “grass” of the sea, all the phytoplankton that are converting the sun’s energy into ocean life. Some of the zooplankton migrate up to the surface daily, whereas others, such as the gelatinous ones, just hang out in the surface currents and eat whatever’s around them. Unfortunately, at closer inspection of today’s manta haul, it appears that one of the zooplankton ingested one of the elusive plastic cookie crumbs.
Gelatinous zooplankton, more commonly known as jellies, may not seem like much with their lack of skeletal structure and free swimming ability, but these little creatures, according to D. Wrobel and C. Mills in the book Pacific Coast Pelagic Invertebrates are crucial to the “workings of all marine ecosystems”. Their roles as predators, grazers and as a food source (some of their fecal matter is a vital food source for the phytoplankton) are crucial in the marine ecosystems.
I have found the many different species in our samples fascinating and often spend time observing all the different ones. This is how I ended up spotting the “crumb”. There are several different families of gelatinous zooplankton, but they all amaze me with their remarkable adaptations and how they support life in the ocean. With 95% of their tissues made up of water, and often no skeletal structure, they function exceptionally well. They have adapted ways to swim and travel, to capture food and excrete waste. Their makeup of mainly water, provides them with easily maintained buoyancy, the ability to survive for long periods without food and keeps them in low demand as a food source. Their transparency also keeps them well camouflaged, hiding them from potential predators. They are quite beautiful and intricate creatures and each have a unique purpose in the ecosystem. Due to their low maintenance lifestyle, they are well adapted to survive out here in the less productive, yet vast, waters of the deep blue, estimated to encompass 97% of the worlds living space. It is quite a significant area to be ‘keeping a float’. I can’t help wondering: if they’re cleaning up our plastic “cookie” crumbs, how long until the Cookie monster crumbles?
THE LONG TRANSIT TO THE S. PACIFIC GYRE (1700 NM) -5.833483, -88.327933 – 12/7/2016 – John Koster. Greetings to supporters everywhere of plastics-in-the-ocean research! I joined the crew at Galapagos on the evening of 4DEC16. We immediately got underway for Easter Island in order to maintain our schedule and allow Capt. Moore to fly back home in time for Christmas. We have already made a few trawls that captured some bits of plastic. One of the things the expedition was looking for during the Galapagos Island legs is plastic debris carried there by the westward flow of the Panama Current during this time of year. Prior observations suggest the debris source is predominantly from Panama. However, we aren’t expecting to hit big concentrations until nearing Easter Island, which is on the NW edge of the South Pacific Gyre. So, another 1700 Nm to reach the primary study area.
Speaking of unpredictable occurrences out in the middle of the wide ocean, we had some excitement early this morning when a small fishing boat was crossing our bow and putting us into a position requiring Sailing Master Dale to give the order for all sails to be dropped in a hurry! We avoided collision, but on hauling up the main again, discovered that the sheeve at its head had failed, so it was a trip in the bosun’s chair up the 75′ mast for Dale to swap out hardware from ORV Alguita’s extraneous parts bin (lesson: you never know when some old thing will come in handy!).
PS – By way of introduction, I started working with Capt. Moore on marine debris issues back in 2000 when I was chief of USCG Pacific Area’s Environmental Response Branch, and then again during my subsequent assignments to both of our overseas regional offices in Holland and Japan. Prior to retiring from active duty in 2012, I became interested in electrolytic reef restoration technologies, and so have made a belated return to my academic roots (former Peace Corps volunteer marine biologist) at UC Santa Cruz Ocean Sciences Dept. Earlier this year, I presented the results of my graduate research project at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium. Ecologically yours, John
SLOW PACE AND SIMPLE LIVES S 3.91585, W 88.629283 – 12/6/2016 – Raquelle de Vine. Spending time in the Galapagos forced us to take a hiatus from our micro plastics sampling, as the entire area is an established Marine Protected Area and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Instead we used the time for re-provisioning, rest and maintenance. When planning for a long journey, way points along the route provide us a place to find refuge from the constant movement of the sea. Despite, not collecting plastic research samples, the time we spent in the Galapagos Islands was just as important from an educational perspective, as we took the opportunity to connect with the residents of the islands to share the purpose of our trip, and the issue of plastic pollution. We are exceptionally grateful to the people we met and connected with, who assisted with the facilitation of Captain Moore’s talks on each of the islands, as well as everyone, both locals and visitors alike that took an interest in the issue of plastic pollution.
The islands taught us too. Everywhere we went; the highlands or lowlands, the towns, the fields, on or under the water, it was evident that the relationship between humans and the rest of the natural environment is symbiotic. Here, people seem to care and respect for the ground they walk on, the air they breathe and everything in between. They see the land and environment as a part of their community, not just a commodity. I have seen this relationship before with the people in the Himalayas; the land and environment is their livelihood and they respect that. I found myself drawing parallels, not only the relationships people have with the land, but also the quality of life. Slow-paced and simple living, minimalistic lifestyles, no one seems stressed or without time, everyone has a smile for you and nothing is a problem. They are healthy and happy and glow with life. It reminds me that it is the little things in life that matter, and that when you are content, you can care for more than just yourself. I have the feeling that it is the way of life here in the Galapagos Islands, that has preserved this biodiverse sanctuary.
The Galapagos Islands were established as a National Park in 1959 and the surrounding waters, out to 40 nautical miles off shore, were set up as a Marine Protected Area in 1998. Rich in resources, it is valued most just the way it is. The people here honor and respect the management practices in place, and in cases where damage occurred in the past, they are keen to learn and change their ways in order to restore the damage. The conservation efforts and stewardship displayed by people of all ages and professions on the Galapagos, make them role-models for us, showing what is possible.
