Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Children Swimming with Plastic Fragments"

Learning about the plastic accumulation in the North Pacific known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I felt I needed to find out for myself if it were true or an urban legend.  I also wanted to know, if plastic accumulated in the ocean 1000s of miles away from land mass, did it happen in the other four oceans.  My latest journey across the center of the South Atlantic confirmed my suspicions.  I have now witnessed for myself that plastic is not only accumulating in the N. Pacific, N. Atlantic, and S. Atlantic,  but the photo degraded plastics mechanically broken down by the ocean are often times spit out onto some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  

Here are photos of a couple of samples we took in the S. Atlantic gyre.  Note the plastic fragments collected as well as marine life that is a viable food source for the base of our food chain.  It is easy to see how predators could mistake plastics for marine life that also gathers at the surface of the ocean. These plastic fragments are the same types of plastic bits I found washed onto the shores of Rio De Janeiro while children were playing in the ocean.

The first time I met with Captain Charlie Moore, (instrumental in bringing awareness to plastic marine pollution), he said to me, "If we don't stop plastic from getting into the marine environment, soon, our children will be swimming in it."  That was over two years ago.  At the time, he was talking about the North Pacific Garbage Patch expanding to the continental rim.  He was right in some respect, though Brazil is in the South Atlantic continental rim.  In this video you can actually see the same type of small fragments that we find in our open-ocean samples washing up on beaches in Brazil.  The fragments are extremely weathered which indicates it is not from a local source.

Should children be forced to play in ocean water laced with plastic?  Should marine life have to suffer because they confused plastic for food?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sea Beautiful People

I had the privilege of being at sea with extraordinarily beautiful people.  Some of them have made direct positive impacts on "Sea Change" while others have their sleeves rolled up.

Professional Surfer  Mary Osborne is now a member of the United Nations Environmental Program after our voyage across the S. Atlantic where she witnessed firsthand plastics accumulating thousands of miles away from land. She will also be getting her blood tested for chemicals associated with plastics.

 James Pribram, is a professional surfer and host of "Eco Warrior."  He's been instrumental in ocean projects in various parts of the world.  From helping to prevent developers from altering shore waters, legalizing surfing in Lake Michigan, to bringing awareness to water quality issues and protecting precious reefs. James is now committed to educating the masses on yet another issue, plastic pollution.

StivWilson, Pangaea Explorations and 5 Gyres Communications Director, was formally the editor-in-chief of Wend Magazine. He quit his day job after voyaging across the N. Atlantic earlier this year and seeing the mass of plastic 1000s of miles away from land.  Stiv also played a major role in getting plastic bags banned in Portland, Oregon.

Founder of the Environmental Clean-up Coalition,  Rich Sundance Owen, has been working with companies creating technology for cleaning up plastic in the marine environment.  His resolve - to clean up the North Pacific Garbage Patch.  What we all learned from this voyage was that beach sweeps ARE gyre clean-ups.  Cleaning waterways that lead to the ocean are far more productive than traveling 1000s of miles out into the middle of the sea to commence clean-up.  Rich has been educating the masses on the problems with plastic pollution through his coalition.

Mary Maxwell seen here repairing the mainsail. We were on nearly every watch together.  Through our many hours on watch, I learned about her ideas for bringing awareness to this issue.  She works in the hotel industry and this voyage has helped her see the magnitude of this problem firsthand.  I have a feeling she is going to be a powerhouse in greening up high-end hotels.  A much needed and very difficult proposition.  She also has a huge vision - can anyone say Alcatrash?  Go for it Mary.

The most informative person to explain the significance of plastic pollution and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) - Chelsea Rochman.  She's a PhD student through a combined program at both University of California, Davis and San Diego State University studying toxicity of Marine Plastic Debris.  Here she is using a water sampling device looking for contaminates that we might also find on our plastic samples.  Many of the chemicals found in our water at minuscule levels can reach toxic doses when adsorbed onto plastic.  Chelsea also collected fish to sample their tissue as well as necropsy their digestive track looking for plastic ingestion.  This area of research is relatively new and she is a promising scientist in this field   questioning, "If fish are eating our plastic and we are eating the fish, what is the chemical burden from the human consumption of fish?"

A special thank you to Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummings for spear heading the S. Atlantic voyage. To Clive Cosby and Dale  Selvam for a safe journey over 4100 nms from Brazil to Cape Town Africa.  And to filmmakers Michael Lutman and Jody Lemmon for capturing it all raw.

Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummings
Michael Lutman

Jody Lemmon
In a recent interview, James explained how arduous it is both physically and emotionally to be at sea so long.  You are forced to face obstacles of physical harm and look hard down the barrel of your tender psyche.  In the end, some of us became more polished.  I saw several transform. I'd like to believe my experience in the S. Atlantic transformed me as well.  I now have been in 3 of the 5 gyres and feel I can speak as an ocean ambassador on the severe extent of plastic pollution.  This voyage making us the VERY first research crew to cross the S. Atlantic surveying for plastic.  When asked why is it important to go to such an extent, the answer is simple.  Once we understand the global magnitude of this problem, we can no longer point fingers at someone else.  And with the research information and these personal experiences, we can start transforming the world to reduce their plastic use.

