Tsunami Debris, Plastic & Stars

Received from Tracey today 25th June 2012

Current Position Lat 29 28.7 N, Lon 179 2.6 E

My watch the other night was 12 until 3 am which is usually my least favorite.  No sunrise like the 3am to 6 am watch and no expectation of a full night’s sleep like you have after the 9pm to 12am watch.  But that night was different, the stars were out in spectacular form with the milky way stretching brightly across the whole sky.  The stars on the horizon appeared to be in the water they were so low.  I saw 11 shooting stars and the bioluminescence in the waves off the sides and the back of the boat was like a reflection from the sky.  It was incredible sailing through the calm waters using the stars as a guide rather than the compass.

Then it all changed.

The clouds covered the stars, the rain came in and the wind picked up.  All of a sudden I was sailing with one leg braced against the angled boat and steering at 8knot speeds as the Sea Dragon sped through the dark water and the 20 knot winds filled the sails and whipped up the waves.  It is exciting and certainly keeps you awake in the middle of the night.  That was pretty much the end of any conversation between Marcus, Mandy and myself as the wind made it so difficult to hear.

On Thursday whilst steering, a black dot caught my eye near the horizon.  It took a while before we could ascertain if it was in fact something in-between the waves.  Luckily the wind was low and we were motoring rather than under full sails so we could easily maneuver in the direction of the object.  As we got closer with all of us on deck wondering if it was a whale or something else we realized it was actually a partially submerged boat.  It was definitely out here as a result of the tsunami.  We had the chance to swim out to the boat which is when we saw that it was only the bow and it appeared to have been ripped from its moorings as it was trailing a ragged-end rope.  It was very sobering seeing the violence inflicted onto the boat and certainly a strong reminder that it was part of a huge tragic event.  There were still visible characters that hopefully can lead to ownership identification and hopefully the owner escaped the harm that destroyed his boat.

Swimming in the sea was incredible, the color is a magical blue and the temperature was a very pleasant 25C.  The fishing boat that we had found had a huge number of fish using it as their protection and food source.  There were lots of trigger fish, chub, bream, amberjack and the wahu circling menacingly below.  The fish were quite curious of all of us swimming around and some of them stayed quite close.  There was a lot of excitement about finally getting to swim in the middle of the ocean in water that has been calling for us to jump in for 2 weeks now.  Knowing that we are just tiny specks swimming in the top few metres of the ocean that is miles deep and with no land for many hundreds of miles is pretty cool!











The difficulty with spotting plastic is that when the sea picks up, the plastic is submerged somewhat.  So our observation watches that we do over an hour each daylight watch record different amounts of plastic depending on the sea state.  When it is calm you can see considerably more larger pieces such as bottles, crates, buoys, fishing lines & ropes, and significantly more fragments of plastic and bobbing styrofoam pieces as well as bottle lids.  It is much harder to see the larger pieces in the distance as they are easily masked by waves.

One analogy that was used on the boat today was a comparison with an olympic sized swimming pool, our path through the ocean is less than a hairs width in that pool so the amount of plastic and debris that we pass and identify is minuscule compared to what is out there.  Over the week we have been out here in the garbage patch we have witnessed and documented over 500 pieces of plastic drift past, some of this we have retrieved if possible.  The trawls that are done twice a day reveal significant amounts of small plastic fragments sometimes over 100 pieces.  The trawl collects from an almost insignificant sample of the ocean yet there is still a frightening amount present.

It is amazing for me to be swimming and sailing through The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It is definitely not an island of plastic and unless you are looking above and below the water you could be mistaken for thinking the plastic problem isn’t so bad.  But the problem is real and it is vast.  Our small samples have shown that this is another one of man’s massive problems that we need to find a solution for and now, before it becomes even worse out here in what should be a pristine environment.


And a short addendum:

We are having some really rough weather at the moment.  Last night we were sailing through 40 knot winds.  It is a lot of fun but it is hard getting round the boat safely and we don’t talk much on the watch as the wind is too loud and the rain too stingy.  It is good today though as we can sit a bit on deck.  Because all the hatches are closed it is stinking hot below deck and the smell from all the foul weather gear that has no chance of drying is pretty … well.. foul!

Last night in bed the hatches above me were open and at about 2am I got dumped on by a wave.  My bed was half soaked.  It was like someone had just thrown a bucket full of water on me.  Luckily the lean of the boat meant I could squash myself against the side of the wall that was dry so I could at least sleep a little bit.

We can’t do much plastic spotting whilst the waves are this big.  At times they have been 6-7m which is actually like being on a roller coaster.  The boat is amazing to be on.