Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bermuda Brings Science, Students, and Sargassum Together

I arrived at Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) campus Sunday afternoon with two trunks of research supplies, a backpack full of camera gear, and a small bag of clothing.  Thankfully, fashion is not a requirement.  We, Michael Gonsior, Bill Cooper, and I, found Maureen Conte sitting on the BIOS campus porch overlooking the inlet where the RV Atlantic Explorer wades in the bright teal Bermudian waters.  The stately BIOS facility has been housing ocean researchers since 1903.  Dr. Conte is the lead scientist for the Ocean Flux Program (OFP), among the longest running research in the open-ocean and it’s because of her sharing precious ship-time we are able to do our third year of open-ocean sampling for plastic in the North Atlantic gyre.

Aerial photo of Sargassum mat by Erin Cummings
Monday we spent most of the day loading the ship with tons, literally, tons of instruments, lines, wires, buoys, and hardware that is necessary for the collection of sediment OFP seeks 3,500 meters deep.  When we were not loading the ship, we were preparing the manta trawl we use to do our surface sampling.  We had plenty of hands to help.  Maureen recruited one grad student, three undergrads, and one high school student to join in the five-day cruise.  Two of the students are from Bermuda, a rare opportunity for local students, in hopes to foster more local participation in the future.  I will be posting interviews with the students while out at sea. You'll hear firsthand about their open-ocean science experiences - lookout prime time "Reality TV."

Why all the camera gear?  Not only will I be interviewing the crew about the OFP and other types of research happening on this voyage, but we also hope to record Sargassum Natans unique to the Sargasso Sea, another area of interest for our plastic debris research.  Sargassum has it’s own ecosystem that we hope to film and photograph to illustrate the life that lives in the Sargassum along with plastic we find in it.  Plastics in the ocean have proven to cause both entanglement and ingestion issues.

Last month, Jason Andre, Sarah Malette, Julian Kehaya went for a three-day cruise with Captain Abram Lamertson and first mate Carolina Priester to videotape and photograph what lurks underneath the Sargassum 50 miles off North Carolina’s coast.  What we anticipated to find were fish that seek out the weed for cover and for food.   We found fish, but what we didn’t anticipate finding was the amount of plastic in the water column below the Sargassum.  In my years of researching marine plastics and the way it accumulates in Sargassum, I expected to find plastic intermingled in the weed lines known as windrows. What we found was the same ocean dynamics that caused the windrows of Sargassum to form on the surface also caused plastics to converge throughout the water column below the Sargassum.  Here is just a rough video of what Jason videotaped. http://vimeo.com/44794520
The significants of this footage is quantity of plastic film-like plastic such as food wraps and plastic bags parts, which look like one of sea turtles favorite foods, jellyfish.   Sargassum is where sea turtles go to feed. Yikes!  

Join the journey as I will be posting live from Sargasso Sea daily.

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