Thursday, August 28, 2008

JUNK makes front page in India!

News of JUNK's safe arrival in Honolulu travelled far and wide yesterday, including
a front page article on Such are the wonders of the AP wire. How does if feel to set foot on land after 3 months on a plastic bottle raft, crossing the Pacific?

"We were surrounded by boats, blaring horns, waves and whistles, as JUNK was towed into Ala Wai Harbor in Honolulu. The first thing I did was reach for my fiancee, Anna. Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation was there with a smile and a loud “Aloha”. Dr. Andrew Rossiter, director of the Waikiki Aquarium, presented us each with a handshake and a lei. There were perhaps 100 people there to greet us, including plenty of media representatives to cover our story, everyone asking, “Why did you do this,” or “Was it worth it?” If you've been following our blog, you know why. Yes, it was worth it. We would do it again.

I presented our last gyre sample from our marine debris trawl. In a glass peanut butter jar were hundreds of fragments of plastic and zooplankton floating around. “This is what you get when you skim the ocean surface. 2/3rds of the earth is ocean, and is now a plastic soup.” I also showed the shriveled stomach from the rainbow runner I caught a couple weeks ago, with 14 fragments of plastic in it's stomach. This is why we crossed this ocean. Then we talked about what we do about it.

Anna and I were soon strolling along busy streets to find a market and restaurant for fresh greens. Anything green, or a red tomato would do. As we walked I paid attention to my experience. I expected wobbly legs and quick exhaustion. What I experienced was unexpected. We found a restaurant and shared a spinach and tomato salad. We walked slowly. I was just taking it all in. The novelty of the open ocean is different from rush hour Waikiki, the noise, sights, smells, and concrete beneath my feet. The best analogy would be a monk walking through a burning building. I was used to the subtle novelty of an empty horizon and bottomless sea that shows you a unique world, especially when you travel at 1.5 miles per hour for 2600 miles. So much of our planet is ocean, so little of it belongs to us, and perhaps none of it does.

Today, one day later, I carry my cell phone. I wear shoes. I check email. Anna and I walked to Ala Wai Harbor to meet Joel. By the end of the day JUNK is gone. We've undone 3 months of work in 24 hours. We will rebuild the raft on the front lawn of the Waikiki Aquarium. Then we'll stuff JUNK in a shipping container and send it back to where it was built. It's been six months from the day I sketched the image of JUNK on a piece of paper, to the raft built, sailed, and dismantled in Hawaii. My dream for 4 years has come to a new beginning.

Read more!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Arrival words from JUNK

JUNK has arrived safely, to a throng of cheering supporters, journalists, and videographers. After a few hours of interviews, the crew headed out for a much deserved lunch of FRESH FOOD and drink.

Photos coming of the arrival as soon as we've all settled into the land reality. Meantime, some final thoughts from Marcus and Joel:

At 1:00 am I took the helm, as Joel climbed into the cabin to sleep after having been on watch for 8 hours. A squall quickly overcame JUNK and left me and the deck drenched. The moon shot out from behind the clouds, illuminating the backside of the storm. By the light of the moon, a complete rainbow appeared. I’ve never seen one at night. I’ve 8 hours to keep the raft on a steady course for Honolulu, which is now only 40 miles away. There is so much to think about, so much to do, but still plenty of time to let my mind wander and ponder on this voyage. It’s been a long summer.

2,600 miles of open ocean crossed in 87 days. From our first week of sinking hopes on a sinking raft, through four hurricanes that swept under us, to the unbelievable chance meeting with Roz Savage in the middle of nowhere, we have had quite an adventure. We’ve collected 10 ocean surface samples using our marine debris trawl, managed to snatch a few large pieces of plastic debris that floated under us, and caught fish with stomachs filled with particles of plastic. Plastic is forever, and it’s everywhere.

That’s been our point. The Synthetic Century should have ended 8 years ago, replaced by the Age of Sustainability. There are over 20,000 man-made chemicals produced by the billions of pounds annually that are dispersed throughout the globe in an open loop of consumption that often ends as waste to be buried, burned or to flow down coastal watersheds out to sea. It is unsustainable and deeply troubling knowing that many synthetic compounds are persistent in the environment and are harmful to wildlife and humans. Plastic marine debris is one of them, and is the most ubiquitous form of pollution visible around the world. It is clear that single-use disposable plastic products have no place in modern society.