Today, we left the protected waters of the islands on our way to Easter Island, and we were able to continue sampling. At midday we deployed the manta trawl sampling device made of an aluminum box, ~1 m wide and 15 cm tall, which has two wings to keep it afloat on the water’s surface, and a long mesh net attached to the back to catch everything in the Neuston layer (surface waters) which are larger than a third of a mm in size. It is deployed of the stern (back) of the boat, usually for 30 minutes. While we slowly move forward, the trawl is dragged along. Once its been pulled back onto the deck, we collect the contents of the net and store it to look for plastics once we are back on the mainland. A half hour later, we pulled in a sample not only full of life, but containing the greatest quantity of microplastic that we have seen in a trawl yet. Not even 200 nautical miles off shore from one of the most well protected areas in the world, and we are finding microplastic. We are all certain they are not coming from Galapagos, but from the ocean currents that pass through this area, and connect it to distant sources.
We will be sampling throughout this second leg of the voyage, so stay tuned to learn about what we find!
ISLAND TIME S 1.531217, W 89.568633 - 12/5/2016 – Raquelle de Vine. Since we last wrote, the crew has been well and truly on Island Time --- the slow paced lifestyle of island dwellers where nothing is a problem and everything will get done. It has been relaxing and a nice contrast to the constant schedule we must keep while sailing. On Nov 29th we set sail from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island for Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island and spent four days anchored there until we set off on the afternoon of the 3rd for Baltra.
Isla Isabela is the largest Island in the whole Galapagos archipelago. However it is also one of the least populated. It was a quiet place to anchor, but one strongly affected by the tides. We experienced the tides firsthand when we were coming back from the dock late on our first evening. We ended up having to navigate through the shallow reefs and sand bars in our little dinghy. We had to pull the motor up and row ourselves to keep from stranding the boat and eventually seek the help of some locals. While at anchor, we thoroughly explored what the wonderful island of Isabela had to offer. Capt. Charles dove the Calderra of Isla Tortuga mentioning how he loved the variety of coral and algae forest that he saw.
Yvonne enjoyed observing the variety of wildlife from the deck of the Alguita, like a large jumping shrimp being chased by Puffer Fish, and explored the islands to see the largest tortoises in the whole of the Galapagos and the unique flat shelled Cinco Cerros tortoises. Jeff hiked and took time to explore the beautiful white sandy beaches, seeking out the best snorkeling spots. The Galapagos have predominantly black sand beached, as they are volcanic islands, yet Jeff discovered several beautiful white sand beaches. How do you get white sand beaches on a volcanic rock island?? Silica rich sea shells growing in the shallow coastal waters are eroded over 100,000s of years by wave action, creating white sand beaches! Beautiful. Unfortunately though, even these remote places aren’t left unscathed from plastic. We found an array of plastic debris along the tidelines.
Dale, besides manning and repairing the Alguita, took time to find the flamingos and befriend the locals, and not to mention, the cooled fresh coconut milk slushies! Andrea similarly made the most of her time at Isla Isabela checking out both the terrestrial and marine life and culture of the Island. Amid tasks aboard, I too had a combination of the most amazing experiences here! One highlight for all of us was our tour to Sierra Negra and Volcan Chino, in the highlands. We started early at 800m elevation and hiked through a moisture-deprived rainforest to just over 1000m where we met the edge of the great Sierra Negra crater, which has a radius of 22km and the most amazing display of volcanic rock and formations. As we hiked the crater rim we saw exceptional views towards Volcan Chino, a secondary volcano of the Sierra Negra. Despite being in the National Park, the vegetation was unfortunately comprised mostly of invasive species, in particular, guava trees. Being Charlie’s favorite fruit juice, he had soon sweet-talked the guide into allowing us to harvest them; we got a fresh supply of Guavas to juice at the same time removing thousands of potential seeds from the National Park. Win win!
We also thoroughly enjoyed the amazing snorkeling opportunities, often just a short stand-up paddleboard trip away! We visited several locations of rich variety in marine life! Among the array of marine life that we saw, both above and below the surface, were Galapagos Penguins, Green Sea Turtles, spotted and non-spotted Eagle Rays, Manta Rays (Jeff swam with one that had a 6ft wing span!!). Sting Rays, White and Black Tipped Sharks, Sea Lions, Marine Iguanas, Sea Cucumbers, Sea Urchins, and a huge array of tropical fish! Not to mention the beautiful coral gardens and amazing underwater landscapes built out of the volcanic terrain, crevices, spires and lava flows that housed species from large too small. But it was what bordered these areas that I believe are the biggest players in this healthy and thriving ecosystem … mangroves, the ‘roots of the world’. They not only provide habitat, food and shelter for all, but are a main nursery for juvenile species, filter sediments and provide important erosion control with their intricate root systems.
We also got to explore and learn about the interesting history of the Galapagos Island agriculture. 16 years ago, there was a large eruption in the small mountain town, Riobamba on mainland Ecuador. The town was covered with lava and ash, and the people living there lost everything. A small group migrated to the Galapagos where they established their traditional organic farms in the Highlands of Isabela. We found our way to Pepe Troya Cruz’s Farm, looking for more food for our upcoming voyage to Easter Island. Andrea, Dale and I headed off at 0430am and upon arriving at the small local farmer’s market, Dale chatted with one of the farmers, and soon enough we were on our way into the highlands with our taxi driver Homero, and tamales for breakfast. When we arrived at Pepe Troya Cruz’s Farm, we were all taken aback by the variety and abundance of fruit and vegetables. Pepe took us for a tour of the farm and loaded up our re-useable bags with freshly picked produce!
