Monday, January 11, 2010

North Atlantic Gyre: Sea Blog 01

Posted on January 11, 2010

Three days into our expedition. Blue skies, light winds, and relatively calm seas. We’re motoring along at 2 knots, painstakingly slow for a sailor, but perfect speed for collecting surface samples of plastic pollution. So far we’ve collected five – every one contained plastic fragments, film, line, and pre-production pellets. Small quantities, and small particles, but present nonetheless.

We left the St. Thomas yacht harbor on Friday afternoon, after several days of prepping, stowing, running errands, and squeezing in last emails while the rest of the crew arrived- nine total. Besides Marcus and me, there is Ivan Martinetti from BlueTurtle our title sponsor; Jon Howard- “JT” from Ecousable also sponsors of JUNKraft and JUNKride; Leslie Moyer, an activist and supporter from San Francisco; Stiv Wilson, CEO and editor of Wend Magazine and a phenomenal chef; Steve Amato-Salvatierra, the Sea Dragon’s intern, fresh out of high school and sailing around the world before college; and our skipper and first mate from the UK- Clive Crosby and John Wright, both exceptional sailors and exceptionally patient men.

Already, the busy yacht harbor bustling with tourists and horizon-blocking cruise liners seems far away – our only view now is 360 degrees of Caribbean blue.

After the first evenings wave of seasickness bouts – from mild nausea to hanging over the side of the boat – we’re now settling into a routine: sleep, cook, trawl, eat, clean, trawl, sleep, trawl, scan horizon for debris, trawl. Our goal is to collect at least 25 samples by the time we reach Bermuda in 8 days, and another 25 as we continue on, crossing the Atlantic to the Azores.

We pulled up trawl #1 on Saturday morning, as an eager crew clustered around the manta trawl, flip and digital cameras in hand. “Did you find anything?” asked Jon, always ready to film. After thoroughly rinsing and tossing a few handfuls of Sargassum (link to wiki/other description of Sargassum) we found a few tablespoons of planktonic organisms flecked with small plastic particles.

What at first appears a scant amount compared to our Pacific trawls is still reason to reflect: in this vast ocean, several hundred miles from the predicted accumulation zone, using a relatively tiny device – we’re finding evidence of plastic. This short clip shows how we conduct our sampling.

Other notable trawl findings: a small, translucent jelly with a chip of blue plastic in its body – an example of organisms interacting with debris; a large sheet of plastic packaging, a small piece of plastic film, two fishing floats, one plastic crate, and a partridge in a...

In four days, we hope to reach the center of the Sargasso Sea, where the plastic accumulation zone is predicted to be. Meantime, spirits are high, crew is fueled by our mission, and were constantly reminded of the tremendous support it took to get here.

Read more about this voyage on the 5Gyres Blog:

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