We return to society tomorrow if all goes well, to the world of alarm clocks, calendars, cars and shoes. Three months is enough time to forget the world you left and accept a new reality. But not everything is forgotten. I long for my friends, family and fiancĂ©e. I crave fresh veggies and exercise. In three months I wonder how I will reflect on this summer? Will there be days when I will find myself wishing to be back on JUNK, even if only for a minute? I don’t know what this experience will bring, but it is my intention to use it as a starting point for hundreds of conversations about solutions to the plastic plague. We have, in half a century, transformed 2/3rds of the ocean surface into a plastic soup. Knowing what I know, it would be immoral to do nothing.

As I watch the sun set on the final day at sea, I am overcome more with humility than excitement. I am truly humbled by the efforts of so many people that have made this journey a reality. Donations of time and funds came pouring in once we committed to this project, and thousands of people followed our story online. From an idea sketched on paper years ago, to the final miles of an amazing adventure, I can only say “Thank you.”

Best wishes,

And for Joel's final words, read on:
Land oh! I spotted land this afternoon at 1:45 Hawaii Time. The flanks of Mount Haleakala were showing through the clouds on East Maui. It’s been 85 days since we were towed out of Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach and around two months since sailing away from Isla de Guadalupe, the last piece of land sighted.

Junk was built in Long Beach next to the mouth of the Los Angeles River. Everyday I was there working on Junk the tide would push plastic debris into the harbor and remind me why as doing this. In the 2600 nautical miles since then we have observed all kinds of plastic debris floating and collected in the trawl. We have also watched a small school of fish, rainbow runners, that have been following Junk, grow from small fries with their egg sack attached to juveniles close to a foot in length. They too have traveled through the gyre gathering plastic debris. After catching one of the larger rainbow runners we looked in it’s stomach and found it was full of plastic bits including a pre-production plastic pellet or a nurdle. It gives me a profound sense that there is no place and no life form on earth that isn’t being affected by the on slot of synthetic chemicals that humans are releasing into the environment. It also brings home the point that planetary life support system works in cycles and we eventually learn (usually the hard way) that things we once though were benign directly affect human health and that there is no difference between environmental health and human health.

I am looking forward to being on land, but I’m staying focused on the task at hand, that is safely navigating Junk through the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu and into the Ala Wai Harbor. The open ocean has it’s challenges but sailing close to land is often more dangerous. Kalaupapa Peninsula almost wrecked Don McFarland on his rafting voyage from California to Hawaii more than fifty years ago. We trying to stay at least 10 nautical miles north of Kalaupapa but not so far north that we get trapped on the windward side of Oahu and blown into the sea cliffs around Makapu’u. Right now the weather is perfect. We’re making our course dead-on and at this speed we should arrive at Diamond Head around noon.
Malaho for following the Junk Blog!
/span> Read more!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Final JUNK PSA and arrival details

PSA #8 from JUNK: Solving The Problem:

As for the arrival:

JUNK will be pulling into the Ala Wai Fuel Dock at around 10:00 am, Wednesday the 27th, to what we hope will be a wonderful welcoming. All are invited! Give a call Tuesday if you want more exact arrival times: 310-998-8616

After a few days of rest, showers, fresh food, and reconnecting with their land legs, JUNK's crew will join Surfrider, The Nature Conservancy, The Kokua Foundation, and others at Sunset on the Beach, for music, activities, booths, food, and a word or two from JUNK (and perhaps Roz!)

Also on the program is an evening event at the Hawaii Yacht Club on September 3rd, with slides and tales; a press conference with Roz Savage and her Brocade on September 4th at the Waikiki Aquarium, and a North Shore party Saturday September 6th at Kainoa's Bar.

Details to come - hope to see you on Wednesday! Read more!

Joel's bristleworm and marine debris

Less than 100 miles to go per recent satellite phone conversation!

And a few words from Joel on a recent pet he found on a piece of floating debris:

While on watch earlier this week I spotted something large floating towards us. I put JUNK hard over and managed to scoop up a chunk of a plastic crate. We often see plastic crates in the Gyre. I’m not sure way we see so many. Maybe a nearby fishery uses - and often loses them overboard. The crate had started the process of photodegredation. Not only did we fid a bristleworm hitching a ride, it was brittle, cracked, and had the owner’s name or boat’s initials “JR” with a floral design melted into. Anybody know any fisherman named JR missing a crate?
Read on for Joel's continued Marine Debris Observations

Now that we are in the North Pacific Gyre the amount of debris that floats by has greatly increased. Last week I saw a basketball sized ball of rope float by. The fish that have been with us since they hatched and were recently swimming around with their yolk sack still attached, swam out to check the ball of rope out. They came back to JUNK with some friends, two black and white fish that all are also staying with us now.