With the Alguita fully stocked for the next leg of our voyage, we hauled up the anchor on the afternoon of the third of December and made our way to the island of Baltra. Upon arrival on the 4th, we anchored, waiting for our official departure papers. Granted just in time, Jeff and Yvonne said their goodbyes and headed off for the bus to the airport. Buck, is returning for the next leg of the trip, and we welcomed John Koster aboard later in the evening. John has a background in the US Coastguard and since retiring, has been working towards his Masters in Reef Restoration at UC Santa Cruz.
Fully refueled (in all respects of the word) we were ready to leave the beautiful archipelago of the Galapagos Islands and begin our second leg of our voyage, yeehaa! At 2100 last night we motored our way out of the Bay under a starlit sky heading southeast! Today we are underway to Easter Island, ETA (estimated time of arrival) 15 days! We are all looking forward to being underway, and back at sea. It is a slow day today as we have little wind in our sails, but we are heading towards the stronger Westerlies! It is never a dull day at sea, with Gannets and Albatross feeding from the surface waters and dolphins gliding along our starboard side.
AN INVASIVE SPECIES S 0.842483, W 90.522433 - 11/20/16 - Andrea Carter.
Conservation and Restoration in Algalita and Galapagos. -After visiting four islands now in the Galapagos and touring through the Darwin Foundation and Interpretive Center on Santa Cruz Island, I am seeing a few parallels between the conservation efforts on the Galapagos and Algalita’s plastic reduction and diversion efforts. One of the biggest threats to both a healthy ocean ecosystem and the flora and fauna in the Galapagos are the introduction and presence of non-native species. I’m not even referring to, or including, humans in this! It is obvious, but worth mentioning that plastics are also non-native to our oceans and one of the biggest threats besides overfishing and climate change. Also, unlike other materials, lmetals or wood, plastics do not sink or decompose in ways that would have a more minimal impact. If our goal is to keep our environments as preserved and pristine as possible, we need to think about both how our individual day-to-day actions can shift to achieve that, as well as pushing for our laws and policies for producers and businesses to change and reflect minimal impact and best practices as well.
Saving the planet by eating native and local foods. Our diet and agriculture is closely correlated with our overall treatment of the environment. Our relationship to our food is a relationship to the earth and its ecosystems. When we look at why non-native species were, and are introduced into environments, absent accident, it is usually to serve our food needs as humans or other lifestyle conveniences. There is a saying that goes: “how you treat one thing is how you treat everything”. Thus, if we want to start making a dent in the dire ecosystem issues we are currently facing we must change our behaviors, culture and lifestyles, particularly around what we eat and what we buy and consume. This is not to absolve or obviate the need and importance for policy and structural change, but to say both are critically needed. We cannot underestimate the aggregate impact of everyone taking small individual actions altogether. Not to mention, once a certain critical mass of people has begun to make changes it will reach a tipping point and create change throughout society.
In Galapagos, some of the most damaging invasive species are blackberries, pigs, goats, and dogs. We also see non-native seeds, drifting in from other places or off boats, and thousands of others. In the ocean, we regard plastic as an invasive non-native species. Plastic does not colonize and take over the way living plants and animals do, but it does damage and kill other species as you can read about extensively from our other posts, in research articles and in Captain Moore’s book. Eating invasive species, eating insects, eating locally, eating native foods and growing those native plants for food are not new concepts. However, they are ones which are underemphasized for how important and connected they are to other issues. Most of us eat at least several times a day --- It is at the center of our existence. Our food habits and consumption once examined and adjusted to be ecologically more sustainable and plastic free, or as near as we can get, makes a HUGE impact if many people collectively can do so. It is true that if consumers refuse to buy products, they will eventually be taken out of the marketplace. We need to exercise our power in this basic regard as something we all can do. We all might not currently have access to eco-friendly products however, just a small group can make strong and consistent demands to achieve it.
In the case of Galapagos and elsewhere, many plants that are invasive are edible and can themselves be eaten down and hopefully out of existence. Equally, we should also be changing our diets to prioritize and include the agricultural cultivation and consumption of native species over non-natives. Yes, it is delightful to shop at supermarkets with thousands of items in the produce and other sections from every corner of the planet having anything you would want in any season but it comes at a heavy price which we are now seeing. The price is seeing non-native species displace and in some cases, totally wipe out native animals, insects, soils and ecosystems. When we know and care about the source of our food we generally choose local and pesticide free sources. There are also a host of other benefits from it creating neighboring relationships to creating a wealthier local economy to avoiding excessive plastic. While we cannot or should not, eat plastic or plastic contaminated fish, what we can do with respect to eradicating non-native plastics in our marine environment is to use less of them and also take those already produced and creatively repurpose them. On our voyage, we have found creative ways to reuse disposable materials multiple times or upcycle them. In the photo, you will see our crew member, Captain Dale using snack bag wrappers to stuff into a shower bracket that broke to repair it rather than buying a new one, which would have likely been plastic. It is so easy, cheap and fast for us to run to Home Depot or the Dollar Store. Now though is the time for challenging but gratifying problem solving, creative reuse, and slowing down for better quality of mind and life.
Culture Shift to understanding our connectivity. We have both the power to alter our environments forever or preserve them for future generations. Both efforts require international cooperation and good policies in other countries near and far to ensure local efforts are not undermined and futile. We are all truly linked and nowhere is it more evident than in the Galapagos where currents can carry trash in or where unique and sometimes fragile species are threatened through climate and sea change. Similarly, when Algalita travels on these expeditions we encounter trash originating from countries all over the world. Those who fish or who are impacted by the many detriments of plastic in our oceans are often not those producing it. We think of canaries in mines as the harbingers of toxic air that will kill us. What is our equivalent for the oceans? If there are any, perhaps it is the lantern fish that Algalita is documenting. They ingest plastic and comprise a majority of ocean biomass. And not only these but larger fish and sea birds are also filled with plastic. The alarm bells are already sounding loudly for those who are listening.