More later,

Bonnie Over the Ocean

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blog 14 From Wednesday, December 8, 2010 -Last Daze at Sea

Last post I quoted from the book, “Adrift.”  I have also referenced the book in many of my talks explaining how several people have witnessed plastic accumulating in high-pressure systems as far back as 30 years ago.  Steven Callahan, the author, being one of them.  I lay in my bunk that night fidgeting around trying to make my back ribs happy when it occurred to me that his raft WAS plastic pollution.  Much like the plastic we witnessed in the South Atlantic gyre, Callahan possibly traveled the same fate.  He drifted outward from land (where he capsized) and was brought to the center of a vortex via wind and current. According to Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an expert in ocean current modeling, items can remain inside a gyre indefinitely while some of it is slung out and onto island beaches inside gyres and coastlines.  That is precisely what happened to Callahan in 1982.  It took 76 days for him to travel into the North Atlantic gyre high-pressure system via wind and current.  There, he reported seeing miles of trash better than a thousand miles away from any land mass.  Lucky for him, he was spit out of the high-pressure system. Sixteen days later he was nearly washed upon a treacherous island shoreline when three fishermen rescued him.

We arrived in Cape Town, Africa at 2am December 9th.  My team had the last shift from 10pm – 2am.  Most of my clothes were either wet from previous watches, or damp from being down below.  The homestretch current we were in runs from the Antarctic up the west coast of Africa.  The water only 9 degrees Celsius made the Sea Dragon into a giant humidified cooler.   Mike, Mary and I huddled on the bow cold bare feet and hands shivering as the wind howled.  Quietly we sat staring into the oppressive fog.  Foghorns muffled by its thickness as scenes from the movie “Casablanca” ran through my head.   Mike shouted to the captain talking him through the green and red shoreline buoys barely visible until we were only several yards away from them.  Slowly, the shoreline lights burned through the grayness as street lights lined up like birthday candles welcomed us - Mary Maxwell’s birthday candles.

With all hands on deck Clive at the helm, we quickly and quietly tucked Sea Dragon into port. Thirty-one days at sea had made sailors out of many of us though my skills lean more toward swabbing the decks.  With Sea Dragon backed up to the front of the Two Oceans Aquarium, we all got out to stretch our legs.  As we walked toward the aquarium, we couldn’t help but notice the dozen or so large silhouettes on a floating platform.  Fur seals accompanied by a large sign illustrating how plastic pollution entangles marine mammals.   Kudos to Two Oceans Aquarium for not only providing the platform for the wild seals and educational signage, but for also disentangling many of them.  According to the assistant director, they remove plastic fishing gear or packaging straps several times a month.  
That night was my last night aboard the Sea Dragon, but there is much more to tell.  A very special thanks to Danielle Richardet who besides her Sundance Films documentary found time to post my blog and to Jennifer O'Keefe who has always been there for me whether its jumping rope for funds or collaborating. Love to my ladies!

More later.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Treacherous Mountains in the South Atlantic Ocean: Day 29

Blog 13-- Tuesday, December 7, 2010

So imagine that you wake up in the morning and your house is on such a slant that you have to walk on the moldings to get to the bathroom  That is exactly what I had to do this AM.  Gravity pulls at you like a giant serpent wanting to throw you down.  You fight with every knuckle, every limb, and all your core strength to move inches at a time.  Occasionally, it will mix it up and heave you a foot in the air then gravity finds you.  You put down your best Spiderman landing and try to stick.

Anna flying!  
No one is allowed on deck without a life vest and strapping in.  On my 2am-6am watch I was eating oatmeal when a wave decided I had enough.  It washed me 6 feet across the cockpit and stole my oatmeal. The Sea State is "roughly" a six with gale force winds in the 30s.  We're making great time and could be in Cape Town on the 8th.  As I sit here at the saloon table typing, shards of sunlight flicker through the gallery windows as waves crash over the bow.  Chelsea came down from the deck since she is on her. She checked on her -20˚ freezer that doesn't like working on a slant.  She stood dripping, pounded by the waves.

We are less than 300 nautical miles from Cape Town and will have to endure these treacherous mountains until the end.  Cape Town is near the horn of South Africa where two ocean currents wrestle it out for control.

I am reading "Adrift," by Steven Callahan.  It's a true story of him surviving 76 days at sea in his emergency raft he named "Ducky."  It happened in 1983.  I'll leave you with this passage from the book and why what we are doing out here matters.

"We [Steven and his raft] drift through a line of weed piled up like autumn leaves.  The Sargasso is laced with trash.  For sixty days the ocean has been pristine, a world that might never have been touched by man.  Ships and a single chuck of Styrofoam have been the only evidence of man still inhabits the earth.  Suddenly my surroundings are full of their excrement-- our excrement... The highway of trash stretches from South to North as far as I can see.  For hours Ducky wades through one lane of rubbish after another.  The highway is miles wide."

This is from his 61st day lost at sea.  He must have found the high-pressure system also known as the accumulation zone where we habitually find plastic pollution.

More later.