When getting in the water to spear Mahi Mahi it’s almost like swimming through a snow globe of plastic confetti. From the surface you may only see a fleck of plastic here and there but once in the water you can see the plastic bits floating deeper in the water column. I’ve seen the all too common packing strap both on the surface and underwater while diving. JUNK’s debris trawl does a great job of collecting the plastic fragments from the surface and concentrating them into a sample that make quite a visual impact when you hold in our hand and see all the little plastic pieces swirling around. It’s a great way of educating people on land about the magnitude of the problem, but getting in the water in the middle of the ocean and seeing more plastic floating around me than life make even more of an impact and gives me profound feeling that we are smothering the planet with all of our synthetic waste.
Read more!

Friday, August 22, 2008

180 miles to go!

Just 180 miles to go. We’re almost due north of Hilo. This morning I scanned the deck for flying fish and found one. I’ll likely use it as bait to catch another Rainbow Runner. Joel and I think constantly about making landfall next week. I want a fresh salad and Joel wants a beer. What we don’t want: ANY MORE FISH!

(Our intrepid sailors don't know this yet, nor can they read the blog....but thanks to Kona Brewing company, they will have cold ones awaiting their arrival!)

We’re still catching fish though. Joel is making jerky for his friends in Honolulu. Right now, we’re more interested in the guts than the meat. Ever since finding that Rainbow Runner filled with plastic, we’ve collected 4 more of them and two Mahi Mahi. Of the four little fish, three were 4-5 inches with empty stomachs. The 8-inch Rainbow Runner had plastic in its gut. The Mahi Mahi were empty. We would like to catch one with fish still in it’s stomach, then dissect the stomach contents to see if big fish are eating little fish that eat plastic. And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Plastic Sushi:

Here it is.....this should be all the reason we need to start seriously reexamining our trashy ways.

Read more!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Groundbreaking JUNK News: Plastic Sushi

We remember seeing little 1-inch fish with yolk sacks still attached swimming next to JUNK 5 weeks ago. They followed our raft, enjoying the security of its undulating underbelly with nooks and crannies to hide in. They would ride what little bow wake JUNK created, and at times keeping up with the raft at 3 knots. Now they are a foot long, with yellow stripes, and there are fewer of them.

This morning I awoke to find two thumb-size flying fish on board. They became bait and soon I had one of the yellow fish on deck. I cut two fillets out of it and then opened it’s stomach. It was full of plastic. A dozen large fragments, and nothing else, filled the tiny stomach to capacity. There is no way this fish, at this size, will be able to pass those fragments.

These plastic particles, including one pre-production plastic pellet, are sinks for several persistent organic pollutants. PCBs, DDT and PAHs from the incomplete burning of fossils fuels, absorb into plastic marine debris, making the particles toxic. From the size of the particles inside the stomach, and the size of the fish’s cloaca, there is no way this fish can pass the plastic through its body. Therefore there will likely be a long residence period. Will the toxins in the plastic leach into the tissues of the fish?

This question about migration of toxins into the fisheries we harvest is the question we want to know now. Is plastic marine debris a vector for pollutants to enter the food chain and eventually your dinner plate?

To date, 267 species have been known to ingest or be entangled by plastic. Captain Charles Moore recently discovered #268, the 2-4 inch nocturnal lantern fish. Half of the specimens collected had plastic in their guts. One even had 84 individual fragments. Our fish, #269, adds to the list of marine organisms impacted by manmade synthetic compounds.

Please check out our website to see what research we are conducting on plastic in the marine environment. In the meantime, can anyone identify this fish to the species level? Read more!

Jack Johnson Foundation and JUNK press!

A few exciting bits of recent media for Algalita and JUNK:

Algalita was chosen to be a partner for Jack Johnson's All At Once campaign, joining people from around the world who are active in their communities, to inspire and create positive change.

From now until September 14th, any donation sent to Algalita will be matched by the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation - up to $2500. And every time viewers watch our video on the website (currently featuring JUNK), AMRF receives a donation.

And on the media front, JUNK has received some wonderful recent press as the ETA approaches - yesterday's Honolulu Star Bulletin ran a great article on the JUNK - Roz meetup, and the Honolulu Advertiser also plugged the arrival.

And Joel's home town paper in Lafayette also ran an article. The word is spreading far and wide.

