|Surprising Marine Debris|
|Tuesday, 24 November 2009|
Annie Crawley’s Journal
WILSON! It is amazing what lack of sleep makes one do and how important entertainment can be in the middle of the night on a floating lab in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre. There were often half a dozen people gathered around a computer watching the childhood star from Doogie Howser in his new role as Dr. Horrible singing on itunes. If you have not seen Dr. Horrible videos, you might want to check them out, they are GREAT especially when you are sleep deprived floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. If Dr. Horrible only knew what a fan base he had in the great pacific garbage patch, I am sure he would create a sing-a-long just for these scientists out in the North Pacific Gyre and perhaps he might even call it Wilson! We had extra excitement tonight because we found WILSON, or perhaps his cousin! At 4 AM, Jesse and Timbo pulled up a buoy covered with hundreds of gooseneck barnacles.
Barnacles are animals that have a shell and are filter feeders. Though they may resemble Mollusks like clams and snails, they are actually an Arthropod- like a crab! They have long appendages that project out into the water like a fan, collecting particles floating by for food.
When Jim Leichter woke up he felt compelled to talk about the findings on this buoy. Barnacles on a buoy like this are just one example of a fouling community. A fouling community is typically known as the animals you see living on a boat or on pylons on a pier. Many of the animals are sessile, meaning they stick onto a substrate, though as we have seen on this trip, it can also include small animals like crabs hitching a ride. Animals living on something like our waste that can float miles and miles across the ocean has large implications. It may lead to animals being able to have a wider range of their populations because they can get to an area they wouldn’t be able to by swimming or crawling. This could lead to a problem with invasive species. This means that a species that is not native to an area takes over and throws off the delicate ecological balance.
In addition to studying plastic, Miriam Goldstein was aboard the SEAPLEX expedition funded by Project Kaisei and the UC Ships Fund to study fouling communities. Finding this floating more than 1,000 miles off shore astonished all aboard and we all took turns taking one another’s photograph of it and comparing this to Wilson in Cast Away! What is clear from all this research is that animals are definitely affected by the marine debris in the ocean and in this case was transported at least 1000 miles and maybe more.
Today we also had the last ride in our skiff hoping to capture another ghost net and take photos and video of the animals living on the marine debris. Once we found a net, we immediately got the underwater housing ready. I had to position myself hanging my body over the side of the zodiak and Doug Woodring would sit on my legs so I would not accidently fall in; as you might remember we had Captain’s orders that I would not enter the water. We had found debris but there was a chop and a wind so it was difficult to spot today, unlike the past days of flat calm. When we found this ghost net we saw what looked like Dorado, so as I was getting the camera ready, Jim pulled out the fishing pole to try and catch one of the larger fish swimming around the net. Capturing species both for collection, photos and video are very important.
So as I was half submerged trying to get video, Jim was overhead casting. I was holding my breath and I kept hearing voices above, oh my gosh, it’s a dog! I could not really see clearly in my viewfinder but I knew I had it in shot and all I could think was, “OH NO, a dead dog is going to stink!” I could not even imagine how awful a dead dog in a net would be…and then I saw it with my own eyes and I laughed outloud, it was a stuffed animal. So here we have a ghost net floating on the surface full of crabs, barnacles, anemones, sponges, bryazoa, a few different species of fish and a half dozen Dorado below, and a stuffed animal in the net. Pretty unbelievable.
I was yelling through my snorkel sounds that nobody could decipher and Doug was sitting on my legs, holding me down and I was yelling, “Pull Me Up!” Funny, I believe I had held my breath for nearly three minutes, a record for me, all because they did not realize that from the position I was hanging overhead, I could not get back up without assistance and the way the boat was maneuvering my head and snorkel were both underwater so I could not breathe! I am sure a picture tells 1,000 words and this would be hilarious. Once we took photos and videos we were being called back to the main vessel because we had to get underway and start heading North to Oregon.
Our time was coming to a close out here in the north pacific gyre. The longer we were out there, the more we all realized we truly were just skimming the surface. Because the waves and winds had turned the Ocean, I could see much of the plastic confetti floating and suspended below the surface of the ocean, not just on the surface but down 15 and 20 feet. It was not sinking, it was just there in the middle of the Ocean, floating and all I could think about was, oh my gosh…there is more than we ever thought was there because the mantas were collecting the surface, but we were not collecting ten feet below.
The skiff ride back to the boat was silent as the weather was changing and we knew that we were at the beginning of the end of this expedition. We returned to the New Horizon, the crew picked up the skiff and we proceeded to unload all of the garbage. In this one instant my life seems to have changed forever as the full impact of the Project Kaisei expeditions hit me like never before. As I stood on the deck in my wetsuit watching all the activity around me, everything became very clear to me, we definitely need to take responsibility for our waste. And we need Project Kaisei to continue to raise awareness in the world while the scientists can focus on the science of this expedition. I stared out into the vastness of the Ocean and all I could do was pray.
To see more pictures from this day, please view the Flickr Album
For more information go to check out these sites:
Thank you to our sponsor, Samy's Camera
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