The key is, can we translate this information into wise action? Often we think of consumeristic solutions such as switching to eco products without altering the amount we consume or going very far to get away from packaging, non-local products, and products of higher qualities. What prevents us from making a more fundamental overhaul and lifestyle shift are several factors, a major one of which is often a repulsion of dealing with icky and undesirable consequences of our existence, be it dealing with our own trash and waste or seeing the barren landscapes that result from our energy use and material consumption. We have a culture and attitude of “make it go away”, “let someone else deal with it” and “put it in their backyard, not mine”. When will we begin to behave, eat, and make decisions on a daily basis as if the landfill and the pollution were in our own backyard? Yes, there will be no one forcing us to do this but we still should, despite the sacrifices and inconvenience and gross factor. Confronting the ugly hidden truth we live, rather than literally offshoring them is not only a moral imperative but one of ecological survival for everyone on this planet. We won’t see the consequences today but we need to act today to be able to see a good tomorrow.
Our stopping using plastics will require a change in our lifestyle and culture. Culturally, if we have manufacturers that only produce disposable plastic consumables and non-native and processed foods that are profitable without giving us alternatives and access, this is what people will consume. If our norms are the opposite and the new default is sustainable, eco-friendly native food and consumables, then we will have most everyone following suit and a culture of preservation and conservation. We must shift these norms and make doing the right thing ‘cool’.
A Productive Dive - 11/28/2016 – Raquelle de Vine. Today was another early start, made better with Captain Moore whizzing up a papaya smoothie to set us off. We left the boat as the sun was rising, which is HUGE because we’re so close to the equator, and headed to town to meet at the dive shop, Galapagos Travellers. Our guide and owner, Jesse, met us with croissants and we headed off over the island. The road extended straight out in front of us all the way to the coast with Isla Baltra in the distance. Upon arrival at the dock we loaded into the boat and headed out to Mosquera, a beautiful low lying, white sand covered Island. We cruised along the Northern coast for our first dive and then made our way to Isla Seymour to rest before our second dive. This gave us the opportunity to observe the male Frigate birds in courtship, google it ;). During our dives we were blessed with an abundance of large and beautiful tropical fish including Balloon Fish, Red Tail Trigger Fish, Barber Fish, King Angel Fish, Razor Surgeon Fish, Steel Pompano, Reef Cornet Fish, Bumperhead Parrot Fish, a schools of Blue and Gold Snapper, a group of juvenile Manta Rays, a school of Eagle Rays and Golden Cow Rays and a few Diamond Stingrays resting in the sand. We finished our ocean dwelling day with a delicious local meal with the rest of the dive group. It was awesome to share the meal with people from all corners – a couple from France, Michelle, a flower grower from Holland, Rochelle, a consultant who doesn’t like Samba from Brazil and Sun Ye and Sun Ne from Korea on a 2-month travelling adventure.
Charlie and Jeff took themselves on their own adventure today visiting the Charles Darwin Center and making their way to Tortuga Bay Beach for a snorkel while Yvonne held down the fort aboard the Alguita enjoying the sun and watching all the wildlife that you’re treated to just sitting on the vessel!
Early Bird Gets the Worm - -00.7481833°, -090.3100500° 11/27/2016 - Raquelle de Vine. Provisioning day today!!! We were up early at 0500 to make our way to the la ferria (Flea market). Early morning is a beautiful time of day, the sun is rising and it is nice and cool. The market place was a hustle and bustle already, with stalls set up for dry goods, fresh produce, fish, and meats! Eggs, banana bunch, plantain bunch, pumpkin, cauliflower, carrots, onions, fresh lemongrass, green tomatoes, avocados, yucca, cilantro, cabbage, pineapples, papaya, long beans, beetroot…the list goes on and our re-useable bags were full. We returned to the boat after a quick stop at the hardware store, unpacked, and set out to get more! By the time we returned most of the fresh produce had sold out. We decided to grab some hominy, potato cakes, spit roasted pork and fresh salad. For those of you who don’t know, hominy is corn kernels soaked in water with lye and cooked in broth to make delicious swollen chewy pasta like substance.
In the afternoon we met our agent, Javier, and headed off on a tour to the highlands of Santa Cruz with our guide, Vicky and a couple from Holland. We headed North into the hills and I noticed how green the vegetation was. The process of orographic lifting has a profound impact on the island and its landscape here. The southerly winds bring moisture-laden clouds and the high ground captures them and thrusts them upwards causing them to cool. As this happens the moisture droplets become too heavy to remain as a cloud and they form precipitation. It rains here on the southern side of the island and the dry wind blows north. This effect creates valleys filled with greener vegetation on the southern side and dry shrub plains on the Northern end.
While making our way up into the highlands we spotted a tortoise on the side of the road and we jumped out to catch a quick photo. As we left we realized it had been heading towards a huge pile of trash! Earlier, we came across some Tortoise excrement that had plastic twine in! It is inescapable my friends, and it is time the manufacturers are held responsible for what they’re producing. Although every little bit individuals do counts, we cannot continue to allow such irresponsible production of poorly designed products. I am inspired as the Galapagos people continue to show us they are great Kaitiaki (guardians) to their home.