This was, and continues to be our ultimate goal: to draw attention to Algalita's critical research on plastic debris, and get people talking about solutions. The growing accumulation of plastic in our oceans may well have devastating impacts on marine ecosystems - impacts we are only just beginning to understand. Our window for addressing this problem will disappear unless we have greater public awareness, enlightened leadership, and engaged citizens. We're all responsible. Read more!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The home stretch!

We crossed 500 two days ago, 400 this afternoon, and we expect to arrive in Honolulu in 8 more days. It definitely feels like the home stretch now. Maintenance is still paramount, but new projects are off the table. There are only standing watches and passing time left to do. We still drag the marine debris trawl behind us. Still, every sample is filled with small fragments of plastic debris.

Today, to celebrate the 400 mark, we had cheesecake. We've been hording a stock of freeze dried food that was given to us on the dock before we departed by a Dave, a volunteer for the project. "You might need these." Two and a half months later, you were absolutely right. And of course, thanks to Roz Savage we are enjoying a delightful assortment of dehydrated meals and Larabars. We often wonder where she is right now.

As I close this email there are 383 miles to go. At 1.7 knots, we should be enjoying pizza soon.

Meanwhile, plans are coming together for a wonderful arrival celebration, in collaboration with Roz Savage. Details to come for all the Hawaii folks.

Read more!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

PSA #7: Cleaning this mess up?

A few days ago, CNN ran a wonderful article on JUNK in their science blogs section, "The Pacific toilet bowl that never flushes".

After describing the problem of plastic debris in the gyre, CNN producer Marsha Walton concludes with a public call for suggestions:

"So, any ideas from the brains of our astute blog readers? How would you fix this? Outlaw single use plastic items? Push for plastics that biodegrade? Put a litter cop on every ocean-going vessel? Teach your kids to respect the planet?"

So far her query has elicited 116 responses! Everything from getting fleets of fishing boats to trawl for trash, to demanding UN involvement, to curbing our production of plastics. And more (for a full list, read the post)

The suggestion of netting, scooping, or trawling out the plastic is often posed.....unfortunately its simply not a feasible option, yet. Too big an area, and the debris far too difuse. Here's Marcus on why cleanup is impractical:

Read more!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

JUNK/Roz recount: like two snails chasing each other

A wonderful recount from JUNK of the other night's historic mid-Pacific encounter. Here Roz has the boys in a savage headlock....

Those two hours 600 miles from land, the highlight of our trip, an encounter with tremendous joy and gratitude, were spent with Roz Savage aboard JUNK. Her boat, Brocade, saddled up next to JUNK at 6pm on August 12th, after three days of communicating our whereabouts back and forth. “We’re like two snails chasing each other,” Roz said, regarding our respective methods of movement. JUNK only sails. Roz is rowing across the Pacific Ocean.

Joel and I listened to the VHF radio to her tender British voice, wondering, “Do you think she looks more like Princess Diana or the Queen?” Joel spotted her first a mile off the bow. Within 200 feet of each other we threw out the sea anchor and dropped the sail. The first attempt to toss her a line failed, so I swam out to her with the end of the line and a handshake. She looked like Guinevere in pigtails with the forearms of Popeye.

Aboard JUNK we gave her the grand tour of patched pontoons, broken masts and worn lashings. Bobbing next to her streamlined, carbon-fiber, competitive rowboat with waterproof hatches, JUNK appears to have well earned its name. We knew our time would be short, and that we hadn’t seen other human beings for 2 ½ months, therefore we intuitively cut through the small talk and had real conversations, equally enjoying the company, if nothing else.

Roz was in need of water. Both of her watermakers malfunctioned. We were in need of food, having resorted to peanut butter for the bulk of our nutrition. We had two watermakers, and plenty of water in buckets. Roz had food, and plenty of it. Before climbing aboard JUNK, she hurled three bags of food over to us, and three empty containers. We had been making water all morning, so we quickly gave her a full stock to keep her going. We peeked in the bags she gave us, as if Joel and I were children on Halloween. “What did you get Joel?” I asked. “Larabars and Teriyaki chicken,” he said. “I got turkey jerky,” I replied, thinking that I can now refrain from eating the fish jerky still hanging outside. There’s an underlying joy, not in the prospect of full meals, but in giving, the reciprocal altruism that is deeply human.

