Friday, July 23, 2010

Atlantic Plastic Ocean

Jennifer and I have two very different stories to tell about our trip to the North Atlantic Gyre. Our research took me in one direction and she in another with some overlap.That's what makes us a great team. Jennifer and UNCW's Dr. Pam Seaton worked tirelessly on our open ocean samples.

I worked with various student camps both in the states via Skype and talking to and then demonstrating beach protocols looking for plastics.

I arrived in Bermuda a week in advance so I could survey beaches on Bermuda after last years surveys confirmed that islands inside gyres get pummeled with trash from the continental rim. Like the Hawaiian islands in the North Pacific, one of the most esteemed places on this planet, is riddled with plastic pollution, Bermuda suffers from the same fate. Plastics that are undervalued and over used. Bermuda's geographic location is west of the now known Atlantic garbage accumulation zone publicized by Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummings. Sea Education Association (SEA) out of Woods Hole has been doing researchon plastics in the marine environment in the Atlantic for almost 25 years and confirms Eriksen's and Cummings' finding.
They spent six weeks this s
ummer in and around the said accumulation zone in the middle of the North Atlantic extending south and east of Bermuda. "Some areas may contain up to 500,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer, said scientists from SEA, based in Woods Hole. Such a concentration, the researchers said, would rival that of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, whose alarming sighting last year highlighted the extent of oceanic pollution and its potential impact on aquatic life."We had the privilege of touring the brigantine after we returned from our cruise July 18th. Much like what Marcus and Anna found in their winter voyage from the Bahamas to Bermuda and then on to the Azores, we found in our samples. In fact, we hit some of the sample sites they hit in January so as to do seasonal comparisons. It will be interesting to see the results. In the meantime, I'll be uploading videos, pictures and tales from our research so keep checking in.

Monday, July 12, 2010

She's Not Heavy, She's Our Trawl

Bonnie and I have dreamed of a trawl of our very own since we first deployed one borrowed from Marcus Eriksen during a Carolina Ocean Studies cruise in April 2009. We had grand ideas of how to make one out of various materials, but those dreams went out with our plans to get a Sunfish and see what we could find.

A couple years and a whole lot of teamwork later, we are preparing for the maiden voyage of our very own trawl that I’ve nicknamed Manuela. Her frame was constructed at the Center for Marine Science at UNCW, and we owe Gerry, Jay and Dan a huge thank you for the beautiful job they did, as well as their patience for last minute adjustments the day before I left.

Weaver Canvas sewed the net and also helped with last minute tailoring so it would fit like a glove onto the trawl. I squealed into Coleman Supply at 4:55pm on Friday and between the couplings I bought and the salvaged piece of pvc and straps they gave me, we have what we need to connect the net to the codend, where the samples collect.

Manuela is a very large piece of equipment to get onto an airplane. Bonnie said if the trawl didn’t fit in the case she’d borrowed, to call Jason Andre. It didn’t fit. Jason happened to be in a surfboard factory standing next to a very large and very durable cardboard box when I called, and a plan was formed. Thanks to my husband Chris, my #1 Volunteer, the box was crafted into a nice case for Manuela and all of her parts. I can’t forget to thank my best girls Kellie and Kelly for watching my kids while I ran all around town collecting supplies.

I traveled here with Dr. Pam Seaton from UNCW and we wrestled the trawl through 2 airports, on top of a car, in a taxi and on a wheelbarrow. I was so anxious to put her together to make sure everything fit and we had all we needed. A quick trip to the hardware store today and she should be ready to go.

We may not be able to upload photos while at sea, but we'll add photos when we return.
posted by Jennifer O'Keefe

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rooster call

This is what I'm talking about. There are roosters and chickens everywhere. One of the locals called them the Bermuda rat. I prefer roosters over rats any day, but at 6am? Not so much. For the past 7 days this rooster stood under the my belcony window and belted repeatedly for 30 minutes until I finally got up either to chase it away or shoot it - not with a gun like I would like to but video. It was like a farm out on my patio - two chickens, a chick, two roosters battling for their attention and a stray black cat.

The rooster would be followed by morning beach sampling. Its tough going to these most beautiful beaches and having to work. The slave driver, Dr. Cooper, wouldn't even allow for breaks to jump into the water until the sampling was done. Here we are arguing . . .

It could be worse. It was forecast to rain for 10 days straight and the past two days have been relatively dry. Tomorrow, I'll take you for a ride through Bermuda.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Man of War or War of Man

Doing beach surveys allow us the opportunity to look at the natural life of the ocean besides the unnatural life of plastic in the ocean. Here we found a Man of War, one that I had the not-so-pleasure of experiencing their sting while out in the Pacific last year. Their tentacles can be up to 30 feet long. They look like a hot dog bun shaped soap bubble or . . . . a piece of plastic wrap. Can you tell the difference? (the one on top is an American cheese wrapper found close by) Many times our sea turtles, like one of the oldest creatures on this planet the Leatherback turtle, mistake plastic wrap for one of their favorite foods - jelly fish. Man of Wars are just one of the many types of jelly fish that they eat. Its a war trying to get these plastics out of the marine environment in order to stop the painful deaths many of our marine life experience from ingesting or getting entangled in our plastics.