Bonnie Over the Ocean

Monday, December 6, 2010

Plankton and Micro-plastics in the South Atlantic: Day 26

Blog 12-- Saturday, December 4, 2010

Stiv says he's been on this boat so long he's starting to have a crush on the lady pictured on the Fire Blanket box in the kitchen.  It's a drawing that shows how to put an extinguishing blanket over a stove fire.  Rough.  Though we all got excited when we saw the whales surface 30 yards out, starboard side, last evening.  They were running with us for about five minutes then gone like phantom submarines.  We had seen whale spouts off in the far distance days ago, but that was all we could see.  This was the first clear sighting and it may have something to do with the amount of plankton we are pulling up in our trawls.  Many whales live on a plankton rich diet-- the plankton being a draw for the whales moving in the area.  Not surprising the plankton we pull up in our trawls also contains plastic.  We will separate the plastic from the plankton, but there is no way for the whales to filter out the micro-plastics that accompany the plankton.

So far we have traveled over 4,026 miles.  By the time we arrive in Cape Town, we will have traveled twice the diameter of the moon (2,159.6 miles).  We're hoping to land in three days.  Clive has a flight back to the UK on the 9th and is looking forward to getting home to his young family.  But with fuel running low and random winds, "We'll get there when we get there."  Right now we're welcoming a tailwind pushing us forward at 8 knots while we heel portside after weeks of heeling starboard side.  Nice to give the other muscles a chance to perpetually flex, though it is tearing my right side that I injured a week ago.  Hopefully the movement will help assuage the lumpy mass out.

In all of our travels, we were only in the high-pressure system for three days.  Remarkable the amount of trash we were seeing there and now that we are out of the high, plastic items are more widely spread out.  That doesn't mean that we don't continue to find and pluck plastic debris from the sea.  As far as my research goes, the record continues after three open-ocean gyres voyages-- every sample contains fragments of plastic.  We will continue to trawl every 60 nautical miles until we get to Cape Town.

The jumping continues as well.  Jennifer has jumped 5000 times while I mend and I have been able to do 3,400.  My count is not great considering how much time I've had to do them.  Bummer that the days the boat has been a level plane was when I was crippled the worst.  I'll get them done evein if I'm jumping at the airport during mega-layovers on my way home-- 21,350 to go-- no problem.  Thanks to all of you who have sponsored my trip.  I'll have plenty of photos and videos to share once I get to port.

More later.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gyre-Normous Boa in the South Atlantic: Day 24

Blog 11-- Thursday, December 2, 2010

There are three teams that do around the clock watches on a rotating basis.  The day watches make sure we don't run into another vessel or object; clean the "loos" (bathrooms), the kitchen walls and floors, pump out the gray water tank and cook.  At night, we fight to stay awake while watching for debris and ships coming our way.  Yesterday morning, it was a good thing what we found appeared during the day.  We may not have seen it at night and according to our first mate, it could have done serious damage to Sea Dragon.

Anna was the first to spot it.  As she shouted that there was a large object ahead, everyone ran for the deck-- everyone except Mary and me.  We were just finishing up one more episode of "LOST." (A distinct sign of addiction.)  It wasn't long before Anna came down shaking us from our Mac-trance, "Bonnie, your'e gonna want to see this."  When I peered over the port-side of the ship, I felt a little sick at the thought of ignoring her call.  I had seen plenty of large ropes in gyres, but this one was the mac-daddy.  It had to be at least 30 feet long by 10 inches around and completely entombed with barnacles.  A gyre-normous boa constrictor looking rope.  It had a huge knot for a head measuring 3-4 feet wide with a tail that dipped into the water column several feet down.  We pulled it out of the water better than halfway, but the mast began to complain from the shear weight of it.  We stopped.  Without a moments notice, Anna leaped onto it and it instantly dwarfed her size.  Serving as scale, we took pictures of her on the rope then sadly released it back into the abyss too heavy to pull on board.  We were only 20 feet away from it when it became nearly invisible to our naked eyes.  This navigational hazard is one example of how plastic pollution can have a direct negative impact on human safety.  Sadly, the potential still exists with our find.

(Check back...Photo coming soon!!!!) :)

Every watch it is our responsibility to log the coordinates Latitude and Longitude, time, barometer reading, true wind, distance traveled thus far, and our position in relation to direction of the wind.  Today it was especially special.  Why? Because we crossed the Prime Meridian.  Our longitude read 0.000.0 like the green flash of a perfect sunset.  Many of us pack around the chart table with the anticipation like in Times Square New Year's Eve.  It was 12:05pm.  We might have celebrated with champagne, but had done that the night before drinking a shot of champagne to celebrate Mary Osborne's birthday.  I yelled out a special birthday wish to my partner in plastic pollution crime-- Bill Cooper-- in honor of his birthday too.

Though my contusion in my back hasn't moved much, I can no longer hold off on my jumps.  Thank you Jennifer O'Keefe for subbing for me.  She put in nearly a thousand the last time she checked in.  I was able to do 700 yesterday and 200 today with slight improvisation.  But there is a rope involved and I am indeed jumping.

More later.

Bonnie Over the Ocean