Spreading the Word - 11/26/2016 . Raquelle de Vine. Yesterday the barometric pressure had risen and the clouds had burned off by the evening leaving a beautiful clear night sky full of stars. The pressure held through the evening and into today, so we have been blessed with beautiful blue skies, a light breeze and the kiss of the sun. I rose early and headed into port to stretch my legs. After 20+ days at sea on a 25x50ft boat I have been pretty keen to don my runners and set off. I poorly navigated my way to La Loberia, a beach on the Western end of the Island. At 0700 it was already hot and dusty, but it felt good for my lungs to strain and muscles to ache. Along the way I was reminded to keep looking up as I heard the soft sound of the wind rustling through the seed pods of the Manzanero trees. I saw some sea turtles in the waves and hermit crabs at their early morning meeting then headed back.
The rest of the day consisted of re-provisioning the boat and getting ready to set sail tomorrow. We took a trip to the local market to stock up on fresh produce. Among the array were Yucca, a staple root vegetable used by the Ecuadorian people. In the afternoon, Captain Moore presented at the University. The word had spread about town, even with Captain Mike being approached in the street to be told about it! It was awesome to see the enthusiasm from tourists to locals alike. I counted just over 80 people in attendance at one point. Captain Moore’s talk was well presented and held a captive audience. One attendee I talked to was moved by his realization that his knowledge had been limited to the impacts on marine life. He seemed profoundly disturbed that this was the reality. As you can imagine, this was a pretty moving conversation for me as it was a true example of the importance of education. Just from sitting through an hour-long presentation this guy’s world has just changed…. dramatically. What Captain Moore and Algalita have been doing, not just for our Ocean but also for all of us for many years has been invaluable and becomes more so every single day.
Darwin Finches, Tortoises and Blue Footed Boobies 11/26/2016 - At anchor – San Cristobal Island, Galapagos Archipelago – Raquelle de Vine. We have been at anchor since yesterday afternoon and have welcomed some new faces onboard. It is sad to see our fellow mates from the past 22-days depart but we will hold onto the great memories and fair them well on their return home to their whanau (family and friends). It is exciting to have a new crew aboard! We welcome Yvonne Pickford, Jeff Watkins, Andrea Carter and, of course, our evangelical Captain Dale Selvam. Yvonne and Jeff have been instrumental in planning the voyage. Dale comes with a lifelong wealth of knowledge in sailing and seafaring, and has been working with Algalita since 2012 and Andrea is a lawyer from San Diego with an enormous passion and energy for environmental and social issues.
In the afternoon, Jeff, Andrea, Mike and I headed off on a tour to see the Island of San Cristobal. We stopped at a tree house that used to be an old homestay for a corn farm. It was amazing to investigate its construction! Then we made our way to the extinct Volcano, Cerro San Joaquin (896m) and headed up to the crater. Our guide, Jonathan, was an under-grad student in Environmental Management at the local University, Universidad San Francisco de Quito. He is currently completing his thesis looking at whether or not particular viruses that Chickens carry are being contracted by the Galapagos Petrel. His knowledge and passion for the Island and its ecology was evident throughout the duration of the tour. I don’t think there was a quiet moment for the whole six hours! The highlight at the volcano was the birds. We saw several of the Darwin Finches commonly found on San Cristobal Island as well as a Yellow Warbler, Fly Catcher, Frigate Birds, White Heron and the baby chick of a Galapagos Petrel tucked away in its nest! I was really enthused by the Petrel as it reminded me of the Endemic Great Barrier Island Taiko, Black Petrel, that we have back home in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Taiko, like the Galapagos Petrel is unique in the way it nests at higher altitudes. Our next stop was the breeding center for the San Cristobal Tortoises then we continued on our way to a beach on the South East coast, Puerto Chino. It was truly a beautiful spot nestled amongst cactus plants and native shrubs. Framed by large volcanic rocks and filled with Sea Lions ruling the roost, the beach depicted a postcard. Unfortunately, though even here our impact has not subsided as the tideline held the evidence of. We took off our shoes and wandered across the sand, out onto the rocks to look for Boobies!!!
We donned our snorkels and swam out just along the rocks and there lay the most amazing underwater aquarium – full of sea urchins, Tropical Fish, Kelp forest and sea cucumbers. Upon completion of our tour we headed back to the boat where Captain Moore was getting ready to welcome some Professors from the University Professors. Excitingly there are several that are passionate about the plastic pollution issue, particularly in the Marine Environment and are working towards a range of initiatives. One of them, Juan Pablo specializes in research focused on plastic pollution within the archipelago. The day finished at a local restaurant along the esplanade where we shared a delicious meal with the new and old crew and Algalita’s new friends from the University.
With Juan Pablo, Director of the Marine Science section of the only university in the Galapagos. Yvonne from Team Algalita organized our tour. Juan Pablo is steering the University toward the study of plastic pollution in the Galapagos Archipelago, which is invading from Panama in the winter and China in the summer, but also from surrounding fisheries that use horrible fish aggregation devices that escape and kill local marine iguanas and sharks. They use a new kind of manta trawl without wings to sample microplastics in local waters and want to work with us to get samples from farther offshore. I will be giving a talk today at 3 pm. If you're in the Galapagos, please drop by.
CROSSING THE EQUATOR - S 0° 53.835 W 89° 36.831 – 11/22/2016. We are no longer in an oligotrophic zone as evidenced by our last two trawls being abundant with life. The myctophids are especially plentiful, and are increasing in size as well! We attribute this to being…., you guessed it: a result of the changing waters around us! As we head across the Equator, the waters are becoming more rich in nutrients. The surface waters of the equatorial current are deflected slightly towards each of the corresponding poles, allowing for cool nutrient-rich water to well up from the deep. Can you guess what this process is called? It is called ‘upwelling’ and is an important process in the ocean as it allows for the nutrients needed by the phytoplankton and other primary producers to be continuously cycled up into the surface layers where they grow in the sunlight! In fact, we are currently in some of the most nutrient-rich waters in the world as equatorial upwelling is recorded to be the most pronounced in the Pacific Ocean. If you haven’t quite grasped what upwelling is, consider this analogy: You’re at the beach building a sandcastle. As you dig a hole in the sand, you notice that watery sand fills in the hole. As you pull more sand away, more water fills in the space? A similar process occurs during upwelling. Wind pushes the surface waters away from the coast, so deep waters flow to the surface to fill the space, creating upwelling! I am in awe that we have made our way to the center of the Earth. Yesterday afternoon, we crossed the Equator! I have been looking forward to this moment since the start of our journey!
