This blog shares the research experiences and findings conducted at University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW faculty and students) in conjunction with Plastic Ocean Project. Earlier posts share open-ocean sampling and adventures in the North and South Atlantic, the South Pacific and the North Pacific Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Outreach and education is the primary purposes to bring global awareness to an issue that has reached a crisis level in the marine environment.
My shift watch ended at 6am, just after Orion left the night sky and brought in the Morning Star with the sun in tow. With barely a word Charlie crept out on to the bow while Bill popped up out of his berth to relieve me. Charlie called out to come take a look. He had plucked a Portuguese Man of War out of the water and its tentacle wrapped across the entire front of the ship. Close to 25 feet! The body of it was not much bigger than the tip of my thumb. It felt like a high grade spider web. It had an elastic stretch to it and didn’t break as easily as we thought it might have.
It wasn’t long after that he had to trade his cup size net for a fishing size one because the derelict buoys started rolling. Within 45 minutes we had collected four of them. Two were unmarked and the others were clearly from Japan and China. Retrieving them is not trivial when maneuvering a 50’ boat with a sail up.
Soon after, Charlie started cutting up fruit for a huge salad and cooking mushroom, onion, and spinach omelets. Out on deck, Jeff spied a block of styrene then Lindsey spotted a chunk of insulation. (We aren’t even close to the Garbage Patch yet!) Charlie continued to cook with a flipper in one hand and a net in the other. By noon we had 10 large objects recovered. Well, nine of them, the tenth one was a 20’ x 8” around rope with smaller lines interwoven. All of it was made of plastic. Charlie suggested we get our underwater cameras and check out the schools of fish that were hanging around below it. Like a little kid, I tripped over myself to get my snorkel gear. Lindsey and I were first in the water followed by Charlie and Jeff. Schools of fish near 100 thick swam in a confused state as we clicked away. Below us were five dolphin fish swimming in unison in the dancing shards of sunlight as a barracuda swam around us 20 yards away. When we finally pulled the rope out we took with it one 6 lbs. trigger fish that Charlie speared and then cooked for dinner. Mmm, mmm, good!