Read the full account here:

Joel jumped in the water after a school of Mahi Mahi that had been following us all day. I asked Roz, “So what do you do to keep your mind active?” She knew exactly what I was talking about. I described that in my experience thus far, there have been moments of ecstatic joy and bottom of the barrel sadness, blooming randomly in a wide, open field of boredom. She responded, “I can focus on rowing, or anticipate the next tea break, and then there’s audio tapes. But it’s different from when I rowed the Atlantic…” This isn’t Roz’s first long distance rowing expedition. “…there were more doubts and more to think and worry about. For example, when my watermaker broke this time, I simply said, ‘oh well.’” Here blue eyes are loaded with experience and the patience that comes with it. You get to a point where you can choose to worry or not worry about things, because worry simply doesn’t change anything outside your head. I looked overboard to see Joel struggling toward the raft.

“Hana pa’a!” he yelled. A three-foot Mahi Mahi thrashed as I heaved it on deck. A quick cut above the eyes and it’s still. Joel climbed out of the water, and turned on the stove. I handed him the first filet, the muscle still twitching. In minutes we’re enjoying curried fish, a gift from the sea. We promised Roz a fish, and Joel came through. I could see Joel was content, as I was, having the opportunity to give to someone else. Roz appeared to feel the same way.

We’re all here to raise awareness about the issue of plastic marine debris. Just before Joel nabbed dinner, I retrieved a small sieve towed behind JUNK. I unscrewed the cod end to show Roz the contents of our research trawl. “Many people think it’s an island of plastic trash out here, but it’s worse.” I showed Roz the particulate fragments of plastic collected along with a few jellyfish, halobates and zooplankton. “If it were an island, it could be mined. The reality is that it’s a thin soup, with millions of tons of plastic, the size of peas and smaller, distributed around the world. There’s no techno-fix, only a cultural one.” This sample is for Roz to use in her efforts to show the public what’s happening to our oceans.

But are there deeper reasons other than the issue of plastic marine debris for exposing one’s life to the intolerances of the sea? Perhaps it’s the 360-degree view of stars to the horizon, or the identity we gather from our adventures, like feathers in our cap, or it’s the novelty of unanticipated consequences of just being truly present in the world. I don’t know, perhaps all of the above. The sun is beginning to set behind a bank of clouds. The last rays are an unspoken cue that it’s time to part ways. We take a few photos together, and Roz autographs our cabin with a marker, “No doubt, you’re the coolest guys I’ve met in the last three months. Thanks for a great dinner. Bon Voyage. ROZ.” We watch her drift away, and the silhouette of her oars in the air as she begins rowing another 600 miles to Hawaii.
Read more!

JUNK meets up with Roz Savage!

A miraculous reunion. In the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, JUNK and the Brocade, two tiny motorless crafts, managed to locate one another, meet up for dinner, trade essential supplies, and marvel at the wonder of it all.....

Stay tuned for a full recount and a video from Marcus tomorrow. Meanwhile a few photos here: Marcus and Roz with The Algalita Marine Research Foundation flag, and sporting some tools to kick plastic: an Ecousable water bottle, and a Bring Your Own bag!
Read more!

Monday, August 11, 2008

JUNK gaining on Roz

The two Pacific voyages have yet to rendezvous, but getting closer......JUNK and Roz are in communication every few hours, trying to pinpoint one another's coordinates. Here's their latest, tracked by Michael on Kaua'i.

Hoping they meet soon - Roz's extra Larabars have got to beat the raw squid Marcus and Joel tried the other day. Seems Joel has a tougher stomach or a more experimental palate than Marcus.....

And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Savage encounter!?

For a few weeks now, we’ve been trying to orchestrate a marine meeting with Roz Savage an incredibly daring British adventurer who is also crossing the Pacific....IN A ROWBOAT!

Roz’s story is an inspiration to all. Though she had, for all intents and purposes achieved success - a stable, high paying job, a house, a dog, and a picket white fence, Roz found her self strangely unhappy. So she ditched the whole package to pursue a dream, and in 2006, became the first woman to row across the Atlantic. Now 2 years later, Roz is 3 months into her next challenge, a solo row across the Pacific. Amazing.

Many months ago, Roz contacted Algalita, as her mission is also to bring attention to the plastic debris issue. There was talk then of somehow linking up, but the discussion was lost in the flurry of preparations, to say nothing of the seeming impossibility of meeting up “somewhere in the middle of the Pacific”. It would be a miracle. And yet...

Their respective coordinates for the past few weeks showed Roz and JUNK on a similar course. Map here, courtesy of Michael, shows their proximity. Two days ago, JUNK was a mere 20 miles away. And yesterday the two boats were finally able to chat on the satellite phone, after numerous attempts through Roz’s wonderful mother Rita. Marcus and Joel thought they’d likely pass Roz sometime Sunday evening or Monday morning.