In the seafarers’ world, crossing the equator is considered a notable feat. And as per tradition, we celebrated aboard the ORV Alguita with homemade Lime sorbet and a Lime and Coconut cake. Mmm mmmmm. Shortly after crossing the equator, we arrived at San Cristobal Island of the Galapagos, marking the completion of Leg 1 of the South Pacific Gyre Voyage! We will be sure to keep you updated as we explore the Darwinian wonders of these iconic islands!
WE WON! CA Passes Prop 67 21.2494000°, -108.6778833° 11/9/2016 - Raquelle de Vine. Today is a great day, not only because it started with dolphins at sunrise, but because of the news that California has become the first U.S. state to ban the plastic bag! Thank you to everyone who voted Yes on 67 and No on 65!
This is a huge win for California, our ocean, and of course all the hard working people who have put their hearts into the campaign! Nice work everyone, with a special shout out to my colleagues back at the Algalita Headquarters in Long Beach, CA. After 20+ years of leading the world to a plastic pollution-free future, you should be proud! Although I’m not from California, the news is still super exciting. It’s proof that people care enough to move away from the apathetic nature that comes with convenience by making small changes that result in long-term positive outcomes! I believe this shifting paradigm is a result of the rising awareness of the impact of plastic pollution through science and education. Algalita has been at the forefront of this movement since 1997, so you can imagine how honored I am to be a part of their crew as they celebrate a victory such as this. This passing of CA Prop 67 acknowledges all of the work Algalita and others have done, and it truly reinforces what this expedition is all about – fueling change!
Cool Bananas 22.7704500°, -110.6477333° 11/8/2016 - Raquelle de Vine. It’s been a pretty epic day out here! Late in the arvo (afternoon), we shut off the motors to let them cool and decided to take a swim. The temperature of the water is around 27°C (80°F) in this area, so although it didn’t cool us down much, it was amazing to swim in the bluest of blues. We must have made a bit of a commotion because soon enough we had a visitor – a Californian Sea Lion! Its big eyes watched us as she happily swam around the crew, hanging out on the surface bobbing around. We know we’ve recently exited the Oligotrophic zone because all of a sudden, an abundance of sea life appeared all around us. Schools of flying fish, several different species of birds and mammals, and my favorite – the Tortuga! We saw nine of them within a few hours, some swimming right under the Alguita.
We stopped off in Cabo San Lucas to top up on fuel and grab some supplies. While Mike, Charlie and Facundo worked on the engines, Buck and I were lucky enough to have the next few hours to enjoy the bay! We pulled out the standup paddleboard and donned our snorkels. With such clear visibility, it was easy to see the variety of fish and other wildlife, small and large. My favorite was the Puffer Fish, hovering around with a permanently surprised look on its face.
After midday day, the anchor came up and we were on our way again. Once we made it out past the other boats, we were able to hoist the sails. For the first time during the voyage, we used our screacher: a sail that combines the features of a spinnaker and a reacher. Thanks to our friends at COORC (Clean Our Oceans Refuge Coalition – COORC.org) for sponsoring the sail, it’s working great!!
Charlie just made us homemade banana chocolate chip ice cream with delicious coconut milk and freshly ripened bananas cut right off the vessel’s banana bunch. We were all very content, as you can imagine
Sextants, compasses, and paper maps 23.7208333°, -111.4855333° - 11/8/2016 - Day six at sea started off with a beautiful sunrise over Magdalena Bay, which is towards the southern end of the Baja Peninsula. It’s a popular spot for tourists and sailors on their way to Cabo San Lucas. The sunrises and sunsets have been some of the best parts of the expedition for me, and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t mind the 4am to 8am watch. Watching the sky fill up with vibrant reds, contrasted with deep blues highlighted in gold is an ideal backdrop to work with. While some of us take in the sunset, others are making sure we stay the course. Our crew monitors everything with various tools and equipment located at the helm. The helm has two different plotters, radar, compass, radios, gauges for the engines, and instruments to monitor the ship. We’re very lucky to have this type of equipment as it helps us stay on track. Although we use these tools everyday, we still have all a variety of traditional equipment onboard including sextants, compasses, clocks, paper maps (charts), rulers and pencils. You never know when your GPS might fail! The majority of the time, we use a program called Time Zero to navigate the vessel. It’s a great tool as it allows us to plot our course, obtain weather information and gauge distances between the ORV Alguita and potential hazards. Near the end of my watch, we came across our first large piece of plastic floating in the ocean. The item, a coke bottle, was cataloged and stored onboard. We also found a flying fish on the deck that we’ll analyze for plastic ingestion later on.
Our first set of Lantern Fish 23.7208333, -111.4855333 11/7/2016 - Raquelle de Vine. Morena (good morning) everyone! We’ve had an exciting few days!! The wind has finally picked up and we’re busy hoisting sails: releasing the jack lines, positioning the travelers, loosening the main sheet, and hauling the halyard to raise the main sheet! It’s all go, go, go with a rush of adrenaline until the sails are up and we’re on our way. Friday night, Charlie found a squid that had landed aboard. We’re almost certain it’s a Pacific Flying Squid (Todarodes pacificus). How cool is that? They can propel themselves 30 feet in three seconds by opening their mantle to draw in water that is used to propel their bodies into the air. They appear to be flying as they spread their fins and arms out to act as wings. Isn’t it amazing how cephalopods use chromatophores to change color? Check it out!