Our beach surveys were cut short due to a looming sky that kept us running for cover most of the day. We planned on doing five surveys today. We didn't get to finish one.

We did, however, get the opportunity to meet up with Judie Clee who has been collecting random beach plastic debris for years. She's extremely knowledgeable about the island and the problems with plastics that plague their beaches. Here is her explanation as to why not only plastics are not washing up on their beaches like they do normally (which is a good thing), but why Sargassum hasn't either. "I don’t think there is much stranded stuff anywhere at present. Unfortunately not because there is no plastic garbage out there but because we’ve not had any Sargassum strand recently. We’ve had the cold eddy around the island for months now – resulting in low ocean temperatures and extremely low tides – wonder if this affects the flow of the Sargassum towards us??" To answer her question, Dr. Cooper found the feasibility of this explanation. "If indeed Bermuda is in the middle of a cold water ring, its possible that the surface currents are shut off or are reduced and its the currents that are one of the driving forces that send Sargassum and plastic jetsam on to gyre beaches."
For me, I want to believe that the other reason why we aren't seeing as much is because people are starting to get it. They're reducing their use of plastic and it is beginning to show in the quantities of plastic on Bermuda. I may be being naive, but what if . . . .

As Charlie Moore would ask, what is your plastic footprint?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Presentations and Plastic Beaches

I finished my second presentation 16 hours after my first here in Bermuda. One at 4pm was at the Wrightsville Beach Surf Camp - Sea Turtle Camp to be exact. I Skyped from Bermuda to Wilmington NC, used a PowerPoint that included videos and the students in Wilmington saw the entire presentation with Q and A following without a hitch. Amazing. The second one was with students from the BIOS (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences) Camp that is usually a combination of private school students and scholarship public school students. JP Skinner heads up the camp and what an opportunity for these students to participate with one of the finest marine research facilities in the Atlantic. I was honored to speak to these savvy kids. They asked great questions after Dr. Bill Cooper and I lectured for over an hour.

After the lecture and a free lunch we headed to John Smith Bay where we saw a very different beach than we witnessed a year ago. Last year, it was full of Sargassum and mixed in this surfaced dwelling weed were micro plastics that Jennifer O'Keefe pawed through showing us how it serves as a dust mop collecting micro plastics and washing them up on the beach. This time, there was little Sargassum, but what we did find was much like what we find out in the North Pacific Garbage Patch, photo degraded fragments that the ocean spit out on the island inside the gyre boundries. Here is a video that shows just what we saw today all along the wrack line. We don't see this so much, if at all, in North Carolina because the Gulf Stream protects us from micro plastics, in the gyre, and keeps it from washing up on our beaches. But as the volume of plastics in our oceans goes up, so does the possibility of what is happening to Bermuda's beaches will happen on ours and many other beaches.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bermudian Life

Day one in Bermuda did not fare so well. I'm punning. Note to self, always, always, always check the name on your suitcase before you put it in a Taxi that costs $30 to go 3 miles. Bermuda is not cheap especially in taxi fare. I realized I grabbed the wrong bag 24 hours after being here. My suitcase that contained all my research supplies also had one pair of sandals that I luckily decided to wear yesterday morning. Had I waited six more hours, I would have missed the opportunity to return the bag. The reason? The person it belonged to was on a cruise from Bermuda to the Caribbean and it was leaving at 4pm.

I grabbed the suitcase and brought it back to the airport hoping that it would be the end of the ordeal. My bag was still there and the only way I could get it back was to return the bag to the rightful owner which meant taking a taxi from one end of the island to the other.
Ten minutes into our journey, the cabby pointed out the ships off in the distance. I thought to myself, "Okay $25 there, $25 back, $60 with the tip I can handle that." Fifteen minutes later he said, "Okay, we're half way there." The meter rolled in tandom with my stomach.

The cabby knew I was getting sicker by the second so he started giving me the history of the island, pointing out significant details to the landscape, how Bermudians work together on the island to keep drugs out, how they fine people for not taking care of their property, and how they keep poverty at a bare minimum. "Everyone has the opportunity to work." he said. If they lose their job, there are programs that help people find a job that works for them. They provide training until they find a skill." There are 62,000 Bermudians on the island. One car per family. And all cars are regulated with chips that provide inspection and registration information. There are inconspicuous stations on the road that detect the sensors to ensure nothing is past due. It was important to him to keep mentioning no stray cats or dogs. About every 10 miles he'd mention it. What he didn't mention was the stray chickens and roosters.

Roosters that crow starting at 4am. One serenaded me around 6am and didn't stop until the neighbors came out to shew it away. They are loud. One is crowing right now off in the distance.

I crowed when I had to hand over $195 for my round trip to the airport, to the dockyard and back to the hotel. But in such a beautiful place, its difficult to stay upset for long.

Tomorrow we begin our beach surveys stay tuned.