We’re now on pins and needles, awaiting the news. Though they are close, the difficulty of maneuvering two unusual rigs with limited navigability amidst sizable swells is no joke.

An at sea encounter would be a huge blessing for both. Not only could they exchange key survival supplies - a watermaker for Roz, and some snacks for JUNK - the human contact would be a godsend. Roz hasn’t seen a soul since she set forth on May 26th, while Marcus and Joel have only had one another for company. God knows some delightful female energy would do wonders for their spirits!

Stand by and think good thoughts for a Savage - JUNK reunion. This would be an incredibly cool happening.
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Kamikaze squid = Mahi meal

August 7th
We’re 825 miles from Honolulu. Joel just made a grab for a piece of tangled fishing line floating under the raft. We’re now having to take turns at the helm as we sail downwind and the wind picks up. The morning sun brought 30 knot winds and endless whitecaps across the horizon.

Yesterday was more calm, a chance to hang out on deck. While Joel stood on top of the fuselage, a dozen small squid leapt 8-10 feet out of the sea. One smacked Joel in the chest. He promptly ate it. The rest we used as bait, and soon reeled in a Mahi Mahi. It bought us two meals, a bit of insurance against our dwindling supplies. We’ve got just enough food to make it home.
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


A few posts back, we heard about the mini trawl Marcus and Joel fashioned at sea. Like a plankton net, the trawl is a fine, mesh net used to skim the oceans surface, and analyze the collected contents for plastics.

Here, Marcus discusses what they are beginning to find (three guesses, first two don't count) as JUNK skirts the edge of the infamous North Pacific Gyre....

As JUNK is now in the gyre, the notorious plastic soup zone, Marcus and Joel have been on the lookout for debris all along. See here Joel’s marine debris observations, starting from their launch back in June:
Part I

I try to spend several hour each day looking out to sea while listening to my iPod and there is quite a few things to look for, hazards like tanker ships that could run us over or large pieces of floating debris like shipping containers, changes in weather, or interesting and tasty sea-life. And of course plastic debris.

At first, most of the plastic debris I've seen so far was right there in Long Beach's Rainbow Harbor, where we built and launched JUNK. Plastic bags, snack bags, bottles bottle caps, all kinds of packaging, rubber slippers and organic slime. The mouth of the LA river is next to the entrance to Rainbow harbor and the tide seemed to bring a fresh load of rubbish during float. Everyday four or more workers went around with long nets and tried to scoop up the flotsam – an exercise in futility, as “fresh” trash poured down the river and into the harbor daily. On days when the tide brought in lots of debris they brought out the "Trash Boat", with large booms that scoop the trash on board. It didn't seem to work to well though. The water displaced by the hull of the boat would push the plastic rubbish further underwater before the boom could scoop it up. I talked to one of the city workers and they said that the boat can’t pick up items like plastic that have a density close to that of water and float just below the surface.

It made me think...if we cannot clean one little harbor on a budget that can afford four employees and a boat how could we expect to clean up an area the size of the North Pacific Gyre?

Part II

The ocean surrounding the Channel Islands had a lot of observable plastic debris floating on the surface, mostly common items like bottles and bottle caps, fishing floats and plastic bags. I didn't notice much fouling. Fouling is marine growth like algae, barnacles or coral on man-made things in the ocean. Heavy fouling can indicate that a piece of debris has been in the ocean for a long time. Most of the debris I saw around the Channel Islands had very little, suggesting it was litter that had recently washed into the ocean. The presence of a large amount of debris with little fouling and little heavily fouled debris can indicate an area that disperses debris instead of collecting it. I would guess that the floating rubbish from the LA river washes up on local beaches or moves off shore and makes a long voyage around and around in the North Pacific Gyre.

Part III

After leaving the Channel Islands we sailed south staying about 100 miles off the coast of Baja California. South of Isla Guadalupe we started heading west. I spent a good amount of time staring out at sea during that time. We were becalmed several times which makes it easier to observe small photodegraded pieces of plastic that are nearly the same density as sea water and tend to get pushed down the water column when the wind stirs up the water and then raise to the surface when the seas are calm. Yet in spite of being close to land and being becalmed often I didn't see much debris at all. Mostly just palm leaves and kelp, the “good” type of marine debris.

More to come....
Read more!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

999 miles to go!

Actually, fewer at this point. I'm currently out of the country, thus a slight lag in blog posting - breaking the 1,000 mile mark happened a few days ago.