Although we’re interested in studying all marine life, the main type of fish we’re focused on are Myctophids, commonly known as Lantern Fish. Although most live in the mesopelagic zone (200m-1000m), some travel to depths of up to a mile! At night, they return to the surface to feed on plankton. The Lantern Fish have tiny organs on their underbelly that give off light through chemical reactions. These organs are called photophores and are responsible for producing the bioluminescence that occurs in a variety of organisms.
We decided to focus on Lantern Fish because they are a critical part of the food chain making up 55% of the global fish biomass! If we remove lantern fish that’s like removing a major link out of a heavily loaded anchor chain. Without putting in a backup, the chain will break and the anchor will quickly sink. They’re like the canary in the coal mine in terms of understanding the impact of plastic pollution on the marine ecosystem. Conveniently, this morning Facundo and I started our 4:00 a.m. watch by deploying a manta trawl that caught eight little Lantern Fish.
By sunrise, the Lantern Fish had traveled back down to the depths. The day dawned beautifully and the good weather has continued throughout bringing a slight breeze this afternoon. After a nice dip in the bluest water I have ever seen, we hoisted the spinnaker to move us along. As Buck and I sit in the shade of the sails and Facundo sleeps on the bow, we watch a school of flying fish pass the boat. What a day!
No fish, but lots of produce! 25.3467000°, -113.4458500° 11/7/2016 - Raquelle Vine. Now that we’re off the coast a little more, we decided to throw out a couple lines in hopes of catching some dinner. Even under the watchful eye of Facundo, the lines came in empty… not even a nibble. Although we were hoping for something, we weren’t expecting much because we know there isn’t much life in this area. We’ve entered an oligotrophic zone, which is an environment that offers very low levels of nutrients. Also referred to as oceanic desserts, these areas lack nutrients as a result of being too far offshore to benefit from coastal run-off and upwelling. In addition, the zones are usually on the outside edge of major current systems that would otherwise provide nutrients through upwelling.
Since we were limited in what we could do in the water, we decided to spend some time on the daily tasks that help ensure life aboard the vessel runs smoothly and efficiently. We are full to the brim with kai (food) and I have no fear of going hungry nor facing scurvy, what with all the fresh produce we have onboard! Since we are unable to freeze everything, we conduct a daily inventory of our perishable foods. Anything that is starting to wilt becomes part of our meal that day.
We have everything from beetroots to apples, kumura (sweet potato) to pineapples, and even green tomatoes! Much of the produce was plucked from Captain Moore’s organic garden and local Farmers’ Markets in Long Beach. To reduce packaging, everything is secured and strategically covered with towels to absorb moisture. Today I found that a cabbage moth hitched a ride with us. See if you can spot it! Although preparing for this environmentally friendly voyage took a lot of work, it’s a great example of how we CAN control whether or not we live harmoniously or destructively within our wider community.
Happy Thanksgiving from The Galapagos!
ALGALITA JOINS THE “SHELLBACKS” CLUB - 11/21/2016 - Captain Charlie. There is a venerable ceremony in which sailors crossing the Equator for the first time are inducted into the exalted ranks of the Shellbacks from their lowly status as pollywogs. Yesterday, aboard ORV Alguita, they were forced to wear clothing inside out, be smeared with garbage and grease and pelted with rotten squid. After enduring this vomit producing ordeal, they became Shellbacks and proudly entered the Southern Ocean.
LAND HO! 00.4397167°, -090.7360500° 11/21/16- Buck Osegueda. LAND HO! Raquelle screamed from the stern. I raced from the galley and sure enough there it was, Isla Darwin, the northernmost island in the Galapagos Archipelago. We all stood on deck silent for a minute, while we observed a dark landmass jutting out from the sea. Reflecting upon it now, it may not have been that impressive to a casual observer. The skies were gloomy and the sea foreboding so that the island looked like a dark blob on a grey background, like when you have pencil lead on your fingers and accidentally rub it on a piece of paper. At the time, however, I remember feeling awe. This small rock in the middle of the ocean signifies the beginning of the end of my time aboard the Alguita. Soon enough I’ll be on a plane back to San Diego, back to my full size shower and comfortable bed.
I feel so lucky to have been included on this voyage, to be able to learn about, and witness plastic’s impact on our beloved ocean. I’ve lived on the coast all my life and have been in the ocean since I can remember. I assumed that I had already seen the extent of humanities degradation of our waterways --- I’ve watched cigarette butts float by while paddling out to the line up --- high tides defined by food containers, shopping carts full of trash in estuarine systems, and streams largely devoid of life from chemical dumping. This voyage has been more eye opening than any of that. We can’t go a day without finding plastic in some form or another and at our furthest point, we were 500 nautical miles from land. Unfortunately for us, we are a part of a much larger ecosystem and what we do ripples across food webs, and biomes that span thousands of miles in three dimensions. It’s scary to think that even a seemingly harmless accident, like dropping the lid of a coke bottle on the beach could someday lead to an Albatross 500 miles away from you, swallowing it and dying. Therefore, expeditions like this are a boon for society because they illuminate unintended, but drastic consequences of our actions in faraway places that most people will never get a chance to see. Fortunately for us, when we study these places, we’re able to learn from our mistakes and make changes for the positive.