Meanwhile, Marcus and Joel are preparing for a diet of peanut butter and jerky. Which, all things said and done, sure beats the plastic fragments many marine creatures are feasting on.....

999 miles to go! We’ve got three weeks of meals, then it’s peanut butter and fish till Hawaii. If we can average 42 miles toward Oahu per day, then we will be fine. We’re 0-3 on fishing. The other day I got one with the spear, flung it on deck, and watched it flop back in the water. Three feet of steaks, sushi, curry and jerky back in the sea. Then Joel hooked one, but it got caught on the netting of the pontoon and wriggled its way off the hook. Then yesterday I missed an easy shot with the spear gun. It’s one thing if you’re fishing for sport, but when you’re hungry it’s a different story. We will probably drop the sails today and take a dip in the drink for better luck.

We got an email from Don McFarland the other day. He’s the fellow that rafted to Hawaii on a 20-ton wooden box in 69 days back in 1958. I remember thinking, “We’re a lighter raft, fewer people, and better technology.” We’re 65 days at sea, with three weeks to go. We planned and provisioned for 50 days. Don said they used t-shirts to sieve the ocean for plankton. “Tasted like lobster,” he said. We’ve been trawling the ocean as well, but our samples are proving to be more plastic than plankton. Very filling I imagine, but not very nutritious. There is no way I would eat this stuff....unless we ran out of fish and peanut butter perhaps.

Meanwhile, our boat is suffering the predictable wear and tear of a long journey. Inevitable entroy, requiring constant vigilance and maintenance, as you'll see here:

Now for a few responses to recent blog comments:

Janelle in Tanzania, I was in Arusha years ago and walked up Kili to see the melting glacier. One thing I also noticed in East Africa was the use of disposable plastic without an infrastructure to deal with it. I saw bottles and bags everywhere. What do you see there today?

Sumwearnnyc – Yes, kind of like Life of Pi, but no tigers. Just Mahi Mahi.

Kim – You mentioned your use of plastic on your blog being a different focus than ours. Could you share any details with us?

Quasivoid – You said, “the disagreeable feeling it gives us is not an excuse to do nothing about it.” My sentiments exactly.

Maki – The image of other organisms eating or becoming entangled in plastic has been documented in 267 species thus far. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation visited the North Pacific Gyre earlier this year (That’s where Anna and I met Joel) to study plastic marine debris. We caught small fish in our nets called “Myctophids”. Recently, in the lab, we’ve dissected them and everyone had plastic in their stomachs. Make that 268 species.

Anonymous – Yes, we are sampling the ocean surface with a 1 mm net. We’ve been finding small plastic fragments in every sample.

Ron – Thanks for adding us to the list of masochists that raft the ocean. Thor H. just might be looking down and smiling, or laughing. One big difference between our rafting voyage and all others is that we can’t eat plankton. When we trawl for the stuff, most of it is plastic.
Regarding a contribution, please check out the “Message in a Bottle” link on our blog and sponsor a bottle. You can sponsor a case, send us an email with a message, and I’ll write it out an put it in one of the bottles on our raft.

Wallace J. Nichols – We haven’t seen any turtles yet. I would love to see a loggerhead. When I was in college in New Orleans years ago, I was involved with the Sea Turtle Stranding Network. We documented turtle deaths along the Gulf Coast. We never had a chance to do a necropsy on stomach contents. It seems you’re doing more with sea turtles than the average person. Do you have any info on stomach contents, or stories of entanglement to share? If I see any turtles, I’ll try to get a photo and look for tags.

Jessica – It is difficult to go 30 days without plastic. It’s all around us and nearly impossible to avoid in the developed world, or actually anywhere else as well.

Curt in Seattle – Provided I make it to Hawaii before the end of the month, I’ll be in Seattle giving a talk around Sept. 9th. I look forward to reading the details about the successful legislation in your neck of the woods. Although recycling programs are necessary, they are failures by themselves. Legislation is the key. Thank you Seattle for taking a lead.

Brad & Alicia – You’ve got the right idea “Bring Your Own!” is the slogan we should champion. Begin with your own reusable bag, coffee mug and water bottle. Thank you for making these fine suggestions on our blog.

Beachgal – Thank you for your kindness. This morning we crossed the 1000 mile mark. We will feast today on Mac and Cheese and our second to last can of mixed veggies. Who knows, we might just have some beef jerky on the side. It’s party time!

Anonymous – You asked “How do you post videos?” Joel and I have video cameras on board, which we download scenes to my computer. I edit 30-45 second videos and compress them to under .5mb. Using my satellite phone and an external antennae, I email the file to Anna Cummins, our blog writer. At a minute per second it takes a while. Anna then uploads the file to YouTube.