As individuals, we have so much impact on the environment that it’s frightening, but it’s also empowering. We can make little choices throughout our lives that will not only enrich our own life, but the lives of both aquatic and terrestrial animals. I don’t believe people intentionally cast away a Coke bottle in hopes that an Albatross will choke on it. I’d contend that most people would rather save our birds and aquatic animals as they share my view that there is an intrinsic value in life. If you do, then the easiest thing you can do is think twice before you buy, and if you do have to buy something try to make the sustainable choice. It’s not always easy, but it will always better and not just for you, but for all your neighbors too.
Seafarers Now and Then 03.9963667°, -093.7800667° - 11/20/2016 – Raquelle de Vine. Before embarking on a voyage such as this, there are a few things you’ll want to be sure to bring along with you. One of them is a good book. Unfortunately, I hadn’t put much thought or preparation into this one! Before leaving home, I grabbed the book a mate had recently loaned me to read (thanks Leigh!) Little did I know, this story was going to contain many parallels to my own.
The book was Nathaniel Philbrick’s ‘In the Heart of the Sea, The Epic true story that inspired Moby Dick’, a story of the Essex, a whaling ship, that left from Nantucket, an Island off the New England Coast, of the USA in 1819. Guided by the Trade Winds, they sailed East across the North Atlantic Ocean, South to Cape Verde Islands, down into the South Atlantic to round Cape Horn and then headed up the coast of South America into the Pacific. On October 8th, 1820, they arrived at the Galapagos Islands. While whaling offshore, an 80ft Sperm Whale attacked their ship, leaving them shipwrecked well into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It seems every day that I pick it up, some experience, description, location or tale aligns with my own journey. The book describes their voyage through the Doldrums, which was eerily similar to what we experienced while traveling through, “Every squall was attended with the most vivid flashes of lightening and awful thunderclaps, which seemed to cause the very bosom of the deep to tremble and threw a cheerless aspect upon the face of the ocean”. Even the rigging of their sails align, just as ours are now they had “their sails trimmed in tight on the port tack”. Amazing that despite being centuries apart, the sea brings us together.
Fortunately, we are not lost at sea, severely dehydrated and with rations of 3-ounces of hard tack each per day, described in the book as “biscuits with the consistency of dried plaster”. However, their experience is a fascinating insight into the seafarers’ world both now and heavily into the past. We can look to accounts such as these for lessons and teachings, which are so very crucial for the change in which we seek. Two days ago while talking about plastic pollution, Captain Moore said, “in order to reverse it we need education, but not just science, technology, engineering and math but history and philosophy are imperative too.” With centuries of experiences behind us, telling us where people have gone, what they have done, how they have done it, how they survived or what led to their ultimate demise we can skip a few stages and resolve big issues we ourselves and our bigger community, the earth, is facing.
The Doldrums 05.9574333°, -095.1925833° - 11/18/2016 – Raqeulle de Vine. We’ve traveled over 2000 nautical miles so far, and we’re less than 500 nautical miles from the center of the Earth! You’d think being at sea for this long would get a little mundane, however it’s actually pretty awesome! There’s something amazing about your destination just being a plot on a map.
I’ve enjoyed observing the tune of the ocean change every day. A few days ago she was seamlessly flat, so flat you could spot a leaf, or plastic bottles in our case. A beautiful sky blue was painted across her surface. Yesterday after a late morning hurricane Mike and Buck led us safely through, she was a dark green, confused with where she was directing her power. Today, she was full of life and moves with much more purpose, a definitive direction in her swells. Her waves peak and break leaving the white horsemen trailing behind. She is the deepest blue and despite the unyielding way in which she moves, she seems warm and soothing.
The weather out here keeps us in check and it’s been interesting to compare known weather patterns with what we observe day-to-day. For example, we’re surprised by the current conditions we’re experiencing while in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Also known as the Doldrums, these areas are on either side of the equator where prevailing surface winds converge, resulting in a particular influence on the weather conditions near the equator. The air here is generally warm and humid so it rises, expands, and enormous clouds form. As Tom Garrison writes, in his Oceanography, an invitation to Marine Science text book, “The word [doldrums] has come to be associated with a gloomy, listless mood, perhaps reflecting the sultry air and variable breezes found there” p.211.
However, there’s no sign of gloomy moods aboard the ORV Alguita! Instead, it’s all a hustle and bustle aboard as usual. Captain Charles started his day with an extended watch waiting to have a phone call with Plastic Free Seas in Hong Kong. He called in to support a fundraiser for their education programs, a fully bilingual (English and Chinese) curriculum to educate on the plastic pollution issue itself in Hong Kong.
As it happens, this coincided with the end of Zero Waste week organized and facilitated by EcoZine. Our friends Rick Anthony (ZeroWaste International) and Ruth Abbe (ZeroWaste USA) of The Save the Albatross Coalition were among some of the keynote speakers. Captain Moore and Algalita are super excited on the synthesis and efforts of the groups, as one of the founding members of the Save the Albatross Coalition. The sails are up and it has required hawk eye monitoring in order to keep the wind angle in-check as it constantly changes! And with ants in their pants, Facundo and Mike (whom are rarely found not attending to some task at hand), are cleaning out the shower drain and pump to try and locate a leak, eek! All is well and we’re excited to be on track with an ETA of 3-days to the Galapagos Islands!
Wednesday, November 2, 2016. Today we shoved off on the first leg of an exciting 6-month, multi-legged expedition to study plastic pollution in the South Pacific. First stop...The Galapagos Islands. Then on to Easter Island, the center of the South Pacific Gyre and the coastal waters of Chile. A major goal of this journey is to learn how well the small Lantern Fish, one of the most important in the oceans, are surviving in the Gyre.