Lai, Prasoon, and Russki – Thank you for your good wishes. We’ve got roughly three weeks to go, as long as the raft holds up – and our food.

Pherehormonal – Thanks for the squid facts, and catching that they use both water jets and fins to move. I forgot to mention the water jets. After I sent that photo to Anna, our blog writer, Joel caught a beautiful cuttlefish. We let it go, too difficult not to anthropomorphize the black eyes and raised brow. Really beautiful animal. BUT, if we could harness them to the boat to make us go faster, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to lasso as many as I could.
Read more!

Monday, August 4, 2008

JUNK in the GYRE: the toilet bowl that never flushes

August 3rd

We’re in the Gyre, or at least the southeastern edge of it. And there’s trash. We’ve got our marine debris trawl deployed to collect it. Remember, the North Pacific Gyre is a clockwise rotating mass of water roughly twice the size of the U.S. where currents and winds slow down. It’s like a toilet bowl that never flushes. JUNK is currently floating at 24N latitude and 139W longitude.

Take a look at the 20-year study done by Jim Ingraham tracking a couple dozen buoys around the Pacific Ocean.

In the photo, the red dots are buoys released from Japan, and the blue squares are buoys released from North America. They floated in circles around the Pacific Ocean for two decades until settling in the middle of the gyre (and are probably still there.) But plastic debris is not confined to these zones.

In February 2008, Joel, Anna and I were half the crew aboard the ORV Alguita with Captain Charles Moore traveling 4000 miles from Hawaii to the center of the Pacific Ocean and returning to Long Beach California. We discovered that plastic debris exists everywhere in the North Pacific Gyre. In 1999 Captain Moore first discovered the oceanic landfill, or “seafill” with a concentration of .002grams per square meter. Then in 2005 the density jumped to .004, doubling in only 6 years. Now in 2008 we have yet to process the latest samples, but we can confidently say it’s gotten worse.

Even the American Chemistry Council, a trade organization representing the major U.S. plastic industries, conducted their own study of plastic marine debris. They replicated our study, but chose a location in the Pacific Ocean where you wouldn’t expect to find any plastic at all, the Bering on for more details:

The Bering Sea sits under a low-pressure system that kicks debris out, whereas the North Pacific Gyre is a constant high-pressure system sucking debris in. The Bering Sea is also adjacent to a sparsely populated coastline. You wouldn’t expect to find plastic there at all. Yet, there it was. The ACC confirmed that wherever you go in the Pacific Ocean you are bound to find plastic. It’s everywhere.

JUNK is skirting the edge of the gyre, riding the rim of the toilet bowl. We are using a marine debris trawl with a one-millimeter mesh, and an opening the size of a shoebox. It skims the surface for floating trash. We kept it out all night to see what we would find. Earlier in the day I spotted a few bits of trash: 1inch diameter plastic washer, short length of rope, and a tangled mass of green fishing line or frayed rope as big as my fist. We deployed the marine debris trawl and in the morning were not surprised by what we found.

At night zooplankton migrate from the depths to the surface to feed. It’s the largest migration of wildlife in the world, and it happens every day. Tiny jellies, salps and myctophid fish with light-emitting photophores on their stomachs give off green flashes of light as JUNK sails through the darkness. These creatures swim to the surface to feed, unfortunately on a diet that includes more and more plastic particles. Our trawl captured dozens of visible white, blue, green, grey and black fragments of plastic.

There was a piece of a plastic bag, a possible milk crate, fishing line, a pre-production plastic pellet, and a flexible, green, triangular fragment perhaps once a piece of a flip-flop. Interestingly, the red, orange and tan pieces are gone. Once again, everywhere you go in the Pacific Ocean there is plastic trash.

Today we will deploy our marine debris trawl again. We will likely sample every day until we arrive in Honolulu, which should be in about 4 weeks.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

JUNK PSA 5: A Plastic Diet

Beyond simply a disagreeable eyesore, plastic debris has far more dangerous impacts on marine wildlife that commonly mistake plastic for a snack. Heres JUNK to tell you more, straight from the North Pacific Gyre:
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Friday, August 1, 2008

JUNK - the 411

The last few posts have focused on fish, squid, sail speeds, and general sanity. Bringing it back to the mission:

Here's a reminder of why JUNK - why two men cast themselves to the wild seas on a pile of junk, enduring fish and granola for breakfast, and only one another's company